The Right to the City (The Right to Rio de Janeiro)


Motor Taxis are a common form of transportation within favelas, especially in Rocinha where there are an estimated 2000 motorcycles in an area of .04 square miles. At the bottom of Rocinha, a concentrated crowd of motor taxis waits to pick up passengers before dispersing throughout the community. About two Saturdays ago, I rode one up to an event at Escola Municipal Paula Brito. As I rode on the back of the motor taxi through the busy streets, crowded with other motor taxis, vans, cars, buses and pedestrians my grip on the motorist’s arm would tighten as we approached each curve. The curves in Rocinha are very tight and it is difficult to see what is coming around the bend; it could be a small car or a large bus (hence my tightened grip upon approaching every curve). But after about four nerve-wracking curves and upon approaching the next, I noticed a man wearing a bright green shirt who was standing at the curve signaling us to stop because a bus was coming around the curve. At the next curve there was another man wearing the same bright green shirt who was also directing traffic. It was the same for all the curves until I arrived at my destination. I have since learned that these people are called “traffic educators” and it is their job to direct traffic and act as the eyes for motorists who cannot see what is coming.


I found that the presence of the “traffic educators” is extremely useful in representing the highly misunderstood concept of the favela. The traffic educators in Rocinha result from the community’s need to safely control traffic in order to prevent accidents. It is also important to understand that the traffic educators are not employees of Rio de Janeiro’s Prefeitura, but are residents of the community of Rocinha. The case of the traffic educators, among numerous other examples in various carioca favelas, portrays the idea that favelas are self-made communities, self-made because the hand of the government either has not reached the community or does not have a very strong presence in them.[1] In many favelas residents have had to step up and fill the holes left by a lack of city services. This lack of basic city services is an abuse of favela residents’ rights as citizens of Rio de Janeiro. As members of the city, basic services should not be a privilege, they should be a right, and the lack of city services speaks to the larger problem of the lack of inclusion within the city.


To relate the lack of inclusion within the city to the very current problem of forced evictions within Rio de Janeiro one has to think about the basic rights that are being ignored as the government of Rio demolishes many homes within favelas. Engaging in a deeper reading of the situation reveals a problem not only with the fact that the government is razing homes and communities, but the way in which they are going about it. They arrive at the homes, mark them with a large numbers, and then inform residents that their houses are to be demolished. The residents of the houses marked for demolition are completely left out of the planning process. They are not involved in deciding their fate, although they will be severely affected by these top-down decisions. David Harvey states in The Right to the City, that “the right to the city had to mean the right to command the whole urban process” (28). For those who are being evicted there has been no consideration of their involvement in the urban process, let alone the possibility of them commanding or influencing it. So when we think about forced evictions and a lack of basic city services, we should also think about the larger problem, the lack of the right to the city. In Rio de Janeiro, a significant portion of the population is being left out of the urban process, which threatens the right to housing, the right to a voice and the right to democracy.



[1] This is not to say that the government of Rio de Janeiro is not involve with favelas, the situation is much more complex than this. There are, however, considerable portions of Rio’s favelas where basic city services are not offered.

Works Cited:

Harvey, David. “The Right to the City.” New Left Review 53, 2008. 23-40.