The city of Rio de Janeiro, a place that enchants both Brazilians and foreigners, has ever since it was a Portuguese colony grown and expanded as the centuries have past. In 1763, Rio became the colonial capital of Brazil, when the Portuguese Kingdom and its colonial administration was moved there from Salvador. Rio de Janeiro became the only city in the world to host a European empire outside of Europe. It continued to be the capital until 1960, when the title was transferred to Brasilia.

The city has witnessed many historical events and political movements and since the Proclamation of the Republic, Rio has been challenged by serious social problems due to its rapid and unplanned growth. The abolition of slavery and the very high social inequalities in Brazil caused low-income citizens to populate the hillsides of the city, areas that used to be considered less valuable. Thus, the Rio slums were born, more commonly known as the favelas.

Due to the absence of government concern during the 1980´s, these urban communities were taken over by criminal gangs, whose main activity was illegal drug trafficking. As part of several urbanization efforts in 2008, a new project dedicated to public security named UPPs (Unidades de Policia Pacificadora) started in the favelas.

Due to these actions of pacification, security was momentarily increased and Rio’s citizens and tourist alike became curious and started to pass through the favelas more frequently.

Nowadays, the favelas have also become the focus of real estate speculation and others forms of gentrification. The rising cost of goods and services is making it difficult for traditional inhabitants to remain. However, the communities are staying alert and with the power of their own initiatives are making sure that they remain agents of positive change in this historical occupation of the Rio hillsides.

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The community

photo: © Vivejar’s archive

The Morro of Babilônia is located in front of an iconic attraction of the city – The Sugar Loaf Mountain – and dates back to the last years of the nineteenth century, situated next to the neighborhoods of Botafogo, Urca, Leme and Copacabana. This area is home to two urban communities: Morro de Babilônia and Chapéu de Mangueria, together with an environmentally protected area, APA of Morros de Babilônia and São João. Since 2008, the UPP (Unidade de Policia Pacificadora) is present in the neighborhood.

Because the neighborhood is located in between two of the most touristic attractions in Rio de Janeiro, the beach of Copacabana and the Sugar Loaf Mountain, Morro of Babilônia has a touristic structure that is slowly starting to come together. The capacity of organization in the community is strong and the spirit of entrepreneurship alive, giving way to creative and novel initiatives such as Favela Orgânica, a project that was born in 2011 under the leadership of Donna Regina Tchelly.

Living in the community, Regina’s objective is to teach residents from the area how to cook with leftover food, making sure that as little goes to waste as possible. Regina and her Favela Orgânica Team have already given classes and workshops in many parts of Brazil as well as internationally. She keeps being an example and big inspiration for sustainable development in the urban communities of Rio de Janeiro.

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photo: ©  Embratur’s archive

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