Many believe that gentrification is a purely American and European phenomenon in which large numbers of college graduates move to cheap, urban areas and open yoga studios, green markets and “hipster” coffee shops. However, gentrification is not only a global occurrence but also an established urban renewal and regeneration strategy in all corners of the world.

The Oxford Dictionaries define “gentrification” as the “renovation or improvement (of a house or district) so that it conforms to middle-class tastes.” Middle-class tastes in American cities like Portland, Seattle or New York City usually relate to the rise of what sociologists term the “creative class”—a group of young people entering the workforce concerned with personal expression and technological advances more than monetary progress. Professor and urban studies theorist Richard Florida found that one-third of Americans belong in the creative class.

“I define the Creative Class to include people in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music and entertainment whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology, and new creative content,” said Florida.

Although developing countries have not necessarily experienced as significant a rise of a distinct creative class, middle-class residents of the community as well as significant tourist populations have completely redesigned global cities. Specifically, some poor shantytowns—favelas—in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil have experienced a complete upheaval of population and culture to cater to new, wealthier residents.

“Pacification programs” that officials applied in the past fifteen years, especially those immediately before Rio’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup and leading up to the 2016 Olympics, have done as much harm as good.

Favela residents report that areas that were once slums, full of rampant drug gangs, violence and poverty, are now safe places to live, policed by a permanent security presence. Increased security in favelas has attracted a population with a sense for business and entrepreneurship, which keeps the economic interests growing.

Foreigners have recently entered the housing market in favelas in Rio and are buying property more frequently than locals. As tourists no longer have to pay taxes to drug gangs, many foreign and native residents advertised their property for temporary stay on the Airbnb website during the World Cup and Olympics.

As the value and popularity of the city increases with new construction and business opportunities, property prices have risen dramatically. Houses that cost $2,500 in 2006 cost $75,000 in 2014. As a result, whole socioeconomic groups no longer have the ability to live in the favelas that they once called home. Current residents are also struggling with rent increases and displacement, and are being forced to move to more dangerous favelas.

Ebilene Rodriguez Periera, a 54-year-old resident of a favela in Vidigal, an area in Rio, said that the new hotels and restaurants are being built for foreigners, “not for us.” Veronica Mora, another resident of a favela in Santa Marta, detailed community resistance against rent increases, demolitions and evictions.

“For years, the authorities did nothing when it was so dangerous to live here. Now that the area is finally safe, they want us to move out,” said Mora.

American researcher and former resident of Santa Marta, Charles Heck, finds that pacification programs—essentially government-sponsored gentrification programs—have changed urbanization and urban regeneration policies. Many new urbanization policies now deny current residents basic trash, water and electrical services in what some urban theorist experts call an attempt to force residents out. Gentrification in Rio de Janeiro has resulted in Rio’s strategic plan to provide for a 5% reduction in favelas from 2013 to 2016.

“Post-UPP, urbanization has focused primarily on land titles and new businesses rather than health, sanitation, education and other infrastructure,” said Heck.

The U.N. has critiqued Rio’s implementation of gentrification policies in the past, as an organized governmental effort to include residents of favelas in urban plans is essential to a thriving city. Inclusion of large social and socioeconomic groups encourages citizen participation and increases the viability of solutions to social justice issues in Portland and Rio de Janeiro alike.

Paulina Menichiello

Sources: Business Insider, NPR, Oxford Dictionary, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr

Social Divides and Urbanization in Brazil
Brazil has experienced staggering urbanization in the last century with 80% of Brazilians now living in urban areas. Urbanization in Brazil unfolded so rapidly during the 20th century, that by 1950 it attained a level comparable to that of Asia and Africa in 2000. However, this rapid adjustment to urban living has left many of Brazil’s poorest behind.


A History of Urbanization in Brazil


Although a distinctly modern phenomenon, urban social inequality stems from Brazil’s past as a Portuguese colony and its economic history of slavery. Like many other South American colonies, the landed classes controlled Brazilian society and the economy during the colonial era. This aristocracy essentially wielded political power into the late 19th and 20th centuries. With the founding of the First Brazilian Republic in 1899 and until its dissolution in 1988, the right to vote revolved around literacy. By restricting the education of the poorer masses, the Brazilian aristocracy impeded the majority of the population’s political participation.

This enduring trend drastically affected urbanization patterns in Brazil throughout the 20th century. Brazil’s major metropolitan areas grew at an annual rate of 4.5% between 1940 and 1970. This rapid growth accounted for 34% of the country’s national growth. Migrant rural workers accounted for much of this growth, with 43 million Brazilians of rural origin moving to more urban areas. For these millions of rural Brazilians, the transition to urban life did not come easy.

As they attempted to settle in expanding metropolises, the rural poor once again found themselves relegated below the landed elite in a heavily stratified cityscape. While the elite occupied most of the areas with sufficient infrastructure, or nuclear cores, the rural poor resigned themselves to living on the cheaper periphery of the city, further from working opportunities. These areas, called “urban frontiers,” generally bear inadequate living conditions that lead to the growth of slums, insufficient infrastructure, gang violence and environmental issues.

The income disparity between urban frontiers and the nuclear cores of Brazilian cities is shocking. In São Paulo, the largest Brazilian city, the income differential reaches a whopping 65.4% with a 56.1% income differential average across Brazil’s major metropolises. What makes this disparity even more noteworthy is that most of the population growth in Brazilian cities occurs in these significantly poorer areas while the more gentrified areas remain stagnant.

All of this is worsened by the Brazilian housing crisis. Estimates place the housing shortage in the country at around 7 million units, mostly among those earning less than the minimum wage. Yet, Brazil actually has more than enough adequate housing to accommodate this shortage. The only problem is that this housing exists vacant in gentrified urban centers due to speculative real-estate practices. Despite this blatant disparity, real estate investment continues mainly in more wealthy areas where the population is decreasing, instead of where housing is actually needed.

As such, the urban poor are essentially forced to squat on the outskirts of the city. Haunting data from the World Bank attests to this issue. While the formal real estate market annually produces 200,000 to 300,000 properties, it estimates that around 1 million properties spring up each year. In other words, much of the new housing in Brazil is either self-construction or informal, unregulated construction.

Brazil’s urban development has become unsustainable. The neediest areas of its cities are deprived of resources that have been instead focused on stagnant and in some cases empty areas. Yet, for many, this is just the continuation of the historical status quo. As empty houses continue to rise in city centers, impoverished Brazilians will continue to suffer.

– Andrew Logan

Sources: Cities Alliance, University of California, Berkley
Photo: Beyond Intractability