Rio’s Divide – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, South America

Rio de Janeiro is a blend of wealth, music, poverty and diverse landscapes, as well as rolling hills, dramatic cliffs, kilometers of beach front, slinky bathing suits, fashion, sun and the expansive Atlantic Ocean – sex, drugs and rock and roll, to put it bluntly.

The neighborhoods divide the city into smaller subsections – favelas, makeshift unauthorized dwellings – where the city's poorest inhabitants live, smashed right next to some of the most coveted, expensive, chic property in Rio. It is daunting to see the leaning, shack-like homes constructed out of scrap wood, brick and concrete pressed against the mountain slopes on the edge of the Atlantic ocean, with the balconies of Rio’s elite peering out over them, or peeking out from beneath them.

The shantytowns are historic monuments in terms of city history. Some of the shacks and "creative" sewer systems designed and installed by the citizens of the shanties, have been there for more than 100 years. These communities survive completely independent of the local or national government. They provide their own water, have their own sewage and have installed their own electricity.

How they accomplish all this, I do not know. They are their own entity and the line is clearly drawn. For some, the distance is not enough. They would like the shantytowns to be on the outskirts of the city, or at least, in the less desirable parts of town. Because of their long history in the neighborhoods, the inhabitants of shantytowns are unlikely and unwilling to relocate. So far, the government is not working too hard to relocate them.

I think such an action would cause a big uproar. So, the question is, how does the city integrate economically, politically and socially? Does it want to? And does it need to? In the meantime, Rio remains a complicated mosaic of rich and poor, settled among the mountains and beachfronts, with sex, drugs and music providing the backdrop to both.

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Patricia Morrise
21 July 2010

Visit the Sugar Loaf right before sunset. At the Morro da Urca mountain, take in the dramatic lights cast from behind the Corcovado mountain.