Rocinha is one of the largest favelas in Brazil, recognized internationally for its needs and its huge size. It is estimated that the current population of Rocinha is around 150 thousand. This number shows that the favela doubled in size in ten years.
Rocinha is located in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro, between the neighborhoods of Gávea and São Conrado. Due to its location, the favela shares the same geographical space with Rio’s high society. The proximity between the luxury residences and the shanties of Rocinha presents a profound contrast in the landscape of the region. In spite of the problems, like the lack of safety and the presence of drug gangs, commanded by the criminal group Amigos dos Amigos (ADA) (Friends of Friends) Rocinha is the community with the largest array of commerce and services among the favelas of Rio.
History tells us that Rocinha developed after the Second World War, with the arrival of Portuguese, French and Italian farmers who settled in small farms on the hillside. Around 1930, it became a supply center of vegetables for the city’s Zona Sul. At the end of the 1950s, more immigrants came, this time from other parts of Brazil, like the agricultural regions in Minas and the Northeast.
The arrival of new residents increased during the 1960s and 70s, with a huge expansion after the opening of the Rebouças and Dois Irmãos tunnels, which led to increased job offerings in the region. From that point on, an even greater variety of stores and services appeared within the favela to meet the needs of this population.
This slum suffered with the power of criminal gangs and armed drug trafficking, but this reality began to change in November 2011 when police retook the territory to provide security to residents. The police operation was peaceful, and the main dealer was arrested. Little by little security will be established and a UPP will also be installed at this community.
Today, Rocinha has fast food restaurants, cable TV, radio and internet signals, cyber cafés, nightclubs, gyms, health clinics, post offices, bank agencies, public schools and several community daycare centers. It also has its own TV station, community radios and sites. It is supported by many NGOs and participates in different Municipal and Federal Government projects. In 1993, Rocinha was transformed into a neighborhood.
Rocinha has its own unique characteristics. Due to its enormous size, it is sub-divided into sub-neighborhoods. In the Barcelos sub-neighborhood there is a wide variety of stores and services, as well as a good deal of better quality residential real estate. But in other areas, like Vila Macega, there are simple wooden shacks in at-risk situations, where several families live in a situation of extreme poverty.
The more valuable parts of Rocinha have been prone to real estate speculation and there are even some middle class residents. This high demand has led to the construction of tall irregular structures. Today, Rocinha even has an 11-story building with 56 apartments, called the Empire State. Demand is growing strongly and there is a waiting list to rent a residence. It is estimated that 33% of the real estate in Rocinha is rented.
Besides the irregular constructions, what most distinguishes favelas from the rest of the city is the constant traffic, the sounds and overall noise. This is a beehive of human activity, with an abundance of varied smells, provocative clothing and street vendors. It is the car radios playing funk music at full blast, the buses and motorcycle-taxis screeching around the curves, the alleyways in contrast with restaurants like Varandas and Via Pia. It is the marvelous views of Pedra da Gávea, Pepino Beach, the Christ Statue and Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas in contrast with the sight of armed young drug dealers and violence.
To try to control this irregular and disorderly growth of the favela, in 2001 the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Government implemented an urban development plan called Eco-limits, which surrounded the favela with iron bars linked by cables. But this was not sufficient to stop new construction and the consequent deforestation of the Atlantic Forest.
In 2009 construction began on a new wall to limit Rocinha. This plan was highly criticized, but later gained acceptance after it began to respect some demands from the community. It will be surrounded by an ecological park with structures for tourism, leisure, education and sports activities.
Other important initiatives are the works of the Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) in Rocinha, like a project to build a cablecar. The federal government PAC program also inaugurated a large sports complex, with excellent infrastructure to train potential athletes for the 2016 Olympics. Also inaugurated this year was a large walkway designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer.
Another highlight is the presence of the samba school Acadêmicos da Rocinha and the Coopa-Roca group, an arts & crafts cooperative that creates income for residents. Rocinha also has a community center that offers arts & crafts classes for children between the ages of 6 and 14 and the Rocinha Arts Space, which presents the work of more than 80 artisans who reside in the community. Another highlight is the successful micro credit initiative promoted by Banco Popular, which makes loans of up to R$ 1.000 to small merchants and street vendors, with a very low default rate, and the More Legal Rocinha project, which ensures the legalization of real estate ownership documents.