Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A Google web documentary takes a look inside the city’s informal settlements.
In the months leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro has been in the headlines for the worst reasons: political instability, mucky waterways, mosquito-transmitted viruses, police violence, unequal infrastructure, and most recently, lost keys.
It’s natural and even necessary that the city is put under a microscope as the mega-event unfolds. But while there’s a lot to criticize about the city hosting the Olympics this year, there’s much to admire about the people—particularly those who live at the sidelines of the Olympic events, in Rio’s favelas.
With the help of local Afro-Brazilian collective Affroreggae, Google has been trying to map these infamous informal settlements, which house one in five residents in the city. While favelas were inadvertently constructed consistent with many urbanist principles, they lack basic infrastructure and services. Several pockets are also ridden with high crime.
According to NPR, more than half of Rio’s favela residents are Afro-Brazilians. And many, but not all, are poor. To shine a spotlight on the spirit and humanity of some of these favela locals, Google created an interactive web documentary, called “Beyond the Map.”
“Most people only know the favelas through the news: crime, poverty, violence. But that’s only a small part of the story,” the Brazilian narrator says in the introduction to the short doc. “The favelas are not simply a place, they’re a people. ”
One of them is Luis, a teenager from Complexo do Alemão, who yearns to be a ballet dancer—not a common or easy career choice among young boys in those parts. Another is Paloma, thoughtful young woman from Maré, who despite living in one of the most dangerous favelas, has made it to a computer sciences program at a prestigious university.
“The favela is a blank spot on the map … it’s as if we didn’t exist,” Paloma says at the beginning of her story. She ends with this: “This is a daily fight. We are saying that we are here, that we exist, that we are a part of the city.”
Hear all the stories, look around (with 360 degree panoramas), walk the streets (with Google Street View), and listen in on the din and music in the favela neighborhoods here.