City of God (Cidade de Deus) in Rio de Janeiro

The challenge of local development linked to community action

Caio Silveira, abril 2007

En otros idiomas: français - Español - Português

The creation of a Local Development Agency managed by community organizations in the City of God in Rio de Janeiro, represents one of the contemporary outstanding efforts in the Brazilian context. It has fostered the creation of new ways of development able to overcome discrimination and social exclusion in difficult districts of large cities.

City of God is a district located in the western part of the city of Rio de Janeiro, which evolved from a process of eradication of shantytowns (favelas) in 1966. Today with a population of almost 50 thousand inhabitants, City of God presents social indicators which are among the most critical in Rio de Janeiro, although it is in the vicinity of one of the beautiful districts, Barra da Tijuca.

In 2002, the success of the film City of God portrayed the district in the media spotlight in such a way as to reinforce the stigma of a violent and dangerous community, thus supporting a wave of prejudices and discrimination.

On the other hand, throughout its history since the 1980’s, there emerged in the district various associations of inhabitants, groups of samba, sporting clubs, theatre companies, magazines, film clubs, active churches, dance troupes and the black movement.

Since 2003, various processes joined to build new conditions of organization and articulation having for goal the transformation of the reality of City of God. After an intensive process of debates, the Community Committee of City of God was born that year. The Committee gathered various local organizations to overcome isolation and divisions which marked their actions.

The Community Committee affirmed itself during its three years of existence as an important lieu for articulation of actions in the district and institutional interlocution. As of 2004, its action resulted in two important achievements:

a) an initial account of the requests of the local population which included topics like: Work, Employment and Income, Education, Health, Environment, Social Advancement, Communication, Culture and Sport.

b) elaboration of a first Plan for the development of City of God, endorsed by a broader community forum, with directives set for a five year period (until 2009), as an instrument to advance towards the articulation of programs, projects and social actions already implemented in the district, as well as new initiatives for the benefit of the community.

Starting from this acquired knowledge, one of the challenges to overcome was the consolidation on new bases of integrated socio-institutional clusters which matured these past years, particularly for the formation of an executive authority able to integrate actions and projects in this urban space, in the shape of a legal body (City of God Local Development Agency), understood as a key factor of the sustainability of all the process.

In 2006, the Agency was legally made up as a non-profit organization, having as associates and directors the organizations and leaders linked to the Community Committee. This fact, in itself, is an expressive result of the process of organization and articulation brought to term these last three years. The concretization of this Agency was realized from the technical and financial support of a federal government program (Finep - Financing of Studies and Projects) and of an organization of the civil society (Ibase - Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analyses), which also represents an example of the capacity of institutional interlocution of the local community.

Directly related to the constitution of the development agency, a number of achievements and results can already be underlined, in particular since 2006. Among these are integrated actions in various fields such as:

Training of local managers. Conceptual and administrative training of the agents directly involved in the Community Committee and the Development Agency, utilizing courses based on participative methods.

Work and solidarity economy. Identification of potentials for the creation of co-operatives, training sessions with workers and inhabitants, with future steps to eventually create a non-profit and self-managing enterprise in the construction sector.

Education. Mobilization and coordination between local institutions and partners to discuss the quality of education in City of God and to build an integrated plan for the sector with the participation of the community, thus a global plan including the various levels of education.

Social housing. As an action of largest social impact, it is necessary to underline the housing project which will currently meet the needs of 618 families without minimal conditions of dwelling, in the sector of City of God called Rocinha II. This project is developed with the direct participation of the local community, starting with the Community Committee and the Agency, and its realization is due to support of a federal public body of development, the National Savings Bank and municipality of Rio de Janeiro.

Communication. This process is in its infancy. It is being constituted, within the framework of the agency, necessitating an internal and external communication system which includes various integrated elements - community radio programming, production of videos, website and community newspaper.

The actions of the Agency will have a very broad social guarantee to assure the semi-annual meetings of the Community Forum of City of God, which will involve hundreds of actors of the district (linked to various movements and associations), to re-orientate the broad guidelines and priorities of the local development plan in City of God.

At stake is a socio-institutional cluster which proposes an integrated range of projects and actions, having City of God as the territorial reference, while considering its articulation with the adjacent districts and the city.

In broader terms, the case of City of God brings to light the key problem of the fight against inequalities and social exclusion in impoverished popular communities, very often stigmatized and historically subjected, when not completely abandonned, to political mechanisms of fragmentation and domination. The history of City of God is emblematic of this type of problem, and the strides made here for its resolution, in addition to benefiting its own inhabitants, can provide guidance for other territories with common characteristics, especially in the metropolitan contexts.

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The article is available on the blog: International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development