By Jewellord Singh, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – Community life in favelas is flourishing amidst the violence and poverty that mark Rio de Janeiro as a city of contradictions. In Rocinha, judo classes are available to residents thanks to the work of the Instituto Reação. Schools like the Escola Municipal Abelardo Chacrinha Barbosa visit the favela to increase the awareness of younger people as to how these communities in fact live, and European businessmen have even thrown millions of reais into developing some of the areas. As a result Vidigal favela residents now enjoy a playground, day care center and kiosks in public spaces.

Rocinha's 200,000 residents have recently been given an extensive new leisure facility, photo by Alicia Nijdam/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

When a Brazilian translates the word favela to slum in English, the reality of the connotations of that word has thankfully become very different for many residents, and NGOs, academics and foreigners are increasingly interested in understanding and improving the social landscape of these communities.

The meaning of the word favela is undoubtedly changing. While Baixada Fluminense largely remains the stereotypical sprawling, run-down neighborhood, others like Rocinha and Vigidal exude a distinct culture and lifestyle. Tours, hotels and house visits in these places are increasingly popular ‘must do’s’ for visitors to Rio.

The clearest indication of this shift has been the reported increase in real estate values in favelas that now have a UPP presence, the police force that have taken control of many communities to displace the drug gangs. Communities in Botafogo, Arpoador and Copacabana have now been ‘pacified’ and as is often said, the views afforded from these precarious hillsides are stunning. O Globo reported last week that rental prices, while still low, were on the rise, and provide attractive and safe alternatives for foreigners on a tight budget as well as locals.

Vidigal favela at night, where residents have stunning views along the coast, photo by Felipe Menegaz/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

As with the rest of the city, finding places for sale or rent in these favelas is now also becoming difficult, and word of mouth continues to be the way that the majority of those available are taken up. In Dona Marta, the first favela to be ‘pacified’, one bedroom apartments can now fetch up to R$450 per month, aided by the expansion of the automated transport to the top. The new elevator in Cantagalo looks set to have a similar effect on prices, availability and accessibility in that part of Copacabana, where views of both sides of Arpoador are among the best in Rio.

The Brazilian government’s efforts to address urbanization has already decreased the proportion of the population living in favelas from 45 percent in 1990 to 28.9 percent in 2005, and the demographic of those remaining looks like shifting dramatically as the ongoing improvements to life in these communities continues.

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