Researcher: Summer Games No Winning Proposition for All Rio Residents


By Tom McLaughlin

In August, millions of people from around the world will cheer on their respective countries competing in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

However, for many residents in Rio, the Olympics and the preceding 2014 FIFA World Cup haven’t always been winning propositions, explains Maureen Donaghy, an assistant professor of political science and public policy at Rutgers University–Camden.

“The Olympic Games have had some positive, but also significant negative, long-term consequences for development and equality in the city,” says Donaghy, who just returned from Rio, where she conducted follow-up research on the community of Vila Autódromo, located adjacent to the main Olympic stadium.


Maureen Donaghy

According to the Rutgers–Camden researcher, the 20 remaining families who live in Vila Autódromo recently came to an agreement with the local government to urbanize after fighting “removal” for more than six years. She explains that families living in such informal settlements, known as favelas, generally build their homes incrementally, but often do not have title to the land. These communities constitute a major source of affordable housing in Rio de Janeiro and throughout Brazil.

The majority of these most recent evictions have been carried out to make way for infrastructural development related to construction for the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Games, although some are part of an ongoing gentrification of the city, says Donaghy.

“Conflicts over property rights are common, but urbanization and regularization programs over the last two decades had reduced the threat of evictions prior to this latest wave of development and gentrification across the city,” she says.

Through her extensive research, Donaghy identifies the strategies and outcomes of community-led efforts against these removals.

“Communities under threat of removal have fought back using the courts, protests, and the national and international media,” says Donaghy. “Through significant organization, a few communities have been successful in achieving the right to stay in place, being relocated to nearby public housing, or receiving substantial indemnity payments from the city government.”

Donaghy’s research on the impact of Rio’s development will be part of a forthcoming book, titled Democratizing Urban Development: Displacement, Mobilization, and Inclusion Across Cities in the U.S. and Brazil, from Temple University Press.

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