Course:GEOG352/Gentrification in Rio, Brazil

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Rio de Janeiro: An Introduction

Many countries in the Global South have seen rapid developments over the last decade. Countries like Brazil, China, and India are all part of a collection of emerging economies known as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), and are a few examples of countries experiencing economic development at an accelerated pace. The focus on economic growth within the Global South often sidelines other important themes and issues that may exist within these nations. This wiki aims to discuss the theme of land, housing, and gentrification, focusing on the Brazilian city Rio de Janeiro.

Rio de Janeiro is the second-most populous city in Brazil after San Paulo and is famously known as a divided city where the extremely wealthy live in close proximity with those in poverty. Rio has been the host of certain mega events in the recent past; namely, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. mega events such as these make use of specific strategies of spatio-temporal scale-making to produce an idealistic environment of global togetherness, modern urban development, and sporting festivity. However, representations such as these simultaneously work to conceal the recognition of the violence of infrastructural development, as securitization and privatization facilitate the mass displacement of residents of Rio’s favelas (urban slums).

Understanding land, housing, and gentrification within a global south context are necessary in order to produce a geography of gentrification. Land, housing, and gentrification research are often focused on global north cities, however, this research may not translate to processes occurring in the Global South. Thus it is important to analyze such issues within the Global South to get an understanding of the differences in processes between the North and the South.

Mega Events: 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics

Summer Olympics 2016

In the era of mega events, the future is always a near future, it is marked by urgency and exceptionalism - All mega events must be hyper-visible and comparable [1]. This statement stands true for the city of Rio de Janeiro, which seemed to be in a competition with itself while hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. An analysis by The Associated Press shows that the cost of putting on the latter was USD $13.1 billion, paid for with a mixture of public and private money, while the former cost the Brazilian government about USD $3 billion- mostly spent on new and refurbished stadiums, 90 percent of it being public money. Barre argues that the singular focus on mega events draws focus to a new trend wherein “the ‘banal everyday’ becomes a parenthesis, the past becomes a mere heritage, and the present an ongoing euphoric escape towards an increasingly developed future” [2]. Highlighting the trade-off of hyper-realizing mega events is the invisibility of the marginalized social.

Relevance of Land, Housing, and Gentrification Issues in Rio de Janeiro

Land, housing, and gentrification is a global issue that affects many living in urban cities. Gentrification is often hidden behind various urban land and housing development terminology, such as “regeneration, social mixing or even urban sustainability”(p.2471) [3]. Rio de Janeiro provides a unique view on land, housing, and gentrification for various reasons, one of which is that Rio was recently host two mega sporting events. The effects of these mega sporting events on Rio’s land, housing, and gentrification have been studied by various scholars [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

Gaffney suggests that there are three processes at work with regards to gentrification in Rio. First is the reorganization of urban geography, with one group replacing another due to the financialization of urban land markets. Secondly, pressures created by the rent gap are being enhanced by external factors like state-led infrastructure and security investments resulting from the mega sporting events. Thirdly, zoning law alterations have increased land rents [10]. With these three processes in mind, several topics can be discussed to further understand these gentrification processes. One of these topics is the locus of power, which is understanding the political and social implications of land, housing, and gentrification, specifically with regards to who has the power in decision making regarding these land, housing, and gentrification policies. The locus of power is crucial to understanding the importance of state powers in creating financialized urban land markets, the building pressures of the rent gap as a result of state-led infrastructure and security investments, and the various zoning laws against certain neighbourhoods. Beyond state powers, the power, or lack of power, that local communities have in resisting gentrification is also key in understanding the power structure of Rio with regards to gentrification.

Second, Karl Polanyi’s fictitious commodity is important in understanding the economic issue with commodification of land, labour, and money in relation to housing and gentrification. If land, labour, and money are sold on markets, people become subservient to the market, and the market system becomes embedded with society [11]. Looking at Rio, specifically in the context of the recent mega sporting events, we can take Polanyi’s fictitious commodity and apply it to various aspects of gentrification, including the changing value of land, the creation of the rent gap, and the selling of land and housing on the market.

Although gentrification is a global phenomenon that affects cities in the Global North and the Global South, studies on gentrification must be situated in local context, and processes of gentrification are unique to the local context. Ananya Roy highlights in her article 21st Century Metropolis: New Geographies of Theory the importance of rethinking the geographies of urban and regional theory in order to contextualize urban experiences [12]. Most theorietic work on city-regions is located in the urban experience of the Global North. However, Roy argues that the urban future is found in cities in the Global South, especially in cities that were once labelled as underdeveloped but has since become a production of space and a site of capital accumulation [13]. Rio de Janeiro is a unique city to study gentrification not only because it is one of the rapidly developing BRICS nations, but also because it is one of few cities of the Global South that have hosted mega sporting events like the Olympics. Rio de Janeiro hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics was an attempt at rebranding and invigorating urban growth. These urban space developments, especially with regards to the mega sporting events, masked many land, housing and gentrification issues that simultaneously ensued alongside the change of the urban space.

Impacts of Mega-Events on Land, Housing, and Gentrification

Urban Entrepreneurialism through Urban Policy Initiatives

Mega events have noticeably incited a wave of new urban policy initiatives in Rio [14]. The urban policy initiatives are efforts made the government to “hasten the transformation” of Rio the Janeiro into a “global city” in light of global events. As favelas are located adjacent to the wealthier neighbourhoods in Rio, since the announced 2016 Olympic games in the city, wealthy real-estate individuals took it upon themselves to buy housing in these areas for low cost to only make a profit as the prices skyrocketed just before and continuing after the Summer Olympic games [15]. These rising prices put the favelados communities (favela dwellers) in a danger of being pushed out to the city’s western and northern peripheries where federal and municipal programmes are currently being implemented [16].

Along with the 2016 Olympic games and 2014 World Cups bringing up the land prices and forcefully relocating the working-class to the peripheries, Rio de Janeiro has also been subjected to processes of gentrification [17] and land redevelopment [18]. Gentrification is not just a western ideology nor is it new, but in fact, can be seen in all regions on a global scale. Specifically looking at Rio de Janeiro, gentrification can be seen run by the state with an outbreak of communities and regions transforming their neighbourhoods into areas commercially run [19]. These highly marginalized targeted communities known as favelas that reside on the hillsides of Rio de Janeiro are those in which the state seizes to transform. However, it is important to note that prior to the mega-sporting events in the city, that there was deep marginalization of the urban poor. In the mid-1960s to the early 2000s, drug-related violence, the failure of democracy to deliver a voice for the impoverished, the stigma of place and race, and high unemployment rates further plagued the favela residents [20]. Despite Brazil’s overall growth in the economy and significant improvements in both the consumption of goods and the investment into education, the transition into a job or better living conditions have been limited.

Favelas in Rio de Janeiro

When considering gentrification in Rio, it is equally as important to note the city’s turn to urban entrepreneurialism in order to facilitate the production of space. David Harvey describes in his study of urban governance that as cities shift to urban entrepreneurialism, they become an agent rather than a regulator of the market [21]. Through factors such as increased capital mobility, globalization and locational capability, Rio de Janeiro has been able to develop rapidly as a global city. However, such shift into urban entrepreneurialism has also been a primary vehicle that yield a highly uneven metropolitan landscape. The unevenness and growing inequality within the city landscape makes possible for new rounds of gentrification and urban redevelopment [22]. Urban policy initiatives facilitate in accelerating interurban flows to create an environment that can not only foster additional capital growth within firms, but to commodify the urban landscape to promote foreign investment, tourism and additional recognition as a global city.

In Brazil, the gentrification is not only divided between incomes of individuals but there is also a dominant ethnic divide in the nation. The phenomenon of gentrification as described by Gaffney [23] can be seen as “social cleansing”, “removal by whites”, and “asphalting” and is noted to be on a national scale with state involvement directly imposed onto the land of low-income households by state-led programs of eradication, uprooting, and zone relocation [24] [25]. These implications however, are done so forcefully and without empathy towards those who originally resided in the area and as a result, outbreaks of protests emerged from these neighbourhoods.

State-led programs include removal of low-income communities and transportation improvements in the west that benefit the middle-class dominantly white individuals in Rio de Janeiro. One of these programs is ‘Minha Casa Minha Vida’ (MCMV), which translates to My House, My Life. MCMV is Brazil’s first large-scale public housing project. In Rio, MCMV units were constructed in an abrupt manner in light of the aforementioned mega events. Most of the MCMV housing units are located in Rio’s West Zone, an extensive and predominantly underserved location. These units have been a subject of widespread criticism. Residents have complained about the lack of adequate infrastructure, transportation links to the South and North Zones and fact that these units are in the vicinity of militia-controlled territories. MCMV residents who work in the North and South Zones; that make up the city’s commercial centre, have had trouble with transportation therefore making steady employment difficult. Favelas are hubs of complex social networks, mixed-use properties and are rooted in the accessibility of public space. Favela residents used to such a lifestyle have had trouble acclimating with severely regulated and single-use MCMV units. To make matters worse, these units are mostly occupied by favela residents who were forcibly evicted from their houses for the development of mega event related projects and the beautification of the South Zone. These residents were given the choice between monetary compensation and new housing units. Families in dire need of housing who have opted for the program are waitlisted. [26]

These changes that were forcefully implemented by the neoliberal mayors of Rio de Janeiro during and after mega-sporting events were strategic in efforts to put blame on the Olympics and World Cups for reasons of harsh gentrification. Nevertheless, the 2016 Summer Olympics and 2014 World Cup only enhanced the increasing gentrification in cities [27]. Therefore, it is safe to assume that “the process of gentrification in Brazilian cities is imbued with a conflict between the poor and city governments” (p.1132)[28]. This conflict can be seen specifically in Rio de Janeiro as a displacement of heritage accumulation, cultural dispossession, militarization, and ground rent dispossession are seen in historic events prior to the mega events [29]. Nevertheless, these notes do not fall short of the understanding that these mega events did, in fact, have an impact on Rio de Janeiro's gentrification problem [30].

Fictitious Commodities in Rio de Janeiro:

Rio de Janeiro’s urban entrepreneurialism has commodified the city, promoting tourism, urban regeneration, and global recognition through the hosting of mega events. Commodification of the city through urban entrepreneurialism has caused “selling [the city] becomes the basic objective of local governments… In this sense, urban marketing becomes the model of city management” (p. 360)[31]. The commodification of land, labour, and money under Polanyi’s fictitious commodities is also an issue in Rio de Janeiro, specifically land values. Land is an essential part of production, however, the buying and selling of land and thus the buying and selling of the process of production, creates and extremely artificial market economy. As seen in the sections regarding urban policy initiatives, the Rio government has made attempts to revitalize the poorer areas of Rio, specifically favelas, by improving the infrastructure of those areas. Revitalization of favelas was a move by the government in advance of the sporting mega events to improve public image, however, the development of favela areas has led to the trading of land. Improvements of infrastructure in favelas have caused the price of land and thus rent prices to rise. These rising land prices has forced the original favela dwellers to move to different parts of the city, generally into other favelas while enticing the growing middle class of Rio to move into these newly developed areas. This is an example of how the buying and selling of fictitious commodities like land lead to inefficient economic, social, and political solutions. The Rio government wanted to develop favela areas surrounding the mega sporting events to improve public image, but due to the issues regarding land as a fictitious commodity, inadvertently promoted gentrification and rather than solving the issue of growing urban poor, simply forced them to move to other favelas.

Polanyi further describes this process as the double movement, “the extension of the market organization in respect to genuine commodities… accompanied by its restriction in respect to fictitious ones” (p. 79) [32]. This double movement is seen in Rio, where the government is commodifying the city and selling it as a tourist destination through hosting the sporting mega events. While this can be seen as the genuine sale of a service, it is accompanied by the restriction of the fictitious commodity of land, specifically restricted by the various policies and revitalization plans that have led to the commodification of land. Through Polanyi’s fictitious commodity and double movement theories, we can see that the control that the Rio government has on land with regards to the commodification of land and its rising value is a step towards further land, housing, and gentrification issues, especially for the urban poor.

Lessons Learned - Theoretical Application in Other Urban Contexts

Infographic about Land, Housing and Gentrification in Rio de Janeiro

There are several key takeaways from our analysis of land, housing, and gentrification issues in Rio de Janeiro. First is the importance of local geographies in understanding geographical themes such as land, housing, and gentrification. In the case of Rio, the rapidly growing population, the presence of various favelas and other poor neighbourhoods, and the two sporting mega events all create a unique geographical landscape that changes how land, housing, and gentrification are seen and produced. Our focus on sporting mega events and the context of Rio de Janeiro as a city in the Global South exemplifies the importance of context in understanding geographical phenomenon such as gentrification.

With the importance of locatedness of geographical theories in mind, there are some lessons that are applicable to other urban contexts, one being the concept of land as a fictitious commodity. Under our analysis of land as a fictitious commodity in Rio, we have found that issues of gentrification and forced movement of those living in favelas present themselves when land is bought and sold in the market. The double movement presents itself in Rio as a potential culprit of further worsening the current gentrification. These concepts can be applied to other global south cities looking to promote an urban entrepreneurial image of tourism through various means such as hosting sporting mega events. To avoid similar issues of land, housing, and gentrification, cities of the Global South can take note in avoiding the commodification of land and limiting the effects that the double movement and production of fictitious commodities when promoting the urban entrepreneurial image of tourism and international fame.


  1. De La Barre, J. (2015). Future shock: Mega-events in rio de janeiro. Leisure Studies, 35(3), 352-668
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ley, D. and Dobson, C. (2008). Are There Limits to Gentrification? The Contexts of Impeded Gentrification in Vancouver. Urban Studies, [online] 45(12), pp.2471-2498. Available at: [Accessed 27 Mar. 2018].
  4. Donaghy, M. (2015). Resisting Removal: The Impact of Community Mobilization in Rio de Janeiro. Latin American Politics and Society, 57(4), pp.74-96.
  5. Freeman, J. & Burgos, M. (2017;2016). "Accumulation by Forced Removal: The Thinning of Rio de Janeiro's Favelas in Preparation for the Games", JOURNAL OF LATIN AMERICAN STUDIES, vol. 49, no. 3, pp. 549-577.
  6. Gaffney, C. (2015). Gentrifications in pre-Olympic Rio de Janeiro. Urban Geography, 37(8), Pp.1132-1153.
  7. Goode, R.J. (2015). Rio de Janeiro's Emerging Sporting mega event Geography: Unraveling the Carioca Pattern of Urban Development, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
  8. Ren, X. (2017). "Aspirational urbanism from Beijing to Rio de Janeiro: Olympic cities in the Global South and contradictions", JOURNAL OF URBAN AFFAIRS, vol. 39, no. 7, pp. 894-908.
  9. Sánchez, F. and Broudehoux, A. (2013). “mega events and urban regeneration in Rio de Janeiro: planning in a state of emergency.” International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development, 5(2), pp. 132-153
  10. Gaffney, C. (2015). Gentrifications in pre-Olympic Rio de Janeiro. Urban Geography, 37(8), Pp.1132-1153.
  11. Polanyi, K. (2001). The great transformation. 2nd ed. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press.
  12. Roy, A. (2009). "The 21st-Century Metropolis: New Geographies of Theory", Regional Studies, vol. 43, no. 6, pp. 819-830.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Goode, R.J. (2015). Rio de Janeiro's Emerging Sporting mega event Geography: Unraveling the Carioca Pattern of Urban Development, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Timerman, J. (2013). Is a Favela Still a Favela Once It Starts Gentrifying?. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 15 Feb 2018].
  17. Gaffney, C. (2015). Gentrifications in pre-Olympic Rio de Janeiro. Urban Geography, 37(8), Pp.1132-1153.
  18. Canales, F.(2011). The Olympic Games and the Production of the Public Realm: Mexico City 1968 and Rio de Janeiro 2016. Architectural Design, 81(3), 52-57.
  19. Gaffney, C. (2015). Gentrifications in pre-Olympic Rio de Janeiro. Urban Geography, 37(8), Pp.1132-1153.
  20. Benmergui, L.D. (2012). Housing development: Housing policy, slums, and squatter settlements in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1948-1973, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
  21. Harvey, D. 1989, "From Managerialism to Entrepreneurialism: The Transformation in Urban Governance in Late Capitalism", Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, vol. 71, no. 1, pp. 3-17.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Gaffney, C. (2015). Gentrifications in pre-Olympic Rio de Janeiro. Urban Geography, 37(8), Pp.1132-1153.
  24. Watts, J. (2015, June 03). Forced evictions in Rio favela for 2016 Olympics trigger violent clashes. Retrieved April 06, 2018, from
  25. Douglas, B. (2015, October 28). Brazil officials evict families from homes ahead of 2016 Olympic Games. Retrieved April 06, 2018, from
  26. (n.d.). Retrieved April 06, 2018, from
  27. Gaffney, C. (2015). Gentrifications in pre-Olympic Rio de Janeiro. Urban Geography, 37(8), Pp.1132-1153.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Canales, F.(2011). The Olympic Games and the Production of the Public Realm: Mexico City 1968 and Rio de Janeiro 2016. Architectural Design, 81(3), 52-57.
  30. Janoschka, M., & Sequera, J. (2016). Gentrification in Latin America: Addressing the Politics and Geographies of displacement. Urban Geography, 37(8),1175-1194.
  31. De La Barre, J. (2015). Future shock: Mega-events in rio de janeiro. Leisure Studies, 35(3), 352-668
  32. Polanyi, K. (2001). The great transformation. 2nd ed. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press.