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In Rio’s Biggest Favela, One Flashy Project Thrives While Another Fails; As Rio invests for the Olympics, only some of the city’s upgrades are built to last, by Julie Ruvolo (City Lab)
... State of Rio Governor Sérgio Cabral decided to spend the bulk of the PAC funding, about $105 million, on a gondola imported from France. (Some say Cabral was inspired by the international praise Medellín’s mayor received for installing aerial-tram service in the city’s most underserved neighborhoods.) In parallel, the city broke ground on the $1.5 million movie theater, built alongside a community service center and neighborhood daycare.
Both interventions were introduced as projects for the people. At the gondola’s inauguration in 2011, President Dilma Rousseff said the project was a show of respect for Alemão’s residents, and deserved the “justifiable envy” of everyone else. At the theater’s inauguration the same year, Mayor Eduardo Paes struck a similar note. “It’s important for people to know that poor areas also deserve high-quality services,” the mayor said. “This is what we will always provide. High-quality service for everyone.”
I visited both projects a year later. I rode up and down the gondola on a Friday afternoon, securing an entire car to myself most portions of the ride. Despite free tickets for locals—visitors pay as much as 5 reais, or $1.50—not many people were actually riding.
What’s more, there was a general sense of resentment at the huge sum of money that had been earmarked for favela upgrades and instead delivered a tourist attraction. “Close to half a billion reais,” David Amen, of the nonprofit Raizes em Moviemento, told me at the time. “How are you going to spend this money on social projects in Alemão without talking to the residents and letting them be heard?”
To my surprise, however, the movie theater was packed.