Another fantastic project happening in Rio de Janeiro, although smaller in scale, is equally impactful. Vidigal is a favela community just west of Ipanema and Leblon Beaches. It’s perfectly situated on the hill under the “Dois Irmãos” Mountain (Rio’s famous “2 rock faces jutting directly out of the ocean”) and hosts one of the best views in all the city. It is the fastest developing favela in Brazil, and is attracting attention from both socially conscious and financially interested people. An urban ecological park called Sitié has gained international acclaim when two successful Harvard Architecture and Urban Planning graduates, Pedro Henrique and Caroline Shannon de Cristo, adopted the project in 2012 and has since catalyzed its growth. Because of the park’s unique history, it has become an emblem of small scale, huge impact, urban renovation projects.
The Story of the Rio de Janeiro Favela Park:
As most favelas do, Vidigal suffers from poor sewage and drainage systems, lack of building infrastructure, unplanned growth, and basic education for its residents. Sitié is located on the western edge of the favela. The area was formerly inhabited by atlantic rainforest and was invaded by six families in 1986. From that moment on, for the next 20 years, it turned into a 16 ton trash dump, including construction debris, old car parts, refrigerators, tires, televisions, dead animals, and anything else conceivable. In 2006, one frustrated and genuinely concerned, resident, Mauro Quintanilha, began the unimaginable process of clearing and cleaning the area. With the help of his friend, Paulo Cesar de Almeida, and unfazed by family, friends, and neighbors perpetual disencouraging comments “you’re wasting your time” “it’s too much” “it’s not possible”, they tirelessly and undauntedly persisted. Through their efforts they found that the only way to break the neighbors habits of continuously throwing trash in the area was to plant organized gardens enclosing it. As progress became apparent, the neighbors habits finally changed, and the insurmountable pile of trash began to disappear and gardens took its place. Finally Mauro and Paulo inspirational hard work paid off, and other people got involved.
It turned into a 16 ton trash dump, including construction debris, old car parts, refrigerators, tires, televisions, dead animals, and anything else conceivable.
Over the next six years, Mauro and Paulo, along with neighbors, foreigners seeking volunteer work, ridded the area of all trash and with plant donations from the Botanical Garden, relentless man hours worked, in 2012 it became recognized as Rio de Janeiro’s first urban agro-forest. This is the same time Pedro and Carolina got involved. With impressive leadership they helped direct Mauro and Paulo and applied their academic and professional experience to the developing project. Their commitment to sustainability and community involvement insured a well planned future of the project. Various institutions became partners, including Instituto PDR, Arq.Futuro, FGV-Direito Rio and CMS Design. Between 2012 and 2013, the scale of operation grew from its original 1,500 meters squared to its current 8,500 meters squared. It also began integrating educational activities of design, urban agriculture/reforestation, art/culture, technology and entrepreneurship (tourism).
This project symbolizes the possibility of sustainable development in lower-class and politically under represented areas. With applied urban planning and well directed leadership, big impacts can be made in much needed areas. Sitié is undoubtedly a beautifully constructed and well maintained Rio de Janeiro Favela park and has high expectations for the future. The methodology used of active community involvement and environmental consciousness can be replicated in other parts of the city, the country, and beyond.