Organization: Catalytic Communities, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Sponsor: International Travel Community Service Fellowship
“For my second week at Catalytic Communities (Comunidade Catalisadoras), I visited the favela of Morro da Babilônia. I was there to interview the president of the residents association of Babilônia, André Constantine, a powerful speaker and an activist dedicated to protecting his community from gentrification, removal, and violence.
He spoke to me about his efforts to create a safe community through the creation of a plaza, with better lighting, community-led maintenance, green infrastructure, a playground, and an urban garden.
Most important to André is the sense of ownership cultivated by the the plaza space he is planning. Representing a community composed mainly of Afro-Brazilians facing discrimination and criminalization, the plaza is an important effort to create a space where residents can feel at home and interact without fear. André and a team of landscape architects at AMBYÁ have plans to surround the plaza with plants of African origin. Through various other improvements, he aims to create a space that can be a source of pride for the residents, which in turn will place more “eyes on the streets” and encourage community-led monitoring and maintenance.
However, André emphasized that the creation of the plaza alone won’t be enough to stop crime and violence; broader questions about social inequity must be addressed. As a resident of a community occupied by pacification units of the military police, he sees the militarization of favelas as an extension of the War on Drugs, which he sees as a war against black and poor Brazilians.
The day after our interview, André took me to a meeting with the new chief of the pacification unit in Babilônia. Unlike her predecessor, the new chief was a woman and had more progressive views on policing, both things André liked. “The pacification units have been most successful when led by women,” he said.
That same day, André showed me the future site of his plaza, where there was a tattered couch, litter, and children running around. He also took me towards the top of the community, where I was introduced to one of the first residents of the favela, who has lived there for 65 years.
It was a really great opportunity to be able to talk to someone who is actually leading in the implementation of CPTED strategies in a community facing both violence and stigma. I’m excited to learn more and document all of the strategies being implemented in the city of Rio de Janeiro, while further understanding the complex dynamics at play.”