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The Changing Logic of Urban Informality in Rio de Janeiro

April 29, 2009 - 4:00 pm

From Squatter Cities to Zones of Special Interest: The Changing Logic of Urban Informality in
Rio de Janeiro
Bryan McCann, Georgetown University

Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, Rio de Janeiro has been characterized by a division between informal and formal economies, most notably in the housing market. The informal sector has burgeoned over the past thirty years, and has also changed in function. Informal housing emerged over the first half of the twentieth century as a compromise between popular claims for urban space and the intransigence of formal landowners. In the last decades of the century, it evolved into a source of profit and political leverage for new interest groups, and the only means of ensuring a minimum of governability in a city marked by territorial disputes. This paper explores the origins of the formal/informal divide, and the consolidation of new interest groups in the 1980s and ’90s, and their patterns of interaction. Sporadic violence plays a crucial role in the perpetuation of these patterns, by reproducing sectoral divisions and containing demands for greater transparency and accountability. Partly as a result, no coalition of interest groups has been able to mobilize successfully to reduce violence.