Socio-spatial legibility and the contradictions of favela upgrading in Rio de Janeiro

Thaisa Comelli, Isabelle Anguelovski, Eric Chu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
296 Downloads (Pure)


This paper contributes to global perspectives on gentrification by interrogating the experiences of urban redevelopment and transformation in the global South. Through unpacking the contradictions of public space revitalization and upgrading in two favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we critically examine changes to the socio-spatial fabric of informal settlements over time. Our analysis reveals that upgrading projects, when combined with state-led favela pacification, create socio-spatial legibility through three inter-related pathways of physical, symbolic, and economic discipline. In the outset, favela upgrading increases property prices and produces an urban scenario molded for outsiders while simultaneously invisibilizing traditional cultural and social uses. For favela residents, however, upgrading is experienced as iterative processes of securitization and restriction, which involve strategies such as environmental clean-up, property enclosure, police violence, and new exclusionary forms of investments. As a result, the most socially vulnerable residents are controlled, coercively driven away, and slowly erased. Over time, the apparent integration of the formal and informal city, of the rich and the poor, of the ‘asphalt’ and the ‘hill’ in Rio de Janeiro produces new forms of separation, segregation, and fragmentation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)633-656
Issue number5-6
Early online date29 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2018


  • slum upgrading
  • neoliberal cities
  • public space
  • global gentrification
  • environmental gentrification
  • Rio
  • Brazil


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