Before returning to the favela Vila Autódromo for the first time since 2012, I had already been told that the community would not look the same. As a friend said to me, “It will resemble a perfect smile with several teeth knocked out.” Vila Autódromo is situated just yards away from the site of the 2016 Rio Olympic village, and Olympic planners as well as construction interests have long targeted this close-knit community for demolition. Located on an achingly beautiful lake, where glittering new high-rise condominiums have sprouted “seemingly overnight”, the city’s business and political leaders see prime real estate, with pesky favelados in the way of their development dreams.
Despite a fierce resistance to their removal that has stymied the efforts of Olympic planners, I had heard before arriving that 150 of the 500 families living in Vila Autódromo had left. I expected many of their homes, places I had visited, to now be piles of rubble. What I did not expect was the absence of trees. Continue reading