Favela Sustainable Urban Planning

Rio de Janeiro

Dr. Theresa Williamson (Catalytic Communities) discusses the conditions of Rio de Janiero's favelas pre/post Olympics and envisions a future for sustainable urban planning.

Favela Sustainable Urban Planning

Photo by Mallory Adragna (LAI)

"Shelter like water, air and food is a basic necessity"- Dr. Theresa Williamson

By Mallory Adragna, LAI Intern

UCLA International Institute, January 18, 2018- Dr. Theresa Williamson, a city planner and executive director of Catalytic Communities (CatComm), a Rio de Janeiro-based non-governmental organization that applies asset based community development support to favela communities, gave an enlightening presentation about the status of Rio’s Favelas within a Pre/Post Olympic context.

Cosponsored by the UCLA International Institute, the UCLA Global Public Affairs, and the UCLA Latin American Institute, a mixture of graduate students and undergraduates learned about the counter narrative that consists of alternative methods to sustainable solutions for affordable housing in Rio de Janiero. Since 2000, CatComm mission has been committed to improvement of all Rio de Janeiro residents by advocating the integration between the city’s informal and formal communities in which residents and favelas are recognized for equal and heritage status. 

As an organization, Catalytic Communities has focused on different community issues throughout the years. Between 2000 - 2010, the organization focused on strategic training and networking that provided favela activists with a broader support system with peer to peer exchanging or organizer communal spaces. From 2010-2016, CatComm broadly reported issues and values of favelas based on community perspective through RioWatch, a community reporting website.


Photo by Mallory Adragna (LAI)

Since 2016, CatComm has contributed to the development and demonstration of value within participatory planning and methodologies. In addition the organization has been advocating for inclusive, integrative, community-led favela development policies.

In 2009, Brazil was chosen to host the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. As a result, the city of Rio de Janeiro poured resources into the demolition and removal of favela communities to make way for infrastructure and investment. As a response, favela residents protested by utilizing unity, diverse resolute leadership, extending broad network support, social media, and sharing information. Ascribable to media attention, issues underlining favelas such as poverty, race, and inequalities became a global discussion. Dr. Williamson final thoughts posed the question, “What if Rio set an example for the world? A new type of community led integration rooted in community assets and benefiting from the qualities of informality”.