Atlantic Cities
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Rio's Santa Marta Slum Attracts a Slew of Famous Visitors

Rio's Santa Marta Slum Attracts a Slew of Famous Visitors
Reuters

Rio de Janiero's Santa Marta neighborhood is something of a model slum.

This is thanks in part to Rio's slum "pacification" program, which aims to make the city safer in time for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. The program involves taking neighborhood control away from drug traffickers and giving it to specially trained community police. The program also provides health centers and electricity to residents, with the goal of fostering social inclusion.

It's worked in Santa Marta, which is built on one of the city's steepest slopes. In the last four years, violent crime has dropped, and it's become a tourist destination, attracting the likes of Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper.

"It’s remarkable the change that’s occurred here," Vice President Joe Biden said during his visit yesterday. "I’m told in the last four years there has not been a fatality as a consequence of crime here in this region."

Santa Marta is no stranger to outside attention. In 2010, two Dutch artists transformed much of the building stock into a vibrant collection of colors, painting over facades to create an artful streetscape.

Santa Ana and its newly painted streetscape. Image courtesy Flickr user alobos Life

Image courtesy Flickr user Stephanie Schwartz

In 1996, well before the government takeover, the neighborhood was selected as the location for Michael Jackson's 1996 single "They Don't Care About Us." Thanks to the film, Santa Marta became synonymous with urban misery, something the government wasn't too keen on. According to a New York Times report at the time:

Ronaldo Cezar Coelho, the state secretary for Industry, Commerce and Tourism, complained that such a video would damage the city's image, and reportedly said he would demand editing rights over the finished product. "I don't see why we should have to facilitate films that will contribute nothing to all our efforts to rehabilitate Rio's image," Mr. Coelho told newspapers here.

A statue of Jackson now stands in the neighborhood to commemorate his visit:

Flickr user theverb.org.

Top image: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (C) speaks with Pacification Unit Mayor Priscilla Azevedo (R) during a visit to the Santa Marta slum in Rio de Janeiro, May 30, 2013. REUTERS/Victor R. Caivano

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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