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Rio de Janeiro on building spree for Olympics, World Cup – but at what cost?

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Many residents say that attention on their communities is overdue. In the vast network of favelas called Complexo Alemao, in the troubled northern part of the city, dozens of children line up outside the doors of a state-of-the-art community center, opened in January, which houses 24 computers, two tables of e-readers, and a popular Xbox. Next door stands a new, government-funded 3D movie theater. Up the hill, a massive cable car traverses the neighborhood.

David Amen, a resident, says he was first suspicious of the additions. “We were wondering why there was so much change,” he says. Yet today he works as the press coordinator at the community center and says the development has been a boost for his community. “Even if this is just for mega events, who cares? As long as they do something real.”

But change has not been welcome everywhere. Closer to the center of Rio, in Providencia, Mauricio Hora, a community leader, says he worries the government is “cleaning up” his favela to turn it into a middle class enclave, as housing prices have soared and even favelas are under threat of gentrification.

Providencia sits adjacent to Rio’s dilapidated port, undergoing its own massive redevelopment project. Outside the subway station that leads into the community, a new cable car is under construction, and farther up the hill a road and covered soccer field are being built. When it is all finished, a third of the community is going to be relocated in order to accommodate the new structures, says Theresa Williamson, the founder of Catalytic Communities, which advocates for favela residents. The lack of transparency as to where they may be moved is part of the problem, activists say.

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