In this blog post Oscar Natividad, Sue Brownill and Ben Spencer from Oxford Brookes University report on a workshop on Co-Creation methods held in Santa Marta, Rio de Janeiro.
Mapping the Right to Leisure in the City
Have you ever asked yourself “whose city is this anyway?”, “who has the right the move around it?” or “who has the right to simply enjoy it?” These questions become particularly tricky when we look at highly contested cities such as Rio de Janeiro. In Rio, hundreds of favelas spread across the city, yet they are not formally recognised. This creates a disparity between those from the “asphalt” (the formal city) and those from the “hills” (the informal city).
To explore these three questions for the context of Santa Marta, a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Oscar proposed that the group use mapping techniques like the ones explored in previous Co-Creation secondments (see Onion Map post on this website). The main intention of this mapping activity was to look at the flow of people across the intangible “borders” of a favela, borders created and perpetrated by both inner and outer stigmas. In conversation with the Co-Creation team, we brainstormed different options: mapping the flux of income creation and consumption across such borders, mapping mobility needs for work and education, mapping personal and professional relations with other groups or inhabitants outside Santa Marta, or mapping a more informal use of the city beyond basic needs.
As the Urban Reconnaissance methodology from Tesserae perfectly illustrates, a mapping exercise needs to be focused and narrowed down to a very specific topic, and its aims developed in collaboration with the members of the community to be mapped. Therefore, we offered these ideas to the local group (grupo ECO), so that we could then choose a path that was interesting and useful for them. This resulted in a mutual agreement to stick to the topic planned for that day: leisure. We could have limited ourselves to explore the categories created within the Urban Reconnaissance methodology itself, in which our partners explore the “leisure city” as “an entertainment complex, a phantasmagoria devoted to individual gratification, cultural consumption and commodity fetishism […] [where] Urban life blurs the edge between working and free time, between production and reproduction.” However, we decided to approach the mapping activity from different perspective by following the philosophical debates around the Right to the City (largely discussed by Lefebvre, Harvey, Simone and Brenner, among others). Therefore, we organised the exercise around the right to access the city for leisure purposes, hence the name of the activity: Mapping the Right to Leisure in the City. The main objectives of the activity were:
- To trigger a dialogue around the existing opportunities for leisure in the community and around it, and whether these satisfy the needs of the group;
- To open a broader debate around the Right to the City, using the lens of leisure as an entry point.
- To further develop mapping techniques tested in previous workshops, contributing to the Co-Creation toolbox.
Structure of the exercise
- Preparation Stage (6 to 20 hours, depending on existing resources and adaptations needed):
In our case, the preparation stage included: compiling satellite imagery with detailed resolution to be printed out in A0 or A1 formats, meeting with the local organisation to ensure the activity and the aims were useful for them, arranging several internal discussions within our team to adapt the activity to on-going debates during the workshops, and purchasing small coloured stickers to map the areas being discussed during the activity.
- Interviewing process (30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the interests of the interviewees):
The local association selected four families with children for us to interview. We facilitated the interviewing process to target three core elements: a) places these families go for leisure and why, b) areas they avoid in their free time and why, c) places they would like to visit more frequently, but they currently don´t, and the reasons why. The three core elements were explored first within the boundaries of Santa Marta, and then throughout the city more broadly.
- Transferring data (1 hour)
Bearing the three core elements in mind, we transferred the information into big maps (one of the favela and one of the city) using three different coloured stickers, in order to visualize any clusters and discuss them during step four. Mapping the key data was followed by a brief presentation by each team of interviewers to share with the group the reasons why the stickers were located where they were.
- Core discussion (1 to 3 hours, depending on the size of the group and interaction between them):
We initiated the dialogue by asking the local inhabitants whether they feel represented by the areas coded in the map, and if they feel this image represents the community patterns of mobility and leisure more broadly. This step could benefit from an initial discussion in smaller groups to allow for a richer and more varied discussion.
Day 4 – Leisure: Prototyping the mapping exercise in Santa Marta, Rio de Janeiro
We spent the morning of the fourth day with the local initiative Escola Bola (Football School). Escola Bola is a core leisure initiative in Santa Marta for children 3 to 19 years old. Escola Bola started with the volunteered time of Jose Luis Oliveira more than 20 years ago, organizing football teams with the parents of current children in the program. As Jose Luis explained us, the parents don’t pay any fees for Escola Bola, and his priority is the school. “It is first Escola, and then Bola”, meaning, that children in the group are required to get good grades in the school to stay in the team. As we understood it, the mission of the initiative is to provide a safe space and a healthy environment for the children to grow in (focusing on both physical and behavioural growth). Some years later, Jose Luis was nominated by the government to be financially supported for his social work, support that he still receives.
After spending the morning with Escola Bola, we were divided in 4 groups. Each group interviewed a different household with children from Escola Bola who had offered their time. Some of the topics highlighted during these interviews included:
- Places to go: Escola Bola, Colonia de Ferias (a summer school) organized by the group ECO, the music lessons at the Samba school, the shopping mall in Botafogo, the beach, and even other group activities organised in other favelas.
- Places to avoid: there was a general feeling of the streets not being safe, especially after sunset and outside the favela. People mentioned not feeling welcomed in areas like Ipanema and Leblon, but questioned whether this was self-imposed. There wasn’t a general sense of places they wanted to avoid, but more a sense of places they didn’t feel they belonged to.
- Desired places: museums, the Maracana Stadium and the Aquarium. Places that felt out of reach due to either distance or price.
For the process of transferring the data, we gathered a group of 20 local inhabitants and 7 international researchers at the bottom of the favela. We mapped and debriefed the group interviews. We then used the colour coded map to facilitate a discussion among the local inhabitants about whether the collected information was representative for the community or reflected only really individualized cases.
Visualizing leisure accessibility from the four families allowed for a more personal reflection on what the community members are doing with their free time. Even though the conversation started as a simple discussion around the physical spaces they access, it evolved into a deeper debate around the values and attitudes towards leisure. Some people challenged the idea of “not having time to do cultural activities” and questioned whether this was more a sign of apathy towards the world out there. “There are plenty of free cultural activities out there” – they argued. This provocation shifted the conversation from a right to a commitment to leisure, a social commitment that will have an impact on future generations. Such a provocation was ultimately calling for a deeper and personal reflection on whether their free time was currently being spent on their social wellbeing and the education of their community, or was being wasted instead.
For a sneak peek on the workshop check this video by Grupo Eco.
Further Reflections and Considerations
As with the reflections on the onion map workshop, we experienced the tensions between academic timescales and objectives, on the one hand, and on the other, the co-creation process, which required more time to allow for a less prescriptive process with unpredictable outcomes. Exploring the less prescriptive route this time, we decided to avoid pushing for a tangible strategy as the output of the workshop within such a restricted timeframe. This flexibility allowed for a much more productive initial debate around the Right to the City and to their community, as well as their duty as engaged citizens.
This activity showed that, while it may seem a tedious amount of time and flexibility is required to develop a co-created experience, the debates that can be triggered when the aim of an activity has been co-created can be very rich.