Contested understandings of the world's largest urban forest

Authors: Brian Godfrey*, Vassar College
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Urban Geography, Latin America
Keywords: forest, urbanization, political ecology, environment, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Bourbon Room, Astor, Mezzanine
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The vast Tijuca Forest of Rio de Janeiro, the world’s largest urban forest, covers 33 km2 or 13 miles2 of steep forested terrain surrounded by a city of 6.3 million residents (2010). As a remnant of the Atlantic rainforests that once blanketed coastal Brazil, the urban forest has been shaped by competing socio-ecological discourses of environmental conservation, sustainable development, and environmental justice. In the late 19th century, after deforestation by coffee plantations resulted in erosion and threatened the city’s water supply, authorities sponsored reforestation in a massive project of ecological restoration. Growing pressures of urbanization prompted the creation of a national park in 1961 and a national landmark in 1967. In 2012, UNESCO included Tijuca Forest in approving a novel world heritage site for the urban cultural landscape, “Rio de Janeiro: Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea.” UNESCO cautioned that a management plan needed “to be finalized for the property and its buffer zone that addresses potential threats and possible remaining gaps in protection so that preservation of the overall cultural landscape might be achieved.” This admonition referred largely to expansion of Rio’s informal favela communities into Tijuca National Park, which pitted environmentalists against advocates of social and environmental justice. Favela communities, for example, have protested governmental containment measures, ranging from “eco-walls” to “eco-parks.” This paper focuses on these contemporary debates in light of Tijuca Forest’s environmental history and alternative socio-ecological understandings.

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