Rio de Janeiro is known as much for its beautiful beaches and vibrant culture as for the dramatic contrast between its wealthy neighborhoods and numerous favelas – areas historically characterized by high rates of housing informality, poverty, and resource scarcity. This polarization has earned Rio de Janeiro the label of the “dual city,” the “divided city,” or the “split city” (Ribeiro and Telles, 2011; Rocha, 2005; Ventura, 1994) and made it a popular case study for understanding how global, national, and municipal level trends and policies contribute to urban inequality. Unlike other cities where poor neighborhoods are concentrated along the peripheries (Hardoy and Satterthwaite, 2014; Simon, 2008), many of Rio’s favelas abut downtown and tourist areas and wealthy neighborhoods, reflecting a certain embeddedness of “the fringes” of the city within its core geographic, economic, and social spaces.

This chapter considers the processes of “fringe-making” in Rio de Janeiro. First, it examines how national transitions and municipal policies interacted to produce a geography of exclusion within the city. Then, a consideration of recent state efforts to improve favela residents’ quality of living and some of the opportunities these have created for residents’ security and social mobility follows. The increase of state interventions in favelas in the last 40 years suggests that social polarization in the city is not simply a product of state neglect and aggression, but of uneven development in which the state is both present and absent, helpful and harmful, often at the same time. The chapter concludes with some thoughts about how a historical, contextual analysis of the making and remaking of Rio’s favelas helps us better understand the complex and dynamic relationship between the state and its most vulnerable citizens.