Policing Tourism in Serrinha Favela (Rio) and Harlem (New York): The Marketing of

Urban History, Crime Legends and Black Soul


Paul Amar

Department of Politics

New York University


This paper will examine how the marketing of favelas and ghettos to tourists depends upon intensified policing. Urban heritage tourism has absorbed security discourses that dentonize and evict local racialized populations, all while profiting from the cultural performances (gospel, jongo samba) and public culture (street fairs, local museums, music venues) generated by these same resident communities. Local expressive street cultures have reacted with fierce and ironic appropriations of heritage and tourist commodities and spaces, in conflict with police designs.

In Serrinha, the state and municipal government have worked to develop the area as a laboratory and showcase for touristic development in an informal settlement (a favela). Supported by World Bank and municipal finds, the Favela-Bairro Program installed a cable car, Afro-Brazilian cultural museum, a carnaval crafts institute and samba performance venue in this community where the samba was supposed to have been invented. My findings so far indicate that this project has failed because of notoriously rampant police violence and conflicts in local leadership about the political, national and racial meaning of samba culture, and about the role of the military security forces in intervening in local illicit and informal economies. I am interested in assessing the degree to which this site serves as an urban laboratory for working out new geographies of cultural capital and social inequality in the metropolis. I am also committed to documenting the oral political and performance histories of youth and elder artists in the community and their crafty struggles with police, narcotraffickers, government planners, World Banks officers and tourists.

In Harlem, municipal, financial, real estate and federal investments have been attracted to this once spumed area as part of a project to create an urban heritage zone for African American culture. Touristic development has focussed on music and architectural heritage, and highlighted gospel spirituality and the performativity of consuming soul food. Harlem has become the number one tourist attraction for Europeans visiting New York City due to, not despite, the ‘ghetto’s’ legendary criminal reputation. Recent touristic development has justified the deployment of intensified policing practices which have wiped out local and immigrant street economies, contained or cancelled public festivals, performances and rallies, and brutalized youth participants in contemporary collective working class expressions. I am interested in how changing ethnic, class and financial structures are addressed by police actions, and how the heritage development of the area may actually lead to a deadening of its contemporary cultural vitality.

I will asses the transnational flows which position these sites in comparable contests, and also highlight the historical, cultural and urban-geographic specificity of both spaces that destines them to pursue divergent trajectories.