Take an immersive tour of Rio's favelas in Google's new interactive web documentary

Ta-no-mapa-google-beyond-the-mapGoogleJosé Junior, a director of Afroreggae, maps the unmapped favelas using a Google Street View camera.

Ever wondered what goes on in Rio when the Olympics aren’t there? A new Google Arts & Culture project gives a glimpse into life in the city’s favelas, the informal, largely unmapped slums that house one in five people in the city.

Called “Beyond the Map,” the project gives viewers virtual, 360-degree tours that combine photos, videos, guided voiceovers and short documentary films to give a closer look into the lives of the favelas’ vibrant, diverse residents.

It’s a illuminating look into what have been considered invisible neighbourhoods — until recently, the favelas were largely unmapped. On Google Maps, many favelas look like this:

Google-beyond-the-map-favelaGoogleAn unmapped favela above a major highway.

Living without an address or location on a map makes it hard for favela residents to obtain official documents or access the city’s emergency services. Imagine you had to report a crime or a fire — how would you communicate where you lived if it doesn’t show up on a map? Plus, it’s difficult for potential tourists to navigate the confusing network of informal neighbourhoods without maps, and hard for potential customers to find local businesses.

“A big part of an identity is having an address. The favelas are not simply a place, but they are a people,” says a Brazilian narrator, introducing the “Beyond the Map.”

The project gives a Google Street View- style look inside certain favelas, where you can pan the camera in any direction, or click on interactive elements that bring up photos and videos about local businesses, individuals, lifestyles and culture.

While the favelas suffer from high crime rates and are
often marked for police “pacification,” “Beyond the Map” also shows a more positive perspective by introducing viewers to some of the neighbourhood’s residents.

The project introduces viewers to a woman named Paloma, who lives in a favela called Maré, is taking computer science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro to learn how to develop artificial intelligence programs. Another resident, named Luis, is learning ballet at the Theatro Municipal, despite being threatened by bullies for engaging in an activity deemed too “feminine.”

Part of the project also sheds light on some of Google’s efforts to create actual maps of the favelas. One of the videos features an initiative called “
Ta no Mapa,” which is a partnership between Google and a Brazilian cultural group called Afroreggae. The organisation recruits volunteers to walk around favelas with Google Street View cameras latched to their backs.

Google-beyond-the-map-favelaGoogleThe same favela shown above, after Google Street View surveys.

Redes da Mare, another non-profit group, is also helping with the mapping project by giving names to streets and places. Sometimes, the group gives a neighbourhood a blank name, to be filled out later by residents.

It’s a daunting task, with nearly 1,000 favelas to map. But having an address surely beats seeming invisible.

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