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Conclusion & Thoughts

Rio de Janeiro is a unique city in so many ways. It has an incredible diversity of natural beauty that includes forests, lakes, mountains and beaches. The same city that offers samba and fresh juices on every corner is also plagued by massive slums, drug wars, and incredible social inequality.

 

When I first read Joao do Rio's book A Alma Encantadora das Ruas, I realized that the city that he wrote about a century ago was so different from the city I knew, but also, in so many ways, the same. People often think that the purpose of studying history is to see how past events and situations reflect on modern day. However, many dont realize that there is a great deal of value in just understanding how a city used to be and how life was, way back then. In doing this research and creating the digital maps that appear on this website, I gained a great deal of insight into what Rio de Janeiro used to be like a century ago.

 

It is important to talk about both what the maps I made show and what they mean in the greater context. One of the most interesting things that I notice in these maps is that while Rio de Janeiro is a huge city, in the early 1900s, most of the city's activity was concentrated in one main area, Centro, the downtown area. Most of Joao do Rio's cronicas take place in that area and when reading his stories, it is unclear if he focuses on that area because it is the most colorful area of the city or if its because that is the true center of the city. Once I geocoded a sampling of the industries in Rio in 1904, I think it is very clear that the downtown area of Rio really was the epicenter of the city one hundred years ago. The map of the industries in 1904 clearly shows that while there were often clusters of similar businesses like the coffee commissioners and clothing stores, they all existed in the downtown area. The blacksmiths were using the same space as the carpenters, which were in the same areas where the wealthy women went to shop at the clothing and jewelry stores, which were close to where the lottery ticket sellers sold their tickets every day. This close industrial proximity demonstrates that a hundred years ago, Rio was a relatively concentrated city, at least in terms of where different businesses existed and that people of all walks of life were walking on the same streets. While social inequality undoubtedly existed at the turn of the century, as slavery had just been abolished in 1888, the rich and poor would have often crossed paths on the streets of Rio.

The maps that display the data from the 1906 Census of Rio de Janeiro add a great deal of depth to understanding what Rio was like at the turn of the century. The map displaying the number of the foreigners in the parishes is interesting because it shows that with the concentration of the foreigners in the downtown area in the parishes such as Sacramento, Sao Jose and Santo Antonio, a great deal of the foreign population was very tied to the business and commerce which was in the downtown area, especially close to the docks where a lot of import/export took place.

One of the other maps that gave a great deal of insight into the people of Rio and where they lived was the map of literacy rates, by parish. Interestingly enough, the parishes with lowest populations, Candelaria and Sacramento, had higher literacy rates. This could be that because Candelaria and Sacramento were truly at the center of the business district, the people who chose to live there wanted to be closer to their businesses and were successful, well-educated people. Undoubtedly, a wide variety of conclusions and analyses can be drawn about Rio de Janeiro at the turn of the 20th Century from the data collected and visualized on these maps.

 

While it is not necessarily the job of a historian to connect past events with the modern day, having lived in Rio for a year in order to conduct this research, I have noticed in many ways, how Rio has changed over the past century. One of the most interesting things I found in this research is that, a hundred years ago, Centro truly was the center of Rio de Janeiro. People of all walks of life mixed on the streets there, as it really was the epicenter of the city, where all business was conducted, where women went to do their luxury shopping, and where street kids ran around and tattoo artists inked customers on the streets. Today, the Centro area of Rio could not be more different. It is now purely a place of business. Wealthy women do their shopping in the upscale Leblon and Ipanema neighborhoods and do not frequent Centro if they dont work there or have a specific reason to go. The area is so geared towards business, that on the weekends, it is almost a ghost town, often with the shops and restaurants closed, as they only get customers during the week when Centro is bustling. Over the last century, Rio has greatly expanded beyond the boundaries of Centro. People who have the money would never opt to live in Centro, which is widely considered a dangerous area at night and on the weekends. People now opt to live in the more low-key, residential and beachfront neighborhoods like Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. Those that can afford it and want a life with less hustle bustle move out to the suburban areas of Barra de Tijuca and Recreio. As Rio's economy and industries have boomed and as the metro has continually been expanded and more bus routes added, people no longer feel pressure (or desire) to live in the business center. Every neighborhood has grocery stores, pharmacies, paper stores, doctors offices and schools, which makes living in the city center unnecessary.

 

A century ago, when João do Rio was writing his tales of the city, Rio was a very different place. The concept of public or accessible transportation hardly existed, if at all, and therefore people had to live in close proximity to where they were going to work and frequent. At the turn of the century, the downtown area of Rio where Joao do Rio set his stories and anecdotes, truly was the epicenter of city life. Joao do Rio's stories and the digital and spatial analysis of what the city was like in the early 1900s, give a great deal of insight into what Rio de Janeiro was like a century ago and truly allows readers and historians alike to travel back in time to see what the city was like at the turn of the 20th century.