CivilizingRio is a concise, well-written social history that will be invaluable to anyone conducting an examination of the modern urban environment’s evolution. Professor Meade utilizes Manuel Castels’s “theory of collective consumption” to examine Rio de Janeiro’s growth and development. She effectively argues that the allocation of urban space and its amenities are not accidental, but planned in a manner that purposely separates the rich from the poor. The author focuses upon a period of dynamic growth and development, a period between 1889 and 1930 when the city’s population more than doubled, creating an inhospitable and unhealthy environment. Water, sewerage, and transportation were luxuries that, for the most part, were available only to the city’s upper classes. Internal and international immigration flooded the local economy with an inexhaustible and readily exploitable supply of cheap labor. The boom and bust economy that characterized the period under scrutiny offered limited employment opportunities and led to the creation of a vast pool of people who were chronically unemployed or underemployed. Life in turn-of-the-century Rio was further complicated by high racial tensions as former slaves, displaced from the rural economy, competed with white Europeans for limited employment. It is this seething cauldron of continual conflict between the elite’s goal of creating a modern “European” capital and the effect of such a program on the city’s poor that Professor Meade carefully and thoughtfully analyzes.

Meade traces Rio’s evolution from a relatively small tropical backwater to a major metropolitan center. In doing so, she focuses on two seminal events that forever changed the character of modern Rio: the 1904 vaccination riot and the 1917 general strike. Before the turn of the century, Rio was diverse: it was a place where people of all classes lived, worked, and played in close proximity to one another. The elite’s desire to transform Rio into a modern “European” capital led to massive renovation and sanitation programs that displaced the poor and made their already desperate lives worse. The government program of forced relocation to the city’s northern suburbs—a place without basic necessities such as transportation, housing, and sanitation—culminated in the 1904 vaccination riot. The violence did not deter the authorities, who moved forward with their renovation program. Meade contrasts these events with the extension of public works, transportation, and other public amenities to upper-class suburbs like Ipanema. The affluent suburbs had access to utilities and services that were absent from the poor suburbs, even though the latter housed most of the growing city’s population. The gulf between the classes broadened with the outbreak of World War I, which took the Brazilian economy to a new low. The war’s hardships culminated in the great general strike of 1917, which served as yet another reminder of how urban form shaped the lives of the poor and working classes. The author vividly describes these events, their antecedents, and how the classes confronted one another. Professor Meade shows that violent encounters were the only viable means that the poor and working classes had of communicating their grievances to the elite.

“Civilizing” Rio will be of great appeal to all who are interested in Latin American urban and social history. It also serves as a foundation upon which other comparative analyses of developing cities can be examined. It is unfortunate that the book will likely be ignored by the architects and planners who are responsible for the design of today’s cities.