While reading about the ascension of Copacabana, I ended up learning about how the Zona Sul became cool. One could say it started with Princess Carlota Joaquina taking up residence in Botafogo, in 1810, which brought many of the elite there as well. In fact, writer Lima Barreto said, “Rio is Botafogo, the rest is an indigenous city, a black city”.
During this time, other currently-cooler neighborhoods like Copacabana, Ipanema and so forth, were rather undeveloped and thus less populated. That is, until the start of the 1900s when things began to shift. “With the construction of the Aveninda Beira-Mar by Pereira Passos, the city domesticated its beaches in order to, from then on, create a new lifestyle: to live beachside. The belief of a sea bath as a “cure” for sicknesses made going to the beaches a more popular activity, until it became stylish, where one goes to see and be seen. Thus, the elite of Rio start to inhabit the coastline of the Zona Sul, starting in Copacabana and then occupying Ipanema and Leblon and, more recently, Barra da Tijuca.
Still in the Passos Period, the government defines the occupation of Copacabana via the wealthy population, through the repealing of the decree that allowed for “freedom of construction”. Thus, barred are the construction of slums and precarious dwellings, which demonstrates the attention of the government towards the transformations in the neighborhood, starting with the installation of residences by the elite, “taking the place then occupied by Botafogo”.
The expansion of the city, via the coastline, towards and beyond Leblon, demanded large investments to overtake the physical barriers: the mountains of Rio de Janeiro. However, not even the public powers, nor private ones possessed the financial conditions for such investments. And so, reinforced concrete, by making it possible to build higher buildings, comes about as a way to accumulate quick capital, without needing to incorporate new areas or having to invest large amounts in infrastructure, diminishing the costs and promoting an increase in civil construction. Other two factors, besides reinforced concrete, were responsible for the boom in Copacabana: the introduction of the elevator and the governmental act that, in 1946, loosened rules against making larger buildings.
From then on, the real estate investments started to concentrate themselves in new areas, and Copacabana became the most important neighborhood, not only in the city, but in the country. Copacabana became part of the social narrative, with songs and films mentioning it, like the song Copacabana, by João de Barro and Alberto Ribeiro, in 1947. The cranes preferred to turn their claws towards Lagoa, Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon and, in a way, skipped over Botafogo, or in other words, the enterprises opted to not invest in the neighborhood. In any event, the new areas possessed the possibility of higher rentability, as they could still be defined as the periphery with few buildings — having, then, various options for less valued land than those of older neighborhoods, such as Botafogo. The “new” neighborhoods went through a process of valorization, being sold for their agreeable nature, such as having a slightly urban character and beaches, with clean waters.”
Source: Botafogo e sua evolução urbana (PT, pdf)