Chris Gaffney ’92

Heading for the Hills

By Donna Parker

All eyes will be on Rio de Janeiro during the 2014 World cup and 2016 Olympics, but Chris Gaffney, Ph.D., who received his bachelor’s degree in history and philosophy from Trinity is laser focused on the back story of pre-Olympic house cleaning in Brazil’s most famous city.

“Well, the slums have the best views, so what’s happened now is that the military has occupied some of the favelas which will inevitable result in real estate speculation, which will raise rents, pushing the poor to other areas of the city,” says this academic and journalist living and working in Rio.  In April, Gaffney will take up a four year visiting professorship in the School of Architecture and Urbanism at the Universidade Federal Fluminese in Rio de Janeiro.

“Right now, I’m also working with communities helping them translate petitions and letters from communities to the government and United Nations as they attempt to resist the city’s plans to destroy their communities.  They’ve been where they are for 40 years, have legal title to land, but do not receive any city services. The government now wants that land for the Olympics and are trying to get rid of them by any means possible.

“They just happen to be in places where the city wants to showcase Rio during the stadium games.  This is a daunting challenge for me to organize in my head.  There are so many different threads among reformation of the urban landscape—the amount of money—the history of the communities.  It’s a very complex undertaking and I still need to determine what I am going to write and for whom.”

Author of Temples of the Earthbound Gods: Stadiums in the Cultural Landscapes of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires (University of Texas Press, 2008), Chris recently completed a five month Fulbright grant researching the impact of mega events on the city.  His research is also geared toward developing a cultural memory project along with a framework for urban analysis relative to the 2014 World cup, which will be hosted in 12 Brazilian cities.

In addition to his literary skill, Chris is an avid sports player, playing futi-voli on the beach, tennis at the Fluminese Football club, and going to as many live games as possible.  

“I was captain of the soccer team at Trinity, and it was a time of transition for the team.  We really fought hard to make the varsity program something serious.  Our group was together all four years.”

“I also had a lot of fun in college launching water balloons off the third floor of South dormitory, as well as nights on St. Mary’s Street,” he laughs.

On a serious note, Chris says his philosophy courses allowed him to contextualize his experiences and that, combined with history classes, prepared him for extensive travel throughout Latin America.

“Larry Kimmel, department of philosophy, in philosophy treated us like adults and valued our contributions as much as he would one of his colleagues.  He definitely allowed creativity.”

“Trinity was very insular and was much like a boarding school for me.  It allowed for experimentation in a safe environment.  It was a chance for people to grow in ways they might not have had, and some of my best friends were made within my campus fraternity, Chi Delta Tau.”

Chris, who has been married for five years to Brenda Baletti, will soon head back to North Carolina to sell his home and take up residence full time in Rio to continue his teaching and research, perhaps even consider writing another book on his experiences.

“Getting my first book out was pretty big.  I’ve also taught a lot of great courses and impacted students’ lives.  Hundreds and hundreds have left my class better people and more informed armed with critical thinking skills they didn’t have before.”

Chris’s personal web site is www.geostadia.blogspot.com . He also has a business with his brother Kevin, Sean (Trinity ’95) and mother, www.6dsports.com.