25 March 2011

The impossibility of everything

The impossibility of keeping up with EVERYTHING that is happening in Rio de Janeiro is increasingly clear. Today I drove with Fabricia Herdy as my grad-student co-pilota along the trajectory of the Trans-Carioca BRT line (also known as the T5) that will supposedly link the international airport (Galeão) with the Autódromo. This is the link to the official and brutally crisp video. http://oglobo.globo.com/rio/video/2011/22724/

I have many impressions after driving these streets. In sum: Nooooosssssaahhhh Senhora. The project appears to be moving, or rather, the city government has started putting up big blue signs. There are mergulhões to be sunk, houses and businesses to be bulldozed, viaducts to be shot into the air, voids to be bridged, tunnels to be dug and an unimaginably complex project to be carried off in four and a half years. Officially mid-wifed this week by O Principe do Rio, the Trans-Carioca is budgeted at R$1,5 billion and will consume at least 3,200 buildings. It is a massive urban transportation project and will DEFINITELY change things along its 39km trajectory. (In the Grandes Projetos Urbanos (GPDU) laboratory in the Graduate School of Architecture and Urbanism at the Universiade Federal Fluminense, we are working on a project that will analyse these transformations. We’ll present our preliminary results at LASA 2012 in San Fransisco. If you want abstract, send me an email). 

But wait, there are three more BRT lines planned. One is blasting its way across swamplands and through mountains to connect Barra da Tijuca and Santa Cruz, and another is headed, lock-step from Barra to the military compound in Deodoro. The third, and least likely to leap off paper is the Trans-Brasil that will link Santa-Cruz and Caju. These are all supposed physically manifest before the 2016 Olympics? The T-5 alone is going to demand an incredible amount of equipment. Are there enough qualified laborers in Greater Rio to build all of these things? What about all of the other things under construction? If I were a skilled road-man, fore-man, or oil-man with a mouthful of Portuguese, I would get myself to Rio asap.

Eduardo Paes calls the T-5 “An urban revolution”. He’s right. There’s a half a billion set aside to pay people for the homes the project will destroy. The Minha Casa Minha Vida housing program for the whole country is only R$7,6 billion (just cut back from R$12,7). So, to build one BRT line, one in every 15 reales of public housing money will go to destroy housing stock. If they manage to connect all of these segments before the opening day of the Olympics, I will be well and truly impressed. It will take years to untangle what is being rolled into these BRT projects. Caution and three sheets to the wind boys!

Politically, the bicho esta pegando também. For Portuguese readers, the following is a link to a great description by Nelma Gusmão de Oliveira of the lack of change in the basic form, function, and force of the APO (Public Olympic Authority). There was some shuffling of papers and a few hundred public functionaries fell into the dustbin of the future, reducing the budget of the APO by a few million a year. In a budget that begins at R$29 billion, that’s nothing. But never fear! The former head of Brazil’s Central Bank (all 8 years under Lula), is taking charge, damnit. Bankers are honest and know how to manage many billions of your money! There's not too much noise coming from opposition, but there are a few snarky figures lingering about. Don’t tremble because the Rio Military Police is there too…
Rio police spray little kids in Niteroi, nice work fellas. Oglobo foto.

Let’s hope that the MP doesn’t start turning its attention to the Social Movements mobilizing to fight the World Cup and Olympic Project the way they’ve been treating the Obama protestors and the people from Morro da Bumba in Niterói that have yet to move into permanent housing following last April’s mudslides.

Oh, FIFA. Oh, CBF. Oh, the Copa.  You know it has to be bad if a headline in OGlobo about the 2014 World Cup is: White Elephant of the Forest. This refers to the absolute and complete lack of utility for the Arena Amanônia after the World Cup. It’s a pity that they destroyed a functional and elegant stadium in the process. Much like the HSBC Arena in Rio (built for the 2007 Pan-Am. Games), the 47,000 seat R$593 million stadium will probably only be used for shows. Air Supply in Manaus anyone? Get your tickets now. We knew this was going to happen. It was planned this way. There was never any doubt about the result. But it didn’t have to happen this way, and no one is going to do a thing to prevent it from happening again or hold officials responsible for their pig-hgeaded, short-sightedness. Or are they? 

In a refreshing switch on its coverage of favelas being the main source of pollution for the lakes of the Olympic Development Region, OGlobo has finally started reporting on the saw sewage and waste that condominiums are pouring into the waterways. There have also been occasional reports about the pollution caused by the various chemical and pharmaceutical plants in the region. Nothing, of course, about how the changes to the city’s master plan which will allow for more and denser condominium development, more cars, more consumption, more sewage, and more waste will affect the regions already stressed water system. That’s for IBAMA and Imanjá to deal with.

I started off this column by reflecting on how it was difficult to keep up with everything that is going on in Rio. This is true everywhere, but at times, Rio de Janeiro seems to be moving so quickly and in so many directions that it’s difficult to know where to sit and watch it. This is part of the challenge of finding an apartment in Rio: to find a place that is quiet but close to transportation, on a side street but with a view, close to entertainment, restaurants, parks, plazas. Someplace to work, play, eat, study, sleep, feel comfortable. Too much to ask? There are great streets in crappy neighborhoods and crappy apartments on great streets. Some are too far, some are too low, the buildings from the 60s and 70s and 80s are cramped, the new buildings without personality and the roomy apartments in older, elegant buildings from the 30s, 40s, and 50s are too expensive. There is a general sense of urgency and scarcity that is clapped on the ear with the open palm of bureaucracy. Most of the apartments I have seen have had between 4 and 12 other people looking at them at the same time. Looking to rent an apartment in Rio? Here’s a word you need to know: fiador.

Your fiador will be someone who owns at least one property in the city of Rio de Janeiro and who is willing to provide you with all of their original personal documents, including the value of their apartment, how much money they make, etc. This person will act as the guarantor of your rent for your 30 month contract. You flee the country, or move to the interior of the interior, the rent is on them. The problem, in addition to what I feel is a tremendous invasion of privacy and the commensurate need for a long-standing friendship (or family relation) to even ask someone to be a fiador, is that it takes a lot of running back and forth, here and there, copies, orginals, stamps, signatures, proof of residence, bank accounts, getting everything together, and the first person (of the 10 of you standing in line to see the over-priced apartment where you will never speak to or meet the person who owns it), the first person to deliver all of their documentation will be the one who gets the apartment. So, get your fiadores lined up now, or be prepared to pay Porto Seguro the equivalent of one month’s rent per year for two and a half years. You will never see this money again. This word you already know and it needs no italics: mafia.

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