26 April 2011

More of the same, as usual

As usual, it is difficult to know where to begin, so let’s take it from the top.

A Presidenta da República, Dilma is planning on calling a meeting with the twelve governors of the states that will host the World Cup. The federal government is beginning to realize that someone has to take the lead in organizing things, now, or there are going to be some major problems in 2014. INFRAERO, the Brazilian air transport authority, has already assured everyone that 9 or the 12 airport projects will not be ready in time. Dilma is trying to find ways to avoid an international embarrassment and so is taking steps to have “preventative auditing measures” put in place so that the major projects won’t be unnecessarily delayed by pesky accountants once they are actually under way. The generalized lack of planning is hopefully no longer going to be acceptable as both Plan A and Plan B. However, as we know, the stadium projects have doubled in price since 2009, with three of them already scheduled to cost well over R$1 billion. So much for preventative measures.

But really, the problem is not with spending public money on stadia. It’s in the almost complete lack of return on investment, not spending it on other projects and ruining lives to make the stadiums happen. The following are reports that will be seen again, and again, and again as Brazil “gets ready” to host the mega-events.

This one, in Portuguese, is about the people who are being forcibly removed from their homes around the Sambódromo:

This one, in English, is about the total lack of humanity shown by the Prefeitura in removing people from around the Maracanã to make way for a parking lot. The text that accompanies the video is here.






This week, Amnesty International and the United Nations are in town to 1) deliver condemnations of the Brazilian government for violating human rights agreements that Brazil has signed onto 2) interview activists and residents about the ongoing disappropriations 3) call international attention to the problems of mega-events and their urban and social impacts. The author of the United Nations report is Raquel Rolink, professor of Urbanism at the University of São Paulo. Her report can be found though this excellent website on the human right to dignified housing. Other information regarding the forced removals in Rio can be found here.  

It’s doubtful that anyone in the City Government will be listening or if they are, they will hear only what they want to hear. My evidence for this presumption comes from a talk entitled O Plano do Legado para Cidade do Rio de Janeiro that the Secretário Extraordinário de Desenvolvimento [sic] Felipe Goes gave last week at the Instituto de Arquitetos do Brasil (IAB, where despite their insistence on smart urban design, they don’t have a bicycle rack).

Goes opened his talk by reflecting upon the “Olympic Legacy” in Athens. He told the crowd that in his conversations with Greek government officials, the principal Olympic legacy was an improvement in the social comportment of the Athenians. In the lead up to the Olympics there was much less graffiti and tagging. Of course, once the economy collapsed and students and government workers took to the streets in violent protest, graffiti becomes a much less subtle weapon that a Molotov cocktail (as I described in this post from 2010). Come on Felipe! Comportamento Social? Fala Sério. But then, to give you an idea of how the government can turn a turd into a flower, this really very Extraordinary Secretary said that a BRT system slashing through neighborhoods is actually much better than a Metro because you get to see the landscape and not be trapped underground. In Rio de Janeiro, you either drink the Olympic Kool-aid ©® TM or get your house knocked over.

It’s not just that mega-event development projects are ill-considered, poorly planned, attend the demands of international capital at the expense of the population, install extra-legal authorities, privatize and militarize public space, throw public money at Pharanoic projects, and allow for the installation of neo-liberal tactics of governance. 

What really irks is that even with all this, nothing gets done properly. The announcement for the opening of bidding for the Olympic Park project had two different dates. In Portuguese it was 25.4.11, in English 25.5.11. Naturally, this generated some confusion and the pdf was re-released. This was the same bidding process that was cancelled earlier in the year because the IAB was screaming about Rio 2016’s lack of transparency. Today’s O Globo informed that the Velódromo built for the 2007 Pan American Games for R$14,1 million does not meet IOC or international cycling federation regulations and will have to be completely rebuilt. The same holds true for the Pan swimming center which will only be capable of hosting synchronized swimming and water polo for the Olympics. Is it incompetence? Ignorance? Corruption?  Can it all be going so wrong?

There are many discouraging signs as Rio de Janeiro and Brazil prepare to host a series of mega-events over the next five years. The city has a difficult time handling rain, much less interminable and poorly planned urban interventions. On the bright side, the soccer stadiums are not as violent as those in Buenos Aires. Of course, when at the Engenhão, one can’t even see the goal line. Nice legacy.

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