26 August 2011

Rio de Janeiro, August 2011

This city is absolutely bonkers. The flow of information and the rate of change and exchange are overwhelming. This is counterbalanced by the mind-boggling geology and the historical trajectory of Brazil. Nothing new, I suppose, just saying.

Real-estate markets are booming. Since October 2009, when the Olympics were announced, prices have more than doubled across the city. Where UPPs have been installed, rates of accretion are much higher. There is a migration of foreign dollars and foreigners into the Olympic City and a migration of locals to the periphery. The currency is overvalued, we appear to be living in some kind of bubble but in a country mired in centuries of bureauctaric inefficiency the structural changes are slow in coming which may, ironically, save Brazil from the depredations being suffered in certain European and North American countries.

Three new transportation lines are getting crammed through the city of Rio without any democratic process or access to information, tens of thousands of people will be forcibly displaced with tens of billions of public funds while the metropolitan transportation plan continues to not exist. BRT é crime.

Last week, someone realized that he had taken the wrong bus but ended up on the Rio-Niteroi bridge. His attempt to get to the other side was woefully unsuccessful and his premature death caused a 12km traffic jam. People desperate to get to work flooded onto the ferry, which has recently reduced service. There are no plans to create more effective links across the bay. The Metrô doesn’t go to either airport and there are no plans to link the two.

It frequently takes more than an hour to leave the campus of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which also has no Metrô service. Two weeks ago, my excellent though crazy bus driver solved the puzzle by jumping a median, doing a u-turn and going the wrong way on a two lane road for about 3km, altering the bus’ normal route to go through the airport and then taking another u-turn to head south again. A brilliant move, but really? Those not as fortunate literally waited three hours. There is an entire traffic jam industry with people walking between lines of stopped cars selling snacks and drinks. There are massive stretches of highway that people avoid for fear of assault or the predictable insanity of Rio’s notorious traffic. Some days, the advertising section for cars in OGlobo is larger than the news section. Did I mention that there is no map of Rio's bus system, no way to tell when a certain bus is going to pass a certain point or where it will take you from there?

On Wednesday morning a group of foreign and Brazilian workers were followed from their hotel by two cars. At a certain point on the elevated highway their vans were stopped by 8 machine-gun wielding men who mistakenly robbed the Brazilians and not the gringos. The police are going to come to work a few minutes earlier now, as the assault happened before the shift started. The week before last, a bus was hijacked in front of City Hall. After the bus driver jumped out the calmest dude in the bus was forced to drive on until the Military Police shot out the tires. In the standoff, there was some shooting in which six people were wounded. All of the bullets found in the bus and in the people came from the Military Police. But don’t worry, these very same police are training to rappel down from stadium roofs in the case that someone gets the bright idea to attack a stadium full of people (which to my knowledge has never happened in the history of sport).

I took the following picture this week, there was no one around. This city is also incredibly calm and beautiful.

Yesterday, the Movement of Homeless Workers occupied the Ministry of Sport building in Brasilia demanding an end to the forced removal of people from their homes in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics. Their estimate is that at least 70 thousand people have been forcibly removed already.

In Niterói, a judge who had taken a very hard line against police corruption was shot 21 times as she parked her car in front of her house. She had received multiple death threats, had asked for police protection that was refused, and was about to sentence a high-ranking member of Niterói’s PM. All of the bullets found in the car and in her body belonged to the PM of Niterói. The news was published above the fold in Oglobo, but below were smaller articles detailing her past and present amorous relationships with police, as if these relationships were somehow complicit in her death. Common sense in Rio has is that “she was asking to be killed” as she had perhaps forgotten her place or did not understand that there are certain social and structural conventions (such as milicias being taken on by uppity female judges) that should not be messed with. Despite Carnaval and some progressive social policies, Brazil is a very conservative country.

The city finally took down the fences that surrounded the Praça Tiradentes in the center of town. It looks great. Fences around public space area sign that the government fears the public. Let’s hope they continue to make improvements like this to all of Rio’s plazas and not just those that come under the gaze of foreign architecture firms (and/or graduate programs in Architecture).

The Olympic Park Project is going to be very, very interesting and a big challenge. The project is handicapped by the location which doesn’t lend itself to integrated urbanism, but will certainly provide an opportunity for longitudinal studies into the ways in which discursive Olympism meets up with the actual needs of the cities in which the Games occur. The technical production of the project is amazing, though in the official release we are given a very limited geographic perspective (south-east to north-west) of the project as a whole. However, from the looks of it, the majority of the Vila Autódromo will be saved. El Principe did not want to comment about that.

This weekend, all of the torcidas organizadas in the entire country – with the exception of those in Rio de Janeiro (who are not integrated into the national federation of torcidas organizadas because they have a somewhat cozier relationship with the existing power structures) – will protest against Ricardo Teixeira’s reign at the CBF. The movement Fora Ricardo Teixeira has gained tens of thousands of supporters throughout Brazil. The ANT-RJ will be brining the fight to the mean streets of the Fechadão prior to Vasco x Framengo this Sunday and ANT-SP will be doing the same. There is significant attention being drawn to the endemic corruption at the CBF and FIFA. No less a figure than Romário, Brazil’s great striker of the 1990s and now a federal deputy, has launched criticisms in the direction of the 2014 World Cup saying that completing promises made to FIFA without respecting human rights and national laws simply will not be tolerated.  This is an important figure saying important things that are going against the prevailing tide. It’s not too late to do things right. 

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