06 March 2013

The MAR and the mar


The Rio city government recently invested R$80.000.000 in the MAR, Museu do Arte do Rio. Mar is also the portuguese Word for ocean. To run the MAR, the city pays one million a month to Brazil’s biggest media company to run the museum and they still charge admission to city residents (though not on Tuesdays when it is open to everyone for free).  It is a lovely museum, perfectly situated in front of the cruise ship passenger terminal at Pier Mauá. In a future post we will take up some of the surprisingly progressive and interesting elements of the MAR. 

After a visit to the MAR, I left Flamengo to take some precious house guests to the international airport, some 24 kilometers distant. Just after hitting the road, the skies unleashed a Biblical torrent. The city closed down as nearly every important highway flooded, all public transportation came to a halt, trees crashed, power outed and the city reeled from surging sewage.

The body count was relatively low: 4 dead 2 1 missing. One of the dead was a Polish woman who had the temerity to lead against a light post in the Largo do Machado and died from an electric shock. She had just moved to Brazil with her husband.

In addition to the smaller roads in Catete, Gloria, and the typical inundation of Tijuca and the Praça da Bandeira, Avenida Brasil, the main east-west highway flooded at its strategic entracnce that brings together traffic flows from the south and from Niteroi. The meters` deep fetid stew completely engulfed cars and stranded traffic on all of the elevated highway system leading to the north and west of the city. There was no way forward and no way back. We were stuck without moving for three hours. A sign over the entrance to the bridge to Niteroi kept taunting us with a sign that flashed “Fluxo Bom” (good flow).

The brilliant idea of the city government is to take this elevated highway (which was the only option to get to the airport as trees had fallen over the access to the Santa Barbara tunnel, trapping cars inside), and put it below sea level as it runs alongside the port area. I have been railing against this idiocy from the beginning, but demolishing Rio`s port-area elevated highway to put it underground in a city that is prone to flooding is attaining lofty heights of quixotic skullduggery that not even my forked pen can reach.

Fortunately, I was in a car on my way to the airport after having spent a day at the museum. There were tens and hundreds of thousands who had worked long days, had crammed into non-air conditioned buses with no toilets, no way off, no food, no drink, and with no relief of the traffic in sight. My 24 km trajectory to the airport took 4 hours, something that I could have done with a kayak, paddleboard, skateboard, bicycle, or walking quickly.  Others didn`t get home until 3 or 4 in the morning only to get up and retrace their steps. Why is it that there is no plan to put public transportation to the international airport?

I desperately wanted someone to come by with their Euro-American clipboards to ask all of the people stranded in traffic or stuck in the metro or wading through sewage to ask which is the happiest city in the world…

The long and short of this post is that we have just spent 80 million to build a museum called MAR, but relatively nothing on dealing with water movement within the city itself. These are the kinds of perverse priorities or “unlucky realities” that don`t show up on the Mayor`s ill-conceived Monopoly game, but that have hugely negative impacts on the lives of Cariocas and visitors. 

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