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Rio+20: Brazil's big test

Rio+20 kicks into gear June 20 with the arrival of about 100 heads of state. 'As usual,' writes a guest blogger, everything is coming together last minute for the 50,000-plus visitors to Rio.

Ana Carolina Fernandes/REUTERS
People stage a vigil for the environment during the People's Summit at Rio+20 for Social and Environmental Justice in Rio de Janeiro June 17. The People's Summit at Rio+20 for Social and Environmental Justice is a parallel event of the Rio+20 United Nations sustainable development summit that will be held from June 20 to 22.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riogringa. The views expressed are the author's own.

Rio+20 [began last week, with the main event kicking off on June 20], and as usual, everything is coming together at the last minute. With 50,000 visitors and around 100 heads of state expected, the city's preparations are being finalized. It's a good sign, since the massive event is going to serve as a practice run for upcoming mega-events like the Confederations Cup, the World Cup, and the Olympics.

The city government is taking preventative measures to try to reduce the city's notorious traffic, which is especially heavy in Barra, where the main part of the conference is taking place. The mayor declared a school holiday for all levels, from pre-K to universities, as well as a partial public worker holiday. and special traffic measures are being put into place. A lane on the Linha Vermelha highway will have an exclusive lane for heads of state, and Avenida Niemeyer – a narrow, seaside road which connects Barra to the South Zone – will operate in a single direction during peak hours from the 20th to 22nd. There will be special buses running to transport visitors to and from the conference, including "green" buses.

Earlier this month, the city inaugurated its first bus rapid transit system, which if all goes as planned, will connect the city from end to end, from the airport to Barra. There's only one section operating so far, but it's one of the sections within the West Zone, where Rio+20 is taking place. There are some concerns that adding more buses in Barra won't solve its traffic problem in the long run, but the fact that part of it is up and running is a good sign for the city's expanding infrastructure.

In pictures: Rio+20: sustaining the environment

Security, as for all big events, is traditionally led by the military. Around 20,000 troops and police are operating in the city, and a special operations center along with 400 security cameras will monitor the city in real time.

Possibly because of the still-high prices, there are hotel rooms to spare – around 15 percent of all rooms are unoccupied this week, and 5 percent for next week. Some creative attendees are actually camping out on one of Rio's college campuses and in one of the city's parks, and there are even accommodations available at the Sambodrome and public education centers.

Attending the conference isn't cheap, but then, neither is traveling to Rio. After the hotel price imbroglio, the latest issue is that food at Riocentro (the conference center) is being sold at "international prices" with R$5 soda cans and a R$12 slice of pizza. Visitors from all over the world are evidently complaining about the high prices, though there are simpler lunch options at more reasonable prices.

Technology is also being tested at Rio+20. Along with wireless internet for the thousands of conference participants, the event is the first in Brazil that will have a 4G connection, which will be used as an experiment to test the connection. Brazil hopes to expand 4G to regular internet users by 2013 in time for the Confederations Cup, and the government just raised $1.4 billion this week in its 4G auction. That said, journalists were complaining about technology issues, including not being able to send photos or video, not being allowed to use printers because it "isn't sustainable," even though delegates are allowed to print, and the absence of adapters available for foreign journalists.

The real test will begin on the 20th, when the heads of state arrive. But like with Carnival every year, things are coming together.

Rachel Glickhouse is the author of the blog

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