Top questions for Rio heading into 2013

The host of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics faces many questions as it prepares for mega-events that are changing the way things are working in Rio de Janeiro.

Pilar Olivares/Reuters
A man kicks a ball at the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro December 25.

Rio de Janeiro has changed hugely in just the last four years. Thanks to economic growth, investment, and pacification (in the notoriously violent slums known as favelas), the city is more integrated and vibrant than perhaps it has ever been. Cariocas— what Rio inhabitants are known as — of all classes are freer than they were before to move around and try out a gamut of cultural experiences, to invest in their dreams, and forge new partnerships.

In 2010, Sérgio Cabral was reelected governor of Rio state and this year, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes received his own overwhelming show of approval. Clearly most citizens of both Rio state and the capital city support the continuity, consolidation, and deepening of their urban policies.

As the overall context has improved (with exceptions and backtracking), hardworking, visionary, and creative cariocas have done much to contribute to the tricky process of urban integration.

Notably, O Globo newspaper’s Faz Diferença award candidates this year include United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing Raquel Rolnik, who has criticized the city’s removal policy, and the pioneering FLUPP, or International Literary Festival in Pacified Favelas, organized by Écio Salles, Toni Marques, and Julio Ludemir. Other candidates include the telenovela Avenida Brasil, which brought hidden aspects of life in Rio de Janeiro to national television; Marcus Faustin, the creator of the groundbreaking pacified favela youth program Agência de Redes para a Juventude; Jailson da Silva e Souza’s instrumental think-tank Observatório de Favelas; and the overwhelmingly successful new art fair on the wharves, ArtRio.

By comparison, last year’s winners included businessman and philanthropist Eike Batista, the animated film “Rio” creator Carlos Saldanha, and Tião Santos, the trashpicker discovered by artist Vik Muniz for his film Wasteland.

Last month, RioRealblog reported on a new move to manage the city’s social needs, which may augur well for the most problematic aspect of Rio’s transformation. With so much activity and forward movement, one could easily conclude that all is well in the world’s most exciting seaside city.

But herewith is a to-do list for us all (and please do comment, publicly or privately, if you have information, leads, additional questions, or items, contacts, etc.):

Morar Carioca: what are the program’s exact plans, budget, and timeline? What has been accomplished so far, and what remains to be done? Will the goal of bringing all of Rio’s favelas up to standard (urbanizar, in Portuguese) by 2020 be met? How is urbanizar defined? What sort of community participation is occurring? Who’s in charge and who’s checking up on them? What does the Inter-American Development Bank, which funds the program, have to say about it? Is there any coordination with the federal PAC program, responsible for upgrading the favelas Rocinha, Manguinhos, and Complexo do Alemão? And what exactly is the PAC up to? Is there any sharing of methodology or information between these two levels of government? Does the Olympic Committee have any role in the Morar Carioca program?

Sanitation: both in favelas and in formal areas of the city, who is responsible for what? What is the cost and what is the timeline for collecting and treating all of Rio’s sewage? What favelas already have sewage collection/treatment and what needs to be done to bring all of them into the system? Is it true that 70 percent of Rio de Janeiro doesn’t have adequately treated sewage? What can we do to improve trash collection in favelas, still a widespread problem? Is there a task force working on sanitation? If not, why not?

Gentrification: How can a dialogue among residents, government agencies, and other interested participants be established to determine what aspects of life in Zona Sul favelas can and should be preserved? How can this be done and who should do it? Or are we just going to let gentrification happen?

Removals: Who determines the removal policies of favela residents and procedures of the Municipal Housing Secretariat? Is there adequate oversight and governance, to ensure that residents’ rights are respected? Are they really being removed to areas close to where they used to live, as the city says?

Financial sustainability of pacification: How much does pacification cost and who pays? What’s the budget for upcoming years? Can the outlays be sustained for as long as needed? Who will determine this, and how?

Port area and mixed-income housing: What happened to the mixed-income housing proposal drafted by Columbia University students at the request of the Municipal Housing Secretariat? How can we evaluate current plans for the port with regard to the kind of healthy urban mixing of resident income and land use that Jane Jacobs taught urban planners back in the 1960s? Or is it too late to include this?

Slavery memorial: the Cais do Valongo, over which an estimated 900,000 slaves passed between 1758 and 1843, has been excavated and preserved, and is now open for visits. Will Rio erect a memorial to these people, their origins, and their descendants? Writer Alex Castro compares slavery to the Holocaust here.

Access to power and light: large swaths of the city’s population don’t have a dependable supply of power and light. Some pacified favela residents say the lights go out now that Light’s in charge, than in the days of informal hookups, or gatos. What’s going on? What’s being done to improve the situation?

Education: Is there an independent evaluation of work being done to improve education at the city and state levels? What are the findings and recommendations? If there’s no independent evaluation, what official information, findings and recommendations exist? What plans and budgets are in effect?

Health: Is there an independent evaluation of work being done to improve health care at the city and state levels? What are the findings and recommendations? If there’s no independent evaluation, what official information, findings and recommendations exist? What plans and budgets are in effect?

Public neglect of many of these questions could truncate Rio’s transformation. Civil society must play a larger role than it now does. Brazilian media need to move away from traditional biases and towards making a contribution to the process of urban change — with un-blinkered emphasis on the common good.

--- Julia Michaels, a long-time resident of Brazil, writes the blog Rio Real, which she describes as a constructive and critical view of Rio de Janeiro’s ongoing transformation.

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