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What Will be Rio's Olympic Legacy?

Flavie Halais cautions that urban development projects boosted by the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games could threaten Rio de Janeiro's historic port.
December 23, 2012, 11am PST | Jessica Hsu
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The city's first public-private partnership (PPP) - Porto Maravilha, as the project is known - will redevelop the old port and portions of the city's first favela with major infrastructure works like a cable car line, light rail train, tunnels, renovation of heritage buildings, and construction of two museums. It will also house the referees and serve as a media center during the 2016 Oympics. "Just like London used the momentum brought about by the Olympics to revamp is East End," Rio has already announced plans for Trump buildings, a Microsoft research centre, and headquarters for several large Brazilian companies. The problem, says Halais, is that the public bears "the entirety of the risks associated with this venture, while the private sector takes in most of the profits." PPPs imply that both public and private investors share the risks of a project, but the government-owned bank Caixa Economica Federal bought all the certificates used to finance the project and has been struggling to resell them. Clara Irazabal, an urban planning professor at Columbia University, said, "There needs to be checks and balances so that costs and benefits are fairly distributed, which is not the case in the Porto Maravilha project."

Another concern, says Halais, is that "no concrete measures have been taken to leave room for affordable housing, even though doing so would have helped to relieve Cariocas from an already over-inflated and prohibitive real estate market." In the Providencia favela, 30 percent of houses will be demolished to make way for Porto Maravilha, and many residents said they "only learned of their house's upcoming destruction when walls were marked by the housing secretary" and that "plans made by city hall for their relocation have been inadequate." There are scarcely plans to protect the old port area, "which literally resurfaced when slave cemeteries and other early traces of the city's afro-brazilian heritage were accidentally dug up during construction work," and many Brazilians see this "as a symbol that their history and culture don't fit into the city's vision for the area." Irazabal adds, "The Porto Maravilha project is conceived as part of a worldwide trend to cater to international investors and tourists. It entails turning places into places of consumption, including the consumption of culture. The question to be asked is: Whose culture? And culture for whom?"

Although the community is fighting to remain in their homes, only 35 percent of residents have documented land rights. Furthermore, a politician would have to support the residents to make any legal action possible. "Porto Maravilha is just an example of how the city has been conducting urban renewal projects as part of preparations for mega-events," says Halais. She adds, "There is every reason to believe that a large part of Rio's olympic legacy will only benefit a privileged few."

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Published on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 in The Global Urbanist
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