A game with surprising lessons
Mayor Eduardo Paes seems to like the way his shoe fits. While critics decry the real estate speculation they say his policies have sparked, he allowed a Brazilian toy company to make a Rio Olympic City version of the Monopoly board game, and then bought 20,000 of them for city schools. According to O Globo newspaper, the state attorney general’s office is looking into the ethics of the game’s inclusion of Paes’ recent public works, such as family health clinics and dedicated bus lanes.
A Rio sociologist pointed to the fact that a player who lands on the Community Chest square is penalized by having to donate money to a “social project”. “This produces a human being who views compensatory policies that help the poor as giving alms to beggars. And the government is wrong to do this. They’re training children and teens to see initiatives for minorities as unnecessary, as a punishment. It’s a bad teaching tool,” he said, as quoted in O Dia.
Banco Imobiliário Cidade Olímpica is stoking debate. Meu Rio, the digital activism group, has created a “Pressure Cooker” campaign demanding that the manufacturer take the game off the market. “We cariocas don’t want Rio to be portrayed as a “real estate bank” for our children,” says Meu Rio.
Meu Rio might just bring down this version of Monopoly; the group, funded by individual donors, is quite the thorn in the heels of city and Olympic Games officials. Last week its activism sent hundreds of people phoning Brazilian Olympic Committee president Carlos Nuzman to protest his offer to take over the controversial 19th century Museu do Índio (Indian Museum), which had been scheduled for demolition as part of the Maracanã soccer stadium overhaul.
Late last year, together with other activists, Meu Rio thwarted the planned destruction of an unusually successful public school also located near the Maracanã soccer stadium. City hall intended to disperse a long-united and devoted student body and faculty to several nearby schools, undoing years of hard community-building work.
“It was Christmas vacation, and we were afraid the city would send the bulldozers in once the school was closed. So we went knocking on the doors of all the neighbors who live in front of the school,” says Leonardo Eloi, project director.
“We found this elderly couple that had internet and didn’t mind our installing a camera outside their window. They had no idea of how to reboot when the internet went down, so we had to set up a remote connection. Then, we enlisted people, guardiões, to watch the streamed images. We told them that if they saw a truck or a bulldozer, to ‘press this button’, clicking on a red button on their screens. If that happened, messages would automatically show up on key Meu Rio cell phones. If demolition was truly under way, all the “guardians” were to receive messages to rush over to the school.”
No one had to press the button (perhaps the mayor’s office follows Meu Rio?), but the city announced Dec 29 that the school will continue to function during the 2013 school year, while a solution is sought.
More participation, more information, more dialogue
Meu Rio isn’t alone in questioning aspects of Rio’s turnaround, now that the city is a good five years into the process, and the World Cup and Olympic Games are just around the corner. Others note the lack of official transparency, community and representative participation, and co-management of urban policy-making and execution.
With this in mind, a large group of people from all over the metropolitan area of Rio, mostly young, filled a room at ISER last week to found the Associação Casa Fluminense. Anyone can join, and all are asked to make a contribution, no matter how small. The group plans to seek additional funding; its mission is to “encourage the expansion of the public sphere and the creation and support for policies that promote equality and the deepening of democracy in the entire metropolitan region and state of Rio de Janeiro.”
Casa Fluminense will monitor policy, hold debates (all over the metropolis) and draft policy, according to IETs consultant and former Social UPP director José Marcelo Zacchi, and ISER Executive Secretary Pedro Strozenberg, who conceived the association.
Try rolling the dice
Strangely, in Portuguese Monopoly is euphemistically called Banco Imobiliário, or Real Estate Bank. So here, the name doesn’t bring to mind the country’s big economic and financial players, past or present.
Like most Brazilians, Mayor Paes probably has no idea that Monopoly is rooted in a game that was actually meant to teach the evils of capitalism. The message is still there, if only subliminally, for it’s always the most ruthless companion who wins, leaving the losers to feel the sting of injustice. So maybe Rio’s schools should keep the games, and allow students to contemplate what’s going on in their city.
Winners or losers, by now we all know– even if only in the darkest recesses of our minds– that in order to have a safe city, you have to have an integrated city. And to have an integrated city, all must enjoy equal rights and responsibilities. And for all to enjoy equal rights and responsibilities, you have to have an effective education system.
And that only safe cities attract investment, be it from monopolists or just about anyone else.