Cidade Maravilhosa para quem? For whom is the Marvelous City?

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Residents protesting in 2011. They had a plan to upgrade their community, instead of moving out

Acabei de publicar um post no blog de Ruth de Aquino no site da revista Época — minhas reflexões sobre o novo documentário de Felipe Pena, que trata da remoção dos moradores da Vila Autódromo. No post, falo do contexto geral e divulgo algumas informações aparentemente inéditas. Leia o post original aqui.

I just published a post in Ruth de Aquino’s blog on the Época magazine site — my thoughts on Felipe Pena’s new documentary about the removal of Vila Autódromo residents, just next to the Olympic Park. In the post I discuss the general context of the removals and provide some heretofore unpublished information (as far as I know). You can read the original post here, or the following translation:

Late last month, I got to attend the premiere of the documentary “Se essa vila não fosse minha” (If this settlement weren’t mine), by director Felipe Pena. It’s quite a moving film, portraying Vila Autódromo residents’ hardships and the way they feel about them. The message, however, is a bit confusing.

Taking apart a story like this one is no easy task.

In every city, worldwide, eminent domain powers are used and resident removal occurs, sometimes because of mega-events, sometimes for other reasons.

The main issue is how this is carried out. In Brazil, land of inequality where housing for the less fortunate is rarely thought out fairly and with justice, there’s a complicating factor: usually, residents of informal areas don’t have title to the land where they built their homes. So even if they receive the total investment they’ve made through the years, in bricks, cement, tiles, etc., they won’t be able to find a place in the same neighborhood where they can recreate the lives they had before the land was taken over.

In addition, the other alternative — an apartment in a Minha Casa Minha Vida (government housing) building — even when well constructed and without additional charges beyond residents’ budgets, often doesn’t provide the same experience of community and commercial potential that favela residents are used to counting on.

In Rio de Janeiro, Vila Autódromo, recently home to more than 500 families, is located on the shores of a lagoon in the city’s West Zone, near the main 2016 Olympic venue. The former fisher families’ outpost has become a reference, particularly for foreign journalists, in reports on resident removal connected to the Olympics.

But Vila Autódromo isn’t all that typical. To begin with, most residents have documents allowing them to occupy the land for 99 years, granted by Governors Leonel Brizola and Marcello Alencar.

The community also developed an urbanization plan, together with Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University’s Instituto de Pesquisa e Planejamento Urbano e Regional, and the Fluminense Federal University’s Núcleo de Estudos e Projetos Habitacionais e Urbanos  — a plan which in 2013 won the US$ 80,000 Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award.

The award was to be announced in the presence of mayor Eduardo Paes, during a fancy ceremony and celebration at the Palácio da Cidade, in October 2013, during the Urban Age Conference — organized by the London School of Economics with support from Rio’s City Hall. At the last moment however, strangely, this was all canceled. Two months later, the winning project was announced during a discreet ceremony.

As is the case with other removals, Vila Autódromo had its homes marked in spray-painted letters and numbers and has put up with unkept promises, pressure and negotiations, lack of reliable information and now, demolition machinery and lots of dust.

In August 2013, during a meeting with residents, the mayor admitted the process left much to be desired. He said he’d consider the possibility of letting them stay in their homes at Vila Autódromo, until then set aside as an area where construction was not to be permitted, over part of which the dedicated bus lanes of the Transolímpico BRT are supposed to pass.

Social issues carry a great deal of weight for those who organize Olympic Games, so much so that in 2012, London reurbanized a downtrodden section of the city where the event was held. So far, there is no sign that the International Olympic Committee has demanded the removal of Vila Autódromo, in any sort of bid to clean up the Park surroundings.

In the film “Se essa vila não fosse minha”, there’s a great deal of talk about “real estate speculation”. It’s an unhelpful term that introduces a vague notion of a person or company that buys land to wait until it increases in value.

Vila Autódromo’s land belongs to the state of Rio de Janeiro and is today part of a region undergoing rapid development, in large part due to the selection of Barra da Tijuca as the Games’ central location. Nearby, the developer Carvalho Hosken and construction company Odebrecht are building the enormous neighborhood-development called Ilha Pura (Pure Island), whose upscale 32 buildings will house the athletes. Carvalho Hosken, Odebrecht and the consrtruction company Andrade Gutierrez form the consortium that’s  building the Olympic Park.

Mayor Eduardo Paes knows the region well. It’s where he worked as sub-mayor from 1993 to 1996, named to the post by then-mayor César Maia. That job launched the young man’s political career. At 27, Paes was the most-voted city councilman, in 1996.

For his last election, to a second term as mayor, in 2012, some of the companies that made donations to his campaign were Banco Itaú-Unibanco, Barra Shopping, Coesa Engenharia (which makes urban equipment), Ambev, Schincariol — and Carvalho Hosken, whose founder and president, Carlos Fernando de Carvalho, was part of the  2009 Rio de Janeiro delegation to Copenhagen to present what turned out to be the city’s winning candidacy for the 2016 Olympics.

Other companies may have donated funds to Paes’ current political party, the PMDB, to be passed on to several political campaigns.

Up to now, City Hall hasn’t said what exactly, if anything, will occupy the space that used to be Vila Autódromo, once all the residents are gone (which should be soon; Felipe Pena’s film shows the Secretaria Municipal de Obras demolishing empty homes and damaging those of folks who chose to stay).

In the photo above, readers can see that residential buildings already exist close to the Vila.

“We’re standing on magnates’ parking garages,” comments a Vila Autódromo resident in the movie, amid rubble left by city workers.

Every city changes and undergoes population shifts. Every demolition causes change and suffering. This is what the documentary shows.

“Democracy for the rich,” says one resident.

As a gringa, I’ve always heard the saying that has guided many an athlete, coined by American sportswriter Grantland Rice: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game”.  But it could turn out, for the Marvelous City as Olympic host, that another quote is more appropriate — the one from football coach Vince Lombardi: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

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About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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