The time for a broader outlook has finally come.
When this blogger started out, almost five years ago, she wasn’t thinking of reporting and writing on the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan region. She only had eyes for the city of Rio de Janeiro.
Funny, in the last couple of weeks, there’s been a couple of important events in neighboring Magé and Duque de Caxias.
Para A Força Metropolitana: uma solução enfim, aos problemas compartilhados?, clique aqui
Last April in Magé, there was a meeting on mobility and employment, focused on bringing back Rio’s metropolitan trains (beyond what’s now being done by the SuperVia concession) and more locally, turning to light rail transit. The train lines, which date to 1854, were a key factor in the development of what are now Rio’s bedroom cities and their relationships with the state capital. In fact, the first railroad line passed through Magé. The imperial family used to leave Rio by steamboat and then take the train from Magé to Petrópolis.
Today, while the capital is home to only six million inhabitants, the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro is made up of almost 13 million people, spread across 21 cities, covering more than 2,700 square miles. We share thorny issues such as sanitation, mobility, employment and health.
Of the 13 million population, a third lives in informal areas, i.e. favelas and subdivisions lacking formal land titles.
On May 5, the city of Duque de Caxias hosted the first of a series of seminars on metropolitan themes, organized by the IETS thinktank and the new Câmara Metropolitana de Integração Governamental (Metropolitan Chamber for Government Integration), which began to take shape last August, as a result of a Supreme Court decision requiring states to set up metropolitan agencies where applicable.
The seminars are a sort of warm-up for those who make or execute metropolitan public policy. Once the state legislature approves the Chamber’s legal framework, the 21 mayors and Governor “Pezão” will tackle the complexities that, for example, led to our inability — for the time being, anyway– to keep an Olympic promise to clean up Guanabara Bay.
There was a lot of official venting at the May 5 seminar, bringing up some pretty outrageous information. Duque de Caxias Mayor Alexandre Cardoso plans to do away with his city’s chronic flooding. He showed a striking video of the Meriti River, which hasn’t seen a dredge in thirty years. Silting has built up some parts of the river to a point where they’re higher than the city itself. So when it rains hard, the water backs up into Caxias.
The city has very few inspectors, he added, and tax collection is minimal. Caxias was never consulted about mobility projects such as the Washington Luís highway, the Red Line highway or the Transcarioca BRT, although 110,000 people commute daily from Caxias to Rio de Janeiro.
“There were abandoned sewage treatment stations in Caxias,” said Luiz Edmundo Costa Leite, Caxias Secretary of Housing, Planning and Urbanism for the past two years. “There was never any basin or regional planning.” The few existing sewage networks weren’t mapped, he added.
Cedae, the state water and sewage company, plans to spend R$ 4,3 billion (US$ 1.4 billion, at today’s exchange rate) on public works in the Baixada (lowlands) region, said Jorge Briard, its new president. But the problem was never just a lack of funds. Briard, who’s worked his whole life at Cedae, bemoaned those who throw trash into rivers because neighborhood collection doesn’t occur often enough. “Trash collection is municipal, sanitation is state. Who is responsible?”
On hearing the stories of decades-long buck-passing, this blogger recalled a sad account of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee’s daily challenges. According to a source who preferred not to be identified, there’s a serious lack of coordination among the agencies that should be cleaning up the Bay in time for the Games. The Committee has thus taken on itself the task of telling each one what what to do and when, with exacting timelines and constant followup.
Though since the start of the nineties we’ve already spent millions on the would-be bay cleanup, seminar participants said that we now need some R$ 14 billion (US$ 4.6 billion, at today’s rate) to meet sanitation needs in the entire metropolitan region. We don’t have the funds, admitted André Corrêa, the state Environment Secretary who had bathed in the Bay’s waters two days earlier, in the style of old-time politicians, to prove that the acquatic Olympic games can indeed take place in them. The solution would be a strong private sector role.
Sérgio Besserman, economist and president of the Câmara Técnica de Desenvolvimento Sustentável (Technical Chamber of Sustainable Development) for the city of Rio de Janeiro, pointed out that millions of people around the world know the name of a neighborhood in the state’s capital city: Copacabana. Such knowledge is unusual, he added, for most countries. For this and other compelling reasons, he said, we must take on the responsibility of looking after our metropolis and the bay at its heart, as well as our three unique urban forests, the largest being Pedra Branca (increasingly threatened by real-estate development in the city’s West Zone), followed by Tijuca and Mendanha, which separates Rio from Nova Iguaçu, another neighboring city.
Besserman emphatically suggested the creation of an Authority to “answer for the waters of the Bay”, as other cities have done around the world, as they organize their battles against pollution.
Readers who’d like to believe that the Metropolitan Chamber’s creation signals a new chapter regarding Bay cleanup and many other problems shared by the 13 million inhabitants of the metropolitan area would do well to avoid reading articles from the 1990s in O Globo’s online archives. Plans back then were equally full of hope. The paper even mentions sewage piping that would be built and connected to today’s abandoned treatment stations…
But these might just be different times. Maybe Rio state’s petroleum crisis (paired with the court order that led to the Chamber’s creation) will reveal, at last, a very inconvenient truth — a reality that won’t allow us to continue on in our customary blindness and egotism, forcing us into the political maturity that has so long been missing.
For more information on the first seminar, on sanitation, there is this report on the new VozeRio site and this one, on the news site created by Casa Fluminense, which works on ideas for the metropolis and is open to participation from one and all. To access the excellent presentations in Caxias (except for the mayor’s), click here.
The seminars continue, open to all (just sign up by sending an e-mail to email@example.com).
Tomorrow, May 13, the theme in Nova Iguaçu will be mobility, with state Transportation Secretary Carlos Roberto Osório; Rio de Janeiro municipal Transportation Secretary Rafael Picciani; regional director of the Associação Nacional de Transportes Públicos (ANTP-RJ), William Alberto de Aquino Pereira; executive director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), Clarisse Linke; vice-president of the Instituto de Arquitetos do Brasil (IAB) José Armênio de Brito Cruz; and information coordinator of the Casa Fluminense, Vitor Dias Mihessen. It will run from 9 AM to 1 PM at the Firjan Representação Regional Baixada Fluminense Área I – Unidade Senai de Nova Iguaçu, Rua Gerson Chernicharo, s/nº, Bairro da Luz, Nova Iguaçu.
The May 20 seminar will deal with public safety, in Niterói. One the 28th there’ll be a debate on health, in São Gonçalo. The final seminar will be June 1 at the Firjan auditorium in downtown Rio.