Residents and RioRealblog kept out
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Yesterday at lunchtime, foreign and local journalists were invited to a press conference with Mayor Eduardo Paes, for that same day, to hear about his plans to upgrade what’s left of Vila Autódromo. It was set for five p.m. at the Palácio da Cidade (City Palace) in Botafogo. Two hours later, around 3:30 p.m., came more news: the press conference would be at 4:30 p.m. at the city’s Operations Center. It was a race to reschedule the day and get over there. For Vila Autódromo residents, too. They had planned a demonstration outside the Palácio.
Then there was a third bit of news, this time at the entrance to the Operations Center. Despite having received the invitation and the rescheduling email for the press conference, RioRealblog was not allowed to attend it. No reason given.
Hanging out on the sidewalk with residents, activists and other alternative journalism folks, waiting for colleagues to come out and tell us about the urbanization plan, was the best Plan B.
It was a relatively light lesson in exclusion. While an activist stretched a banner out in front of the building, a security guard asked him to remove it. “This is my area,” he said. “It’s public space,” the activist told him. The banner stayed.
Everyone there supported the remaining residents of Vila Autódromo, who occupy thirty houses. The thirty-first house, belonging to community leader Maria da Penha Macena, was knocked down yesterday morning.
This is all part of a very complex story; you can read this post if you want to find your way into it. After publication, RioRealblog learned, from reading documents of the Tribunal de Contas Municipal (Municipal Accounting Court), that:
- the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) to build the Olympic Park specifically includes Vila Autódromo;
- the PPP gives the land where the Vila and a racetrack sat, valued at R$ 1.2 billion, to the Rio Mais consortium (construction companies Carvalho Hosken, Andrade Gutierrez e Odebrecht);
- in addition to handing over the land, the city is paying the consortium a total of R$462 million and increased the building height limit from twelve to 18 floors for planned real estate development. The PPP’s total value is R$ 1.7 billion;
- the city pardoned a tax debt of R$ 7.6 million, owed by Carvalho Hosken;
- The Accounting Court staff found irregularities in the terms of the PPP and in its execution. In general, such items went uncorrected, accepted as is by the court’s councillors, named by the mayor or the City Council, due to short Olympic Park construction deadlines.
The PPP, as is usual for such urban development instruments, didn’t come under City Council scrutiny. Yet it’s part of a barely-debated urban development public policy, encouraged by the location of the Olympic Games in the West Zone: the city’s expansion in that direction.
And this subject was a fascinating reason to stay on the sidewalk outside the city Operations Center, while the mayor presented journalists inside with his new urban upgrade plan for Vila Autódromo.
The sidewalk was also hosting Renato Cosentino, the young author of the dissertation, “Barra da Tijuca e o Projeto Olímpico” (Barra da Tijuca and the Olympic Project), presented in 2015 at UFRJ. There in Cidade Nova (the New City neighborhood, new only in the era of mayor Pereira Passos, as it was the destination of residents he removed from the city center in the early twentieth century), Cosentino said he believes City Hall took out most of Vila Autódromo’s residents so as to leave the area free and clear for real estate developers to make their business bets.
RioRealblog argued that the bets make no more sense, given the current recession. Cosentino disagreed. The region’s big landowners, Carlos Carvalho (Carvalho Hosken owner) and Mauro Pasquale, would wait out the recession. The PPP had given them the legally required infrastructure for future development.
RioRealblog brought up examples of abandoned developments in Florida and Spain, bets based on unrealistic market, credit and infrastructure calculations. The same could happen in the West Zone, which, despite the new dedicated BRT articulated bus lanes, still depends a great deal on the ever less sustainable automobile — and is susceptible to flooding. Rio de Janeiro isn’t growing, doesn’t need to expand.
Nope, said Cosentino. Cariocas dream of living in one of these apartments in a gated community. The North Zone is falling apart. As soon as the economy improves, many of its residents will leave to enjoy what the West Zone has to offer. Construction companies will put in landfill to prevent flooding. Wait and see.
We will wait and see. But let’s just note that the removal of Vila Autódromo residents is the result of a public policy drafted, almost exclusively, by the executive branch of government. Whether or not it serves the public good is an open question.
Our wait ended with journalists emerging from the building. They had no copies of the plan the mayor had presented. Hours later, they received emails with his PowerPoint presentation attached, 24 pages long: thirty two-bedroom houses with backyards, two schools (recycled from the Games’ handball court), a paved road, sanitation, drainage, lighting, play areas, at a cost of R$ 3.5 million, excluding the schools.
It’s worth noting that ten of the 24 presentation pages deal with the progressive shrinkage in the number of resident families, from 824 to 25 families. The presentation says nothing about the negotiations, threats and intimidation that residents report, which led the vast majority to opt for a Minha Casa Minha Vida apartment or cash reimbursement, nor does it speak of the work the state Public Defenders’ office has done to prove the removals are illegal.
The residents haven’t seen the plan, which brings up more doubt than certainties. Asked why he waited until now to present it, Paes said he needed to know how many residents would stay and that he had to keep it secret to avoid new arrivals in the Vila, looking for a chance to live in a just-upgraded neighborhood.
Except that the urbanization plan drafted by specialists and residents could have included all residents, from the start of what’s been — probably for everyone — a costly and painful experience. The plan presentation actually came in the wake of an online campaign calling for the upgrade of the remains of Vila Autódromo; it may be that without such noise from residents, actors, academics, journalists and activists, the mayor wouldn’t have ever promised, as he did yesterday, that everything will be lovely in time for the Olympics.
We also still don’t know how former residents will react when they find out that if they’d hung in there till the last demolition they could have had the pleasure of staying on in Vila Autódromo.