Rio is done for… Except it’s not!
With so many new skyscrapers built in the last ten years, you’d think that the downtown neighborhood of Cidade Nova (New City) was actually new. But the name harks back to the nineteenth century!
The new-not-newness is lucky for people who work in the skyscrapers. They were plunked down in the midst of some very old streets, until recently left on the margins of urban life (aside from Carnival, as they border on the Sambadrome, where the parades take place).
In the midst of the economic downturn, we bet on the simpler things of life: coffee among friends. It happens that the Astúcia Coffee entrepreneur, Australian Daniel Hobbs, introduced this blogger to a longtime neighborhood resident, retired Swiss diplomat Ferdinand Isler.
By no coincidence, American urban activist Jane Jacobs (author of Death and Life of Great American Cities) immediately popped up in the conversation, fueled not only by coffee but also a delicious (and inexpensive) banana cake, baked by Ferdinand’s neighbor. He’s one of those residents whose existence strengthens the urban fabric– he knows everyone. He embodies the “eyes on the street” that Jacobs identified as vital to urban health.
Thus ensued a visit in the best Swiss-Brazilian style: a race to see cafés and restaurants before the lunch hour noon rush, punctuated by hugs, smiles and comments on soccer and Fernando’s clothing. Apparently he usually dresses more casually.
This blogger was initially confused between the Portuguese words confeitaria (bakery) and confecção (clothing factory). The confusion dissipated with the walk back into the depths of the narrow townhouse, past cakes and pies in various stages of preparation. At the end, two sewing machines chugged away.
For decades, Cidade Nova was known as Rio’s red light district. Once the “Teleporto” office building was finished in 1996, then-mayor César Maia transferered hundreds of sex workers to Vila Mimosa, near the Praça da Bandeira.
Cidade Nova retains a sort of transgressive spirit. Today, a Middle Eastern restaurant comes up with all kinds of delicious mixtures.
Of course Cidade Nova was revitalized during the boom years of the Eduardo Paes and Sérgio Cabral administrations. Today, new businesses do all they can to attract and keep clients: events, deliveries, cooking classes, catering, breakfast, baskets.
Despite tight budgets, it might be worth it to burst the bubble so many people stick to, in the South Zone and downtown. How about expanding your personal geography and checking out Cidade Nova, next time you plan coffee or lunch? More photos: