Not all is halted, moldy, undone
Over the past 20 months, a team of specialists has worked, using local input, to put together Rio de Janeiro’s Metropolitan Region Integrated and Strategic Urban Development Plan. The plan may never be implemented. Still, it’s worth taking a look at some of its key points.
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This is why the Rio chapter of the Brazilian Architects Institute (IAB is the Portuguese acronym) organized an open debate about it last week. Vicente Loureiro, executive director of Rio’s Metropolitan Chamber for Governmental Integration, presented the Plan.
This is Rio’s first metropolitan plan. São Paulo and Belo Horizonte have long been working at this level. Here, though two million people commute daily from bedroom towns to the capital, we tend to ignore our connections (and their absence), as if the city of Rio were an island.
Rio city already has a Strategic Plan for the next four years, drafted per municipal law in mayor Marcelo Crivella’s first 180 days in office. Civil society institutions have discussed the plan with City Hall– and it will be partially adapted to meet their demands. This plan contains targets which society must constantly monitor.
The capital also has a Master Plan, a bill the City Council passed in 2010, signed the following year by Eduardo Paes. The Master Plan is meant to orient Rio city’s public policies, but this hasn’t always been the case.
The Metropolitan Plan came into being because of a Supreme Court decision in 2013, spurring cities to come together and create metropolitan regions and metropolitan public policies. Response has come slowly, however; our state assembly has yet to vote on the 2015 bill that formally creates the Metropolitan Integration Chamber. Nevertheless, thanks to World Bank funding, the team which drafted the Plan, made up of professionals from Quanta Consultoria and Jaime Lerner Arquitetos Associados, worked on it for 20 months.
The presentation made at the IAB is here; what follows are some of its key points, noted by this blogger.
Up to now, Rio plans and reality have not always dovetailed. Experts and government officials may develop policies but what we tend to see is the power of construction and transportation companies (often the same, with the exception of bus companies) and real estate developers. So this Plan reiterates the need to contain urban sprawl in Metro Rio, focusing on vertical growth over horizontal.
We have yet to see, now that the mega-events are over, if sustainability can triumph over business and short-term political interests. The Morar Carioca program, announced in the early years of Eduardo Paes’ administration, promised to upgrade all Rio favelas by 2020. It didn’t come through, because it’s politically touchy to remove homes to improve leisure areas, safety, health conditions and access. The state government promised to clean Guanabara Bay. It didn’t come through, because it’s hard to get sewage pipes built in the many cities bathed by its waters.
According to Vicente Loureiro, we’re long overdue for rethinking the favela as a response to housing needs.
“One-family production isn’t sustainable,” he said at the IAB. “Sanitation demands density.” Otherwise, he added, we’ll have to create a subsidized system. “Who will pay, in a bankrupt state?” he asked.
Loureiro claimed that relocation will have to be an option among available tools for sustainable urbanization. “There are places where it’s more sustainable to relocate [residents] than to drain existing neighborhoods, to provide sanitation.” He says that allowing people to live in unsuitable areas is part of an outdated traditional paternalist system.
Such a system includes so-called dis-economies, Loureiro continued. Housing is concentrated at the urban periphery, with jobs at the center, in the state capital. Healthcare is also centralized. Those who need to go from the town of Nova Iguaçu to neighboring Duque de Caxias have to travel a zigzag. We all, he said, pay the cost of inconvenient transportation, in high fares and hidden subsidies — for sanitation, energy and transportation, for example.
“Few people live near a train station,” Loureiro explained. “The Metrô has seen a drop in ridership, foods come from far away. We need a harmonious, integrated process to redistribute space.”
Thus the Plan proposes renewed and new central spaces for Rio — so people don’t have to cross long distances to work, see a doctor, go to class, buy local produce. “People who live in Barra [da Tijuca] don’t work there, while people who work there don’t live there,”, observed Loureiro. “That’s just not modern.”
Another backward aspect of Rio is our carelessness with Guanabara Bay. Its shoreline, Loureiro noted, is almost as long as that of Rio’s Atlantic ocean beaches. “One is highly valued, the other isn’t,” he said. The Plan proposes upgrading the Bay with a focus on shoreline towns such as São Gonçalo, Magé, Duque de Caxias and Gramacho — with parks, ferries and renewal, among other transformations.
Utopia? Perhaps. If the Plan’s drafting process ran funding risks, imagine its implementation — in a context still lacking a formal framework for the Integration Chamber, effective dialogue between city halls and state government and full adherence to the capital’s Master Plan. On the other hand, it is a small delight to know that people are thinking about the future of Metro Rio. After all, as IAB Rio chapter president Pedro da Luz Moreira said at the presentation, “The Brazilian city has been a machine for exclusion, not inclusion. We have to change this.”