05 December 2013

Smart is the new Stupid

Rio de Janeiro. If cars were bread, the city would be the world´s largest, moldiest, most immobile basket. But cars aren´t edible, and therefore we have the blingest, bestest, most smartest city in the world, full of a thousand hidden treasures and a million kilometers of traffic jams. We can all thank the brilliant privatization initiatives and urban operations and mega-events for the wholesale prostitution of urban space and commodification of our increasingly bare lives. We are being led into an impossible smart future by the rising star of hyperbolic, back room, smart guy glad-handing. In the past weeks, Rio de Janeiro has been selected as “the world´s smartest city” at the Smart City Expo World Congress and his royal munificence Eduardo Paes was elected president of the C40 group of the world´s largest cities. 

Congratulations, Mr. Mayor. It´s just that the city is more dysfunctional than ever, the urban future is being built upon car and bus transportation, the bay and the ocean are too polluted for human use, half of the city is controlled by militias, the other half by drug gangs and a brutal military apparatus,  the mayor wants to build a ski slope in the Madureira park and is more concerned with Woody Allen than with reforestation.

Truly, the marketing machine of the city and state governments are the smartest elements of RJ. I have not done a formal analysis, but Rio de Janeiro must be the only city in the C40 that does not have a map of its bus routes. It must be the only port city that does not use the water for mass transportation. It is the largest city in the Americas with one metro line, which does not a metro make. It may be the world´s largest city that has privatized all of its public transportation and continues to blast highways through dense neighborhood fabric without ever having demonstrated that those lines aattend present or future demand. The Olympic bid books have become the de-facto urban planning documents. Rule by decree, violations of human rights, rampant deficit spending, mega event after mega-event, bubbling sewage, increased congestion, violent police, voracious real-estate speculation undertaken by the state, attempts to close high performing public schools, the elimination of Olympic training facilities and tens of thousands of forced removals. This is the toned and bronzed face of the new smart city.

Now, as we welcome another gang of “global experts”  in the form of the Clinton Initiative (with Chelsea! and the president of Nike, Otavio Marques de Azevedo, presidente da Andrade Gutierrez; Candido Botelho Bracher, presidente e CEO do Itaú BBA; Alessandro Carlucci, CEO da Natura; Sylvia Coutinho, CEO do UBS Brasil; Andre Esteves, CEO do BTG Pactual; Angélica Fuentes, CEO do Grupo Omnilife/Angelíssima; Eduardo Hochschild, presidente-executivo da Hochschild Mining; Jorge Gerdau Johannpeter, presidente do conselho de administração da Gerdau; Kurt Koeningfest, CEO do BancoSol)  - as we receive this cavalcade of the lords of the planet, we will again hear how great Paes and Cabral are performing for this brutally limited audience.

On the positive side, the only really intelligent plan to come out of RJ in recent years has won an important international prize. The Plano Popular da Vila Autódromo (link to download), developed in conjunction with the residents of the Vila Autódromo (whose residents possess title to land and whose existence has been personally threatened by Mayor Paes for 20 years), has won the London School of Economics / Deutche Bank Urban Age Award. The recognition of a plan that emerged through the collaborative efforts of residents, universities and urban professionals is an important political statement on the part of the Urban Age. This will give political muscle to the Plan,  forcing the city and state to work with the V.A. to urbanize. It will also make it even more difficult for Rio 2016 to “clean” the Olympic site for its London-inspired urbanization project. More, the recognition that collaborative, grassroots, bottom up planning can have significant and positive effects on urban environments and social relations should be taken as proof positive that despite being smart, there is still hope for Rio de Janeiro.

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