Published On: Tue, Jul 12th, 2016

Is Rio’s Olympic ‘transformation’ for real?

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At the heart of Rio de Janeiro's so-called legacy projects -- long-term improvements brought by the Olympics to a rundown city -- is transport, including new light rail facilities  © AFP/File Vanderlei Almeida

At the heart of Rio de Janeiro’s so-called legacy projects — long-term improvements brought by the Olympics to a rundown city — is transport, including new light rail facilities
© AFP/File Vanderlei Almeida

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – Rio’s mayor touts a “transformation” of the 2016 Olympic city but when Rosa, a cleaning lady, makes the difficult journey back to her crime-ridden slum each evening, she’s grateful just to have made it home.

At the heart of Rio de Janeiro’s so-called legacy projects — long-term improvements brought by the Olympics to a rundown city — is transport.

New roads and cycle paths have been built along the Atlantic coastline, a system of express bus lanes has been created and, biggest of all, a 10-mile (16-kilometer) extension to the metro will link the far-flung west of the city.

Add in the other urban goodies — new housing, schools, a revitalized city center, and the Museum of Tomorrow — and it adds up, Mayor Eduardo Paes says, to “a renewed and more integrated city.”

But if you’re like Rosa, who did not want to give her last name, this shiny new Rio remains a world away.

In the Mare favela, where she has lived for 18 years, shootouts between drug dealers and police with automatic weapons are a near-daily reality, while getting to and from home requires negotiating tortuous bus routes.

“The working class isn’t getting any benefits from these Games,” said Rosa, who is 50.

– On the move –

Paes admits the legacy projects may not meet everyone’s expectations but he says the effect is nevertheless huge.

A new subway line will be part of the legacy of the upcoming Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The so called Line 4 will have five new stations that are scheduled to be finished in July this year © AFP Tasso Marcelo

“People imagine the Games will solve Brazil’s problems or even the causes of the problems, but it won’t be one or the other. It was a chance to make a better city. Don’t expect a Chicago or Tokyo. Compare Rio to Rio,” he said.

Transport is the key. According to city hall, the new projects mean that in 2017, some 63 percent of the population will use public transport, compared to only 17 percent in 2009.

“Transport is the biggest legacy when measured by investments and numbers of people who benefit,” Rafael Picciani, the deputy mayor, told AFP.

Currently, buses are used by 37 percent of people, compared to just four percent on the metro. The metro extension will change those numbers and the express bus system will reduce travel times for many.

However, the accompanying reduction, or what the mayor’s office calls “rationalization,” of previously existing bus lines, has resulted in hardship for people — like Rosa — not living near the new networks and now forced to take even longer bus journeys.

Yasuyoshi Chiba

There are also worries over the quality of the construction work. Part of an ambitious oceanside cycle path collapsed, killing two people, after it was hit by a large wave in April © AFP Yasuyoshi Chiba

There are also worries over the quality of the construction work. Part of an ambitious oceanside cycle path collapsed, killing two people, after it was hit by a large wave in April.

– Future of policing? –

Officials say that the Olympics will be safe thanks to a huge reinforcement by soldiers, elite national police units and others, totalling 85,000 officers.

But what happens once the tourists and extra police go home?

Just in the first five months of this year, 2,083 murders were committed in Rio state, up 14 percent on the same period last year. Street robberies and car thefts have gone through the roof.

In favelas like Rosa’s home neighborhood in the Mare, shootings are a near daily event, often with powerful automatic weapons that increase the risk of deadly stray bullets.

Rio's Mayor Eduardo Paes Paes admits the legacy projects may not meet everyone's expectations but he says the effect is nevertheless huge  © AFP Vanderlei Almeida

Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes Paes admits the legacy projects may not meet everyone’s expectations but he says the effect is nevertheless huge
© AFP Vanderlei Almeida

Violence has gone down since 2008 when a bold new “pacification” strategy was introduced to insert police deep in the favelas and increase community policing, rather than rely on sporadic raids from the outside.

However the program has recently appeared to unravel in some favelas, with traffickers apparently regaining territory. Now, many favela dwellers question whether the embedded police will even stay on after the Olympics.

– Sports for all? –

Hosting the Olympics means building lots of new sports installations.

Officials say all this infrastructure — in contrast to the embarrassing fate of unused stadiums from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil — will benefit the population after the Games end.

“There’ll be no white elephants,” Picciani said, although that promise is likely to be severely tested by the fate of the newly built Olympic golf course, given that very few Brazilians play the sport.

City hall hopes to rent out the facilities for sporting events but says they will also be accessible to the public. These include the aquatic center in Deodoro, one of Rio’s poorest areas.

Less than a month before Rio Games several concerns remain. Duration: 02:35  © AFP Rachel Rogers, AFPTV team

Less than a month before Rio Games several concerns remain. Duration: 02:35
© AFP Rachel Rogers, AFPTV team

However all the construction came with a high human cost: more than 22,000 families were forced to move out of their homes.

Resettlement packages and new homes were offered and Picciani says “all those who left are better off now than before.”

But activists, like the Olympic Games Popular Committee, say the forced changes had a less charitable effect by clearing the poor out of neighborhoods that post-Olympics will be marketed as higher-end real estate.

Is Rio’s Olympic ‘transformation’ for real? by thekooza

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