World Capital of Architecture, Rio de Janeiro has to confront its own challenges

. Jan 15, 2020
the landmark Lapa Arches in Rio de Janeiro The landmark Lapa Arches in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Lazyllama/Shutterstock

Rio de Janeiro is not known as the Wonderful City by chance. Its exuberant natural landscapes are already Brazil’s most famous picture postcards, but this year, architecture will take center stage with Unesco and the International Union of Architects (UIA) making Rio 2020’s World Capital of Architecture. Now, amid a global debate on urban planning, the Wonderful City will have a chance to examine its own challenges and look for solutions.

Throughout the year, Rio de Janeiro will be hosting a series of events about

architecture and urbanism under the theme “All the worlds. Just one world,” culminating in the 27th UIA World Congress in July. This will be the first time Brazil hosts the event, which is set to gather at least 15,000 professionals from around the world. According to Nivaldo Andrade, president of the Brazilian Institute of Architects (IAB), which is organizing the UIA 2020 RIO Congress, Rio’s architecture was thrust into the spotlight since day one of 2020. </p> <p>“The New Year Eve ceremony in Copacabana highlighted the city&#8217;s architecture, some samba schools will hold parades in its honor during Carnival. From March to June, more than 40 cultural institutions will have exhibitions about the city and its architecture. The Congress itself will have a direct connection to the city, happening in several spaces around Rio, so people may freely circulate and walk around,” he told <strong>The Brazilian Report.</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>Beyond the official schedule, Rio’s municipal government opened registrations for cultural producers interested in making parallel projects in the north and west areas of the city, as well as the theaters known as Lonas Culturais and Arenas Cariocas. The approved initiatives will receive institutional backing, being allowed to use the brand of Rio 2020 and the UIA Congress, as well as a support letter to help them receive funding, according to <a href="">info provided by the Rio city council.</a></p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="488" src="" alt="Map of Rio de Janeiro" class="wp-image-30264" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Map of Rio de Janeiro</figcaption></figure> <h2>Setting the global urban planning agenda</h2> <p>By turning the spotlight to urban planning in Rio, the Congress aims to foster the exchange of ideas and experiences that may serve as a reference for future projects in the city and abroad, which may help cities comply with the 11th goal of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The idea of gathering architects in Rio is to bring them together to think, build solutions and guidelines to collaborate with Rio, but also with other cities in Brazil, Latin America and Africa that share the same problems, such as the absence of the state, urban violence, and security issues,” he said.&nbsp;</p> <p>As part of the events, Rio will host the <a href="">World Forum of Cities</a>, attracting mayors and authorities from other cities in Rio de Janeiro state. For Mr. Andrade, the presence of these figures alongside community leaders will be of utmost importance to advance the debate and potentially help decision-makers to make more informed and planned choices.&nbsp;</p> <p>“I believe the UIA 2020 Congress will have important legacies. The first is to show that thinking about cities is not only a job for the experts, but it is for everyone that lives in the city. The other is the huge cauldron of ideas, experiences and the exchange of points of view,” he said. “It is essential to have the mayors taking part as they are the decision-makers. Sometimes they even implement wrong policies because they lack knowledge or information. So, we’ll bring successful policies to show them”.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1000" height="665" src="" alt="Celso Diniz" class="wp-image-30265" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>Rio. Photo: Celso Diniz/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <h2>Plenty of homework to do</h2> <p>The debate stirred by the UIA2020RIO comes at a timely moment, as Rio de Janeiro is supposed to create a new ten-year master plan in 2021. Currently, Rio is split into four macro zones with different urban priorities, but specialists say they have failed to meet development goals.&nbsp;</p> <p>“[Upmarket neighborhood] Barra da Tijuca is growing and killing its lagoon system, while its metropolitan center occupies the same area as the port. The West Zone is growing irregularly and illegally due to the action of criminals. The North Zone is forgotten, everyone wants to build in the South Zone, while the center and port areas are left to one side. This ‘mess’ in urban planning creates a city with absurdly uneven prices,” wrote architect and urbanist Washington Fajardo in an <a href="">opinion piece for the <em>O Globo</em> newspaper</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>The results of this urban chaos become evident in episodes such as the collapse of a residential building in the community of Muzema, in the West Zone, on April 12 last year. The tragedy killed 24 people. <a href="">According to the investigations</a>, the building in question was built illegally by urban militias operating in the area.&nbsp;</p> <p>According to <a href="">Fundação João Pinheiro</a>, the housing deficit of Greater Rio was estimated at 340,000 homes as of 2015. The lack of urban planning has a profound impact on the residents’ quality of life, as it leads to poor sanitation conditions, a lack of urban mobility and rampant violence. </p> <h2>Positive examples </h2> <p>Another important aspect to be debated in 2020 are the actions to protect public property. As Brazil’s capital from 1808 to 1959, the city is home to important historic landmarks, such as the country&#8217;s National Library and the Parque Lage public park. The lack of public policies and funding for historic preservation reached catastrophic proportions in 2018 when Brazil&#8217;s National Museum was consumed by a fire caused by a malfunctioning air conditioning system.</p> <p>The biggest example of revamping public property in Rio de Janeiro is the Porto Maravilha initiative—a project that started in 2009, aiming to revitalize 5 million square meters of degraded land near the city&#8217;s port. The program was boosted as part of the infrastructure developments for the 2016 Olympic Games, and led to the demolition of an overpass, building two new roads, a light rail system, and a 3.5-kilometer-long promenade.    </p> <p>Currently, the area is home to several museums: Museu do Amanhã, Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR), and the AquaRio aquarium. There is also the newly inaugurated Rio Star—the largest ferris wheel in Latin America. Another positive development for cultural options is the rediscovery of Rio’s Little Africa. As we explained in <a href="">episode 68 of our Explaining Brazil podcast,</a> the area is a fundamental neighborhood for black cultural resistance in Brazil, once being a key meeting place for black intellectuals and artists in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is also home to the ruins of the Valongo Wharf—where millions of Africans were sold as slaves in Brazil—which were discovered during the renovation works.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The city’s expansion—motivated by real-estate interests—caused damages to its environmental and cultural property (&#8230;) In this sense, the revamping of the port has been an important project to reverse this factor of expansion. It is an investment in the city center that allows for the recovery of surrounding neighborhoods. It brings a contemporary look to the city center,” said Sérgio Magalhães, president of the UIA 2020 RIO Executive Committee, to <strong>The Brazilian Report.</strong>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>However, as this<em> </em>report by news website <em>G1</em> <a href="">shows</a>, as of June 2019, four in ten buildings in the area were not in use and the Porto Maravilha project showed early signs of lack of maintenance. The government-owned Caixa Econômica Federal bank suspended its transfers to the city council, which led to debts with the company that manages the area, Concessionária Porto Maravilha. <a href="">In September</a> of last year, Caixa reinstated their payments, allowing the company and local government to reach an agreement to resume works.

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Natália Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Before joining The Brazilian Report, she worked as an editor for Trading News, the information division from the TradersClub investor community.

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