During my recent trip to Rio, someone told me that Rio is experiencing its "golden age" because of the upcoming mega-events and the growing investments the city is attracting. So given this fact, what would be the best legacies to result from this presumed renaissance? A functional public transportation system? Improved public schools? State-of-the-art hospitals? A modern sewage system? Maybe. But one thing that will definitely come out of this period are grandiose public works, ones that certainly contribute to the city but ones that also need to be maintained after the Olympics or risk becoming white elephants. That's really one of the big questions: if everything being built and accomplished in this window of time can survive until 2017.
I'd like to give two examples of these public works, which I had the chance to visit this month, and a third example of a cautionary tale.
The Rio Museum of Art (MAR) is an amazing new institution, which opened to the public in March. It's made up of two connected buildings: an uber-modern one with a sleek design, and another that resembles the early 20th century architecture that you find in downtown Rio.
The museum not only has a great collection of modern art, but it has entire sections that showcase Rio. It's like a trophy case for the city, and a wonderful way for people to celebrate Rio, its history, and its culture in a meaningful way. It's not that Rio doesn't already have good museums, but often they are places seen as places for, and sometimes with works catered to the elite. It was heartening to see not only that the museum was packed, but that there were Cariocas from across the socioeconomic spectrum.
And at MAR, it's not what you usually find at Rio's museums, like paintings from the 18th century. There are lots of works focusing on favelas, as well as Rio social movements. For example, there's an amazing installation of a favela made out of cinder blocks, wire, beer cans, and other recycled materials (see below). But even those classic paintings are wonderful, showing the city in its colonial days.
Another plus: tou can go all the way to the roof and see a view of the bay. MAR is part of Rio's massive port revitalization project, and there are several screens that have an interactive view of what the area will look like when all the construction is done, with videos showing the simulated buildings and infrastructure. (The Museum of Tomorrow, for example, will be built on the spit of land you can see in the photo below). Looking at the simulations, you can't help but hope that not only will they actually come to fruition, but that they'll also last.
Next is another public work on the other side of town. Parque Madureira, a huge, beautiful park surrounded by favelas and blue-collar neighborhoods, is a perfect example of creating public space where it's needed. (It's also a smart political move, but anyway.) The park opened last June, and now not only attracts Cariocas but also performances from singers like Daniela Mercury and a visit by skater Tony Hawk.
There's a stage with a large plaza for concerts and shows, numerous areas for different sports ranging from volleyball to ping pong, a bike path, koi ponds, a playground, a fountain for kids to play in, gym equipment, several cafés, and a skate park that Hawk called one of the best in the world. It's also very green, both literally and figuratively, with different elements made from recycled materials, some solar panels, and plants sprouting from building facades. There's also a visible police presence, including both municipal guards (who can't carry guns) and military police.
One of the coolest parts of the park is the "nave de conhecimento," or knowledge ship. It's one of several located throughout the city that give locals free internet access. There are iPads for kids, an upstairs with laptops for events and classes, and evidently, a Wifi signal that people use by sitting outside. There are also several large touch screens that allow people to search maps, look up information, and make suggestions to local government about their communities.
The government wants to expand the park even more. But walking through and seeing everything looking new, it made me concerned about what will happen once Paes is out of office, let alone 2017.
And then we come to Engenhão.
This photo was taken in 2007 during the Pan-American Games, when the stadium was brand-new. Now, with less than 2 months to go before the Confederations Cup and about a year away from the World Cup, Engenhão is closed indefinitely. That's because the six-year-old stadium is essentially falling apart. The city found that the stadium--which cost $190 million to build--had structural problems, particularly with the roof. That mega-event, Brazil-based journalist Andrew Downie points out, was over budget with promised infrastructure projects that never happened, and venues that aren't being used or now have to undergo costly renovations. "It is nothing short of scandalous that the organizers are being given a second chance," he wrote.