For Control Room Rio, held on the evening of Thursday, 10 June 2016, Mark Wasiuta (curator of the installation Control Syntax Rio) and Pedro Rivera (architect and member of Studio X Rio), drew a complex and fascinating image of the city of Rio de Janeiro as a matrix of different forces. This is the text of the lecture by Pedro Rivera.
On the last day of 2010, the City of Rio inaugurated the Rio Operations Centre (COR), which integrates real-time data on public services, weather, emergencies and other matters. In May 2013, the State of Rio unveiled a similar investment, opening the Integrated Centre for Command and Control (CICC). Dedicated to safety and surveillance, the CICC was largely motivated by the upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games.
Developed by technology companies including IBM, Cisco and Google, this kind of technological infrastructure is part of the Smart City agenda. It is mainly aimed at decision makers, planners and public service managers who are encouraged to use it as a powerful tool for cities’ decision making, planning and operations, through real-time integrated data. The data that flows into these centres also offers possibilities for academic research – as Mark Wasiuta shows here – and helps to produce innovation on the part of entrepreneurs and civil society.
These technologies are already changing the way we live together – including in our private lives – as they extensively and increasingly map everything around us, including ourselves. The questions remains: how should this data be used, and for what purpose?
To answer the questions raised by the event, I’d like to make some observations about the Brazilian reality nowadays. I will also share some examples of the work I’ve been developing, both at Studio-X Rio and at my own practice, Rua Arquitetos, such as a recent exhibition on the squatting movement, and two architecture design projects, Bela Maré and Casa do Jongo, respectively featured at the architecture biennales of Chicago and Venice this year. They reflect opportunities that my colleagues and I have found to engage with some of the most pressing urban and social challenges in the country. I hope they can contribute and expand on the topic: who controls the city and its crowds?
As you probably know, before the deep political and economic crisis that we are facing today, Brazil experienced about a decade of intense economic growth. It was fuelled by an advantageous global moment for the country, including high prices for commodities and an agenda of inclusion that expanded the internal consumer market.
Elected in 2002, Lula, the first Brazilian president from a humble background, a product of the democratisation and trade union movement, committed his government to a series of social agendas dedicated to challenging the country’s historical inequalities. From 2005 to 2010, Brazil’s social pyramid changed dramatically, with 30 million people rising out of poverty and into the lower middle class, while poverty diminished from 50% to 25%. In 2010, Brazil’s GDP grew by 7.6%, and the country reached 6th place in the ranking of the world’s biggest economies. The unemployment rate was as low as 6.7%.
The large-scale social programmes for income redistribution and other social benefits and inclusive mechanisms have now survived a generation, improving not only quality of life but also citizenship conscience.
In October 2009, Rio was announced as the host city for the 2016 Olympic Games, an event that would take place only two years after the FIFA World Cup in 2014. At the time, President Lula stated that the event would put an end to the underdog, second-class self-image of the Brazilian people, repositioning the nation globally. It would symbolise the country’s transformation. Optimism was widespread.
The economic development policies were mostly driven by the consumption of goods, instead of a more sustainable agenda, including urban infrastructure. Lula had built his reputation as a union leader on the car factory floor in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This former life as a factory worker who made cars but could barely afford to buy them became highly significant. During his government, massive tax incentives were given to industry and it’s no coincidence that the car industry was one of the major benefactors. Others were the country’s gigantic construction and logistics sector, which was awarded large contracts to build controversial infrastructure, and the major housing programme, Minha Casa Minha Vida, which builds on the periphery of cities. In addition, preparations for the mega events obviously demanded major investments in sport venues, accommodation and urban infrastructure. Brazil seemed like a paradise for construction and real estate companies, among which giants like Odebrecht have a long history of corruption and close connections with the powerful. After the post-dictatorship democratisation of the country in the 1980s, they became the main supporters of Brazil’s million-dollar political campaigns, including under-the-table negotiations and outright bribery. Using the argument of necessary haste for the rapidly upcoming events, a very loose contracts bidding system was adopted for the benefit of these companies. This system, which did not require the proper architectural and engineering project detailing necessary for major construction works, opened up the floodgates for bad designs and poor construction, with the main aim of maximising profits. The renovation of Maracanã at $500 million was more expensive than the construction of the Allianz Arena, in Munich, at $315 million. Things are falling apart.
A month or so ago, a tragic event in Rio was reported in the international media. An elevated cycling lane that swings along a rocky seashore, just inaugurated as part of the Olympic Games legacy, failed during the first storm swell, killing four people. The structure was built without detailed project work and didn’t incorporate an oceanographic analysis. What should have been a glowing example became a tragedy.
In his government, Lula failed to combat corrupt politicians, establishing a series of alliances with conservatives and dark forces to approve his agenda in the congress. The strategy worked, as everyone was winning: the poor, the middle class, the economic elite and the politicians.
In 2010, with Lula’s support, Dilma Roussef was elected the first woman president of Brazil. But things would change by the end of her first mandate. The reasons included a now unfavourable international context that negatively affected the economy, her own lack of political ability, and misguided management decisions.
In June 2013, massive popular protests took place in Brazil, right after Turkey’s Gezi Park protests. Although the crisis hadn’t yet hit the country hard, these first demonstrations complained about rising bus fares. They were brutally repressed by police. The violence of the event surprised everyone and was the spark which quickly set cities alight all over the country. In Rio alone, the main demonstration saw a million people on the streets. From there on, the police’s approach became increasingly aggressive and provocative, triggering more serious conflict. The police had to be prepared for the upcoming games. Tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray were added to the urban repertoire. The new uniform, armour that resembles musculature, made the police agents look like comic-book superheroes. They were immediately christened ‘Robocops’. As a result of such tactics, the later demonstrations of this period were reduced to skirmishes between black blocs and police.
The streets didn’t have a clear or unifying agenda, but one of the reasons for the protests can be ascribed to the fact that the cities were unable to compass the growth of the economy with proper infrastructure and improvements. Urban life became harder. Many informal organisations and social movements already advocated the right to the city, rights for minorities, public space occupation, alternative forms of organisation and production, and so on.
If, during the protests, the majority of people also complained about government corruption, some of them associated it with morality, giving birth to new right-wing and conservative associations inspired by more progressive models. They were dedicated to bringing an end to the years of Lula and Dilma under the argument of corruption, but their discourses also carried calls against social policies and minority rights.
At the start of 2014, a major corruption investigation called Car Wash was launched, exposing many politicians inside and outside government. Ministers, senators and business people were to be arrested, including the CEO of Odebrecht, the largest construction company in the country.
An alliance between the opposition, corrupt congress members, the conservative elite and the biggest media group decided that it was time to take out the elected government. The fight against corruption was a good excuse for an impeachment, and information was deliberately manipulated. Massive campaigns were launched against the government. The country was split.
Whether you call it a coup or not, during the impeachment process the country is being temporarily ruled by the Vice President, Michel Temer, who turned against Dilma. He is himself implicated in the Car Wash investigations, as are many members of his exclusively white and male cabinet. Tape recordings released last week revealed conspiratorial discussions among his hardcore followers – including the President of the Senate – who argued that taking Dilma out was the only way to stop the corruption investigations. This week the country General Attorney requested their arrest.
The political system is customised for corruption. If this does not change, we will not move forward and will remain the hostages of decisions driven by dark negotiations.
Only three days before the Olympics, the senate will decide whether the impeachment goes ahead or not. Who controls the country? Who will open the games?
In the face of the total mess the country is now in, we might find inspiration Italo Calvino’s book Invisible Cities (1972). In it, Marco Polo says:
“The hell of living people is not something to come; if there is one, it is here already, it’s the hell we live in every day, which we form staying together. There are two ways not to suffer from it. The first comes easy to many: to accept hell and become part of it, to the point you don’t see it anymore. The second is risky and requires continuous attention and learning: to look for and recognise who and what, in the middle of hell, is not hell, and to make it last, and give it space.” This is what I try to do.