Sympathy for Rio in a pre-Olympic State

Sympathy for Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, depends on how one handles stress. The NYT article, “Shepherd of the City’s Rebirth, Rio’s Mayor Feels the Strains, Too”, looks at the obstacles Rio is facing as it hurdles into the modern world and how Mr. Paes has been coping with them.

First the article paints a picture of a crazed man, throwing staplers and calling his assistant a tramp. Then it focuses on the issues; the demolition of neighborhoods, money wasted on infrastructure that could go to education, and even Paes’s privileged past. It is hard not to hate the grumpy rich man living in a mansion with protesters sleeping outside the gate.

A lot changed since Paes gave his TED Talk in 2012 on “The 4 Commandments of City” and the turmoil expressed in the 2014 NYT article. More than anything, I am sure he would take back calling the decision to host the Olympics one of the best days of his life. The commandments he preached (environmentally friendly transport, providing services, social integration, and commitment to technology) seem to have been sacrificed in the plans for the sporting events. So what changed? Certainly Paes let his ego get the best of him, chose money over morals, and got caught up in the race to become a world city.

But it can’t be that simple. Paes’s vision is noble, but his ambition was too much for the fledgling city. Protests around the 2014 World Cup and Summer Olympics have only made cultivating the city more complicated for Paes, a task he admits “will make your life almost impossible.”

I believe hosting the World Cup and Olympics in Rio was a mistake. Cities must grow organically with its citizens in mind, not with fanfare and excess. The growth of Rio was too forced to be sustainable, an unfortunate outcome of trying to create a city after the Industrial Age. People protested, died, and lost their homes in its creation, an outcome that even Paes’s worst critics could not say he wanted.

Yet the article ends with a sympathetic tone:

“I have noting against him,” said Gilmar Mello, 47, who owns a small store selling motorcycle gear in Flavela do Metro. His business sits next to a pile of rubble after recent evictions and demolitions in the slum, not far from the refurbished Maracana soccer stadium. “Everyone who gets into the mayor’s office will do the same thing.”

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