Olympic Glory in an Unequal Landscape
Writer: Tucker Drew, Andover International Review Associate
Barra da Tijuca, a beacon of safety in a city full of slums, sits perched along the southern coast of Rio de Janeiro. The neighborhood is also poised to become the epicenter Rio de Janeiro’s tumultuous ride towards Olympic glory.
The fastest growing area of Rio de Janeiro, Barra da Tijuca, often referred to as just Barra, provides a haven for the growing middle class in Brazil’s cultural capital. For Brazilians, a desirable house is far from the mountain and close to the water. More and more Cariocas (the demonym for people from Rio de Janeiro) have moved out of the traditionally middle class central neighborhoods, such as Santa Teresa and Tijuca, in favor of newer coastal developments in the southwest side of the city such as Barra and Recreio dos Bandeirantes.
The People that come to Barra generally represent the typical Brazilian middle class. The law abiding citizens live in spacious residential towers though some make their homes in smaller single family houses. Barra, not only the epicenter of the 2016 Olympics, also is the epicenter of Cariocan consumerism. Barra, home to no less than 12 mega-malls that provide much of the luxury goods to the 35th largest city on earth, enjoys the highest HDI (Human Development Index) (0.970) in all of Rio de Janeiro. The disparities between the rich and the poor is all to evident as one leaves Barra towards the surrounding favelas (shanty-towns). Barra, with an HDI greater than that of Norway, and the neighboring slum Rocinha, with an HDI equivalent to Namibia, could not be more different.
Although only representing 4% of the population of Rio de Janeiro, the government collects more that 25% of it’s taxes from Barra. That apparent inequality, however, may soon be righted with the sweeping infrastructure improvements to be brought to Barra in preparation for the 2016 Olympics. As Rio de Janeiro prepares for it’s spot in the limelight, the local government is sprucing up the nicest parts of the city. Barra will be home to over half the Olympic events at several venues throughout the neighborhood.
One of the most notable venues built in Barra is the newly opened Olympic Training Center. Costing over 200$ Million and built to seat 48,000 spread across 4 inner stadiums, the Training Center was no popular feat. Ever since the Confederations Cup in 2013, public outrage from all socioeconomic classes have filled the news and protests have filled the streets. The Lower, Middle, and Upper classes of Rio de Janeiro all have their own reasons for oppositions to the rapid Olympic construction.
For the lower class in Brazil, the fight is about the direction of infrastructure improvements. With a new rail line being built into Barra, many of the citizens in the slums hoped that the rail line could be brought towards them. Instead, the extension of Rio’s subway is heading towards decidedly middle class, car owning, neighborhoods where the new transit is not as appreciated. The argument persists that the funds used in the construction of the Olympic and World Cup venues could have been put to a greater use in improving living conditions for the cities poor. However, funds have been mostly put towards glorifying the richer neighborhoods and neglecting the poorer ones. It is as if Brazil only wants to show the world half of Rio de Janeiro.
For the middle class in Brazil, the fight is about the waste of taxpayer money. As stated above, Barra da Tijuca provides more than 25% of the taxpayer money to the city, yet until recently received very little of the benefits. Now that money is being spent on Barra, the citizens are upset because it is for the wrong reasons. In a country where habitable coastal land is so rare, many middle class Cariocas feel that the Olympics are just an added burden to the already struggling Rio de Janeiro.
For the upper class, the fight is about a disconnect from the government and decisions. The Government parties in Brazil are the leftist “Workers Party” and “Democratic Movement Party.” However the wealthy elite of Brazil tend to favor the centrist “Social Democrats Party.” Since 2003, the upper class elites have been kept out of the top government offices. Although united with the lower and middle classes against the Olympics, the aim of the upper class seems to be for decidedly personal reasons.
Citizens of Barra, known as Barristas, have rather welcomed the change. With the added subway line and improvements to the pre-existing BRT lines (Bus Rapid Transit), Barristas will now be able to reach the center city using public transport in half the former time. The new stadiums, courses, and arenas being built will glorify the already glitzy neighborhood. Yet with all the improvement centered on too few areas, can the Olympics bring glory to all of Rio de Janeiro.