Six months on, what did Rio de Janeiro gain from hosting the Olympics?

Christ the Redeemer enjoying the games. Image: Getty.

It’s been over six months since the Olympic games came to a close in Rio. With the benefit of hindsight, many are surveying the city with a critical eye, wondering whether the multi-billion dollar mega-event was worth it.

When a city is graced by the pinnacle of cultural and sporting celebration that is the Olympic Games, it also carries out a programme of ambitious urban development: from short-term regeneration to longer-term infrastructure works. Since the start of the century, such non-sporting outcomes have become a major part of the bidding process for would-be host cities.

Today, a bid to host the Olympics can provide a powerful political will for change, pool public and private money together in enormous funds, and catalyse urban development at an astounding rate.

Mixed visions

Yet event-led policies are complex. They cut across many different locations, affecting communities and businesses in myriad ways. Competing interests must be prioritised, and those with money and power are often better able to influence outcomes to their advantage than poorer, less “visible” residents.

Rio’s favelas offer a case in point. Around 23-24 per cent of the city’s population live in informal or slum housing, and many were hit with forced evictions to make way for sports facilities or transport routes. One civil society group calculated that 22,059 families were evicted across the city ahead of mega-events between 2009 and 2015 – that’s approximately 77,206 people.

Here we find that mega-events escape from the confines of democratic planning, and avoid the progressive, plural and consultative processes typically found as part of the “normal” governance of daily life. Scholars have observed that, during the planning and delivery periods, host cities symbolise “Olympic states of exception”, wherein urban policies are fast-tracked to deliver the infrastructure in time for the games.

The vision for Rio’s Olympic legacy drew a mixed response before the games even began, so now that they’re over, the city is in for some heavy scrutiny. To even the most optimistic eye, it’s clear that in places, reality falls far short of the dream.

 

2016 vs. 2017.... #snif #Rio2016 #Olympics #kanveelgebeurenineenjaar

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Venues remain without owners, part-functioning or in complete disarray. They are transforming into text-book examples of “white elephants”; flashy developments built for show, which fall out of use and become a burden on public funds once the party is over. For the residents of a city which was already struggling in the grips of economic, political and health crises, this must be especially frustrating.

A ray of hope

But while the physical remnants of the games are withering, the cultural legacy of Rio’s Porto Maravilha shines bright. Before being made-over for the games, the area had a reputation for being unsafe: abandoned buildings were blemished by broken windows, and locals avoided walking there after dark.

But now, six months on, it’s the place to be: throngs of people can be seen cycling or strutting across what was the largest ever “live site” in Olympic history. The Porto Maravilha has become a cultural hub, where locals and visitors gather to eat local street food and soak up the sights, which include attractions such as My Porto Maravilha and one of the world’s largest murals.

Of course, this kind of urban make-over can have unintended consequences. Gentrification occurs when major structural and economic changes force lower income communities out of an area, and it’s one of the biggest challenges faced by Olympic host cities, past and future.

In the case of the Barcelona 1992 games, it was found that gentrification “changed the social mix” of local communities and caused house prices to jump 250 per cent between 1986 and the start of the games. Similarly, since the Olympic park was constructed for London 2012, the thriving community of artists in nearby Hackney Wick has been threatened with displacement.

Regeneration is a two-sided coin: it can raise the standards of living for local residents – or progressively drive them out entirely. The risk is that every time Olympic developments price out locals by driving up housing costs, it makes the prospect of hosting the Olympics a little less attractive.


The truth is, much of the story of Rio’s Olympic legacy has yet to be written, and what counts as a win to some may feel like a sore loss to others. There will be businesses that continue to ride the wave of trade after the event, while creatives capitalise on the port’s new cultural scene. But there will also be poorer, more vulnerable residents struggling to find and settle into new homes. Perhaps the best way to judge is to visit and see for yourself.The Conversation

Michael B. Duignan is a lecturer in tourism management and research fellow, and Yvonne Ivanescu a PhD candidate, at Anglia Ruskin University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

The smartphone app placing virtual statues of women on the map

A virtual Edith Wharton in Central Park, New York City. Image: The Whole Story Project.

If you’re a woman, then in order for you to be immortalised in stone, bronze or whatever once you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, you should either have royal blood or be willing to be sculpted naked. That is the rule of thumb.

A statue that actually celebrates a woman’s achievements is a rare sight. Writing in the New Statesman last year, equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez found that out of 925 statues in Britain, as listed by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, only 158 are of solo women. Of these, 46 are of royalty, including 29 of Queen Victoria. Fourteen depict the Virgin Mary.

There are signs of change, albeit slow. The suffragist Millicent Fawcett is set to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, where currently all 11 of the statues are of men. (They include Nelson Mandela and a nine-foot Gandhi.) The monument is to be unveiled next year to celebrate the centenary of British women receiving the right to vote.

Elsewhere, the late comedian Victoria Wood is being honoured with a statue that’ll be erected in Bury, Greater Manchester. In the Moss Side area of the city, a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst will be unveiled in 2019. Unlike the Fawcett one, neither of these is expected to receive public money, relying on crowdfunding and other sources instead.

So how many more statues of women, regardless of how they’re funded, would we need to build in order to reduce the gender gap? Well, according to Jonathan Jones, art critic at the Guardian, the magic number is: zero.

Jones’s argument, back in March, was that building statues doesn’t advance feminism, but simply traps us in the past. He wrote:

Statues don’t hold public memory. They politely bury it. These well-meaning images melt into the background scenery of our lives.

Whether this is empirically true is questionable, but it’s true that we tend not to erect them as often as we used to anyway. This is partly because there is less space available for such monuments – a noticeable disadvantage cities of the present have compared to those of the past. In order to reduce the imbalance, statues of men would probably have to be removed; many would no doubt be okay with that, but it would mean erasing history.

One partial answer to the problem is augmented reality. It can’t close the gender gap, but it could shine a spotlight on it.

To that end, an advertising agency in New York launched an app at the beginning of May. The Whole Story allows users to place virtual statues of women on a map; other uses can then view and find out more about the individuals depicted at their real-world locations, using their smartphone cameras.


Currently, users have to upload their own virtual statues using 3D-modelling software. But going forward, the project aims for an open collaboration between designers, developers and organisations, which it hopes will lead to more people getting involved.

Contributions submitted so far include a few dozen in New York, several in Washington and one of Jane Austen in Hyde Park. There are others in Italy and the Czech Republic.

Okay, it’s an app created by a marketing firm, but there are legitimate arguments for it. First, the agency’s chief creative office has herself said that it’s important to address the gender imbalance in a visual way in order to inspire current and future generations: you can’t be what you can’t see, as the saying going.

Second, if the physical presence of statues really is diminishing and they don’t hold public memory, as Jones argues, then smartphones could bridge the gap. We live our lives through our devices, capturing, snapping and storing moments, only to forget about them but then return to and share them at a later date. These memories may melt away, but they’ll always be there, backed up to the cloud even. If smartphones can be used to capture and share the message that a gender imbalance exists then that’s arguably a positive thing.  

Third, with the success of Pokemon Go, augmented reality has shown that it can encourage us to explore public spaces and heighten our appreciation for architectural landmarks. It can also prove useful as a tool for learning about historical monuments.

Of course no app will replace statues altogether. But at the very least it could highlight the fact that women’s achievements are more than just sitting on a throne or giving birth to the son of God.

Rich McEachran tweets as @richmceachran.

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