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Rio 2016: Games of Exclusion

MarianaDias Simpson18 August 2016

Two weeks before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games opening on August 5th, a poll confirmed the vibe felt on the streets[1]: 50% of Brazilians were against the mega event and 63% believed it would bring more harm than good to the city. Against a backdrop of political and economic crises, Brazilians were comprehending that hosting such a party was going to cost a lot. And that they weren’t really invited to join.

 

Protests gained force as the torch travelled throughout the country. Demonstrators managed to extinguish the Olympic flame several times. More often than not, the parade happened alongside protests against poor living conditions. Many of Rio’s public schools have been closed and on strike since March. Hospitals haven’t got the basic materials to function. In July, the governor declared a ‘state of emergency’ due to the state of Rio’s bankrupt situation. In a decree, he established that it was up to authorities to take ‘exceptional measures’ for the ‘rationalisation of all public services’ (i.e. cuts) in order to ensure that the Olympics happened smoothly, as the event has ‘international repercussions’ and any damage to the country’s image would be of ‘very difficult recovery’[2].

Video of attempts to extinguish the torch in protest in the periphery of Rio available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70q_FOICM-Y

 

Pretty much the opposite of what the world watched in the beautiful opening ceremony on August 5th, in the ‘preparation’ for the Games citizens watched favelas being bulldozes; Pacifying Police Units trying to silence funk music; the genocide of black youths sponsored by the state; the destruction of a natural reserve for the construction of a golf course; the closing of sports equipment where unsponsored athletes trained; imposed interventions; violence against protesters; corruption; and the absence of a social or environmental legacy for the city.

Jogos da Exclusão

Jogos da Exclusão

 

Resistance

 

The World Cup and Olympics Popular Committee of Rio de Janeiro is an articulation that has since 2010 gathered popular organisations, trade unions, non-governmental organisations, researchers, students and those affected by interventions related to the World Cup and the Olympics for the construction of a critical view of these mega events. Committed to the struggle for social justice and the right to the city, the Committee promotes public meetings and debates, produces documents and dossiers on human rights violations, organises public demonstrations and spreads information.

 

In the first week of August, the Committee organised a series of events in Rio de Janeiro under the title “Games of Exclusion” for the promotion of dialogue, cultural activities and protests (met with violence by the ‘National Force’ currently occupying the streets).

 

As part of the Games of Exclusion, the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses (Ibase, in Portuguese) took forward a partnership started with the DPU last year to discuss the Olympic social legacy – or lack thereof – for Rio de Janeiro. Ibase aims to influence public debate for the development of the Rio we want: an inclusive, diverse and democratic city.

 

For the dialogue ‘Housing and Mobility: Connections with the city and impacts in favelas’, Ibase partnered up with community-based organisations from the favelas of Rocinha, Complexo do Alemão, Borel and Providência[3] to debate themes related to transport and mobility within favelas and the latest initiatives, such as the construction of cable cars, funiculars, and the legalisation of alternative modes of transport like vans and moto-taxis. Alan Brum, from the CBO Raízes em Movimento, questioned the priorities chosen by the government when investing over £200,000 in Complexo do Alemão: “Public policies and intervertions without dialogue are for whom? Our priorities are housing and basic sanitation, not a cable car”. The discussion, of course, went beyond favelas’ borders to explore dwellers’ access to the mobility interventions taking place in the city in light of the Games, such as a new metro line, BRTs, VLTs, among other actions.

 

White Elephant

The graffitti “The White Elephant and the Trojan Horse”, by Davi Amen from Complexo do Alemão, illustrated the dialogue promoted by Ibase Photo: Mariana Dias Simpson

 

 

These interventions have a direct impact in housing and public security, continuous sources of concern for those living in favelas. Since 2009, year in which the city was chosen to host the Games, more than 77,000 people were evicted and lost their homes in Rio[4], mainly under the excuse that these communities had to give room to expressways and Olympic equipment. In Complexo do Alemão alone, over 1,700 families are still being paid a ‘social rent’ whilst waiting for the delivery of new housing units. Their expectation, as Camila Santos pointed out during the dialogue, is that the benefit will stop being paid as soon as the Games end and that these family are going to be left empty handed with the state’s empty promises.

 

Since 2009, police forces have also killed more than 2,600 people in the city[5]. According to figures published by Amnesty International, there was a shocking 103% percent increase in police killings in Rio de Janeiro between April and June of 2016 in comparison to the same period in 2015, shattering any chance of a positive legacy to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. “Security cannot come at the expense of human rights and the fundamental principles of democracy”, defended Atila Roque, AI’s executive-diretor.

 

In the morning of August 12th, blood puddles were still visible in the favela Bandeira 2. A 14 year-old died and three people were hurt in a conflict between the police and drug dealers Photo: Carlos Cout

In the morning of August 12th, blood puddles were still visible in the favela Bandeira 2. A 14 year-old died and three people were hurt in a conflict between the police and drug dealers
Photo: Carlos Cout

 

In fact, the urbanisation of all of Rio’s favelas by 2020 was supposed to be the Olympic’s biggest legacy to the city and the most ambitious slum upgrading programme ever implemented. When launching the the Morar Carioca[6] programme in 2010, the city government promised to upgrade all of Rio’s favelas and to promote accessibility, waste management, public spaces and services, environmental protection and eco-efficiency, reduction of density, resettlements and housing improvements – “all with transparency and popular participation”[7]. However, the programme was cast aside by the government in 2013 as if it had never been proposed (and the fact was also completely overlooked by the mainstream media).

 

“What’s Rio’s post-Olympic agenda? We don’t want any more white elephants to show-off policies for favelas. We want to think about the city from the perspective of favelas. Favelas are a constituent part of the city. They present a different paradigm and show that diverse urban spaces may coexist, provided inequities are overcome and adequate living standards are universalised”,  concluded Ibase’s director Itamar Silva.

 

 

“What's Rio's post-Olympic agenda? We don't want any more white elephants and show-off policies for favelas”, questioned Ibase's director Itamar Silva at the end of the dialogue. Photo: Pedro Martins

“What’s Rio’s post-Olympic agenda? We don’t want any more white elephants and show-off policies for favelas”, questioned Ibase’s director Itamar Silva at the end of the dialogue.
Photo: Pedro Martins

[1]    Dafolha, July 2016: http://media.folha.uol.com.br/datafolha/2016/07/18/olimpiada.pdf

[2]    Quotes from the decree.

[3]    Raízes em Movimento (Complexo do Alemão), Rocinha sem Fronteiras (Rocinha), Comissão de Moradores da Providência (Providência) and Agência Internacional de Favelas (Borel).

[4]    Rio 2016: Jogos da Exclusão, Jornada de Lutas, Rio de Janeiro.

[5]    Instituto de Segurança Pública do Rio de Janeiro (ISP/ RJ).

[6]    Morar means “to live”; carioca is an adjective relating to someone or something that comes from the city of Rio de Janeiro.

[7]    SMH, 2011.

 


Mariana Dias Simpson is a DPU MSc Urban Development Planning alumni. She works as a researcher at the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses (Ibase) in Rio de Janeiro and has worked with urban issues related to favelas, housing, public policies, poverty and inequality for several years.

On the Wall/Within the Street: Re-Engaging Urbanites with their Environment

ClaireTunnacliffe30 June 2015

London, December 2014

London, December 2014

Walking along the Regents Canal at the end of last year, this Tasmanian Tiger caught my eye. As Londoners, life can be fast-paced, and not in the least stressful – everything happens at 100 miles per hour, and if it’s not, then you’re probably not doing it right. Or at least, it certainly feels that way… And yet, this encounter made me stop and pause and look and reflect.

The Tasmanian Tiger is extinct, and amongst the bleak backdrop of greying sky and murky canal water – I couldn’t help but wonder if it had been worth it? Did the person who placed this up want me to reflect on the Tasmanian Tiger (okay, not indigenous to London) but on the wider disappearance of the natural world within our very urban existence?

A quick Google search revealed that the artist behind these eulogy-style pieces is Indiana and The Extinction Project, “my work has focused on the idea of wilderness and freedom, in escaping from the current modern society and moving to the country. This society steals most of our time in exchange for money that we spend on things we do not need, and in the process we are destroying what we really belong to: the nature and the world”.

Walking the streets of many cities around the world, I’ve often come across artistic interventions from people having taken to the streets and scribbled, scratched, pasted, created beautiful murals or one-word retorts. While the expanse of what can be described as street art is huge, I define it as the act of taking to the streets and inscribing on the walls artistic, but also a political, social and environmental responses to the state of the world from a very personal perspective.

London, September 2012

London, September 2012

Over the last few years, I’ve researched urban street art as a tool for social transformation. The world has an infinite depth of artists, writers, and creative individuals marking their place in the world. Street art is a powerful tool in reflecting the experience of the urban, provoking an engagement of urbanites with their environment.

As a global artistic and social movement, it repurposes space through experimental interventions and challenging the dominant visual culture (an unending stream of advertising, commodity, industrialisation, consumption and alienation), it provides alternatives to this vision. Encounters with urban street art within the everyday create social interstices, opening up ways of seeing and feeling the world differently.

Through its lens, we reconnect within an increasingly urban existence, one we had forgotten the natural and social entanglements that make up the fabric of the urban context. With urban street art disrupting the mainstream experience of the urban, the spectator is provided with an alternative vision of the world at play.

As a result, at the crossroads between urban street art and everyday life, the spectator evolves from a passive to an active participant. By awakening new understandings and raising consciousness, engaged urban street art provokes a re-engagement of urbanites with the environment, acting as a catalyst for transformative social change.

Marrakesh, May 2014

Marrakesh, May 2014

So, that’s the theory. But in practice? To move beyond the topical and speculative to the practical act of catalysing transformative social change, there needs a more grounded understanding of the cultural effect of urban street art itself: Who are the spectators? How does it make them feel? What do they take away from the encounter? Do they change their routine because of it? How can we understand more fully the role of the active participant?

The same question started rolling itself in my head: “How does urban street art open up new ways of seeing and feeling the world around us?” I began to ask around, artists and academics, everyday encounters and in-depth research. These interviews are part of a wider project around documenting these encounters around the city.

The answer has, up till now, always been a reverberating Yes. But how? Speaking to Lee Bofkin, co-founder of Global Street Art, “Of course street art has the opportunity to encourage social transformation, for so many reasons. It enables talented artists to leave gifts around the city, which are beautiful and site sensitive. It allows artists to be challenging and ask difficult questions. It counters the idea of a single authoritative aesthetic, which allows for a diversity of opinion and a diversity of voices. Its transience gives people something to look out for, to be interested in, less threatened by and maybe even excited by change.”

New York, October 2013

New York, October 2013

In very different ways, illegal and legal street art play a role in the shaping of public spaces; an interplay for confrontation, awareness, beautification, response, anger, activity. It is this activity, which allows people to participate and take responsibility for their public spaces. There is a dualistic role between the counter-culture and anti-capitalist retorts of illegal pieces as there is a desire and need for legal wall spaces, carefully chosen to brighten and breath life into others.

This is not an either/or. The beauty of what is called urban street art today, will be called something different tomorrow, but the act of taking to the street and inscribing on the walls is nothing new.

London, June 2013

London, June 2013

What we should hold onto are the messages; the powerful voices which interlace personal with political, social, and environmental, which momentarily occupy the space on the walls and between the streets as well as living on beyond, once documented online. I would tread carefully in describing urban street art as a subculture, as it has been expunged by the mainstream attempts to monetise it.

Yet, there remain many artists who continue to use the streets, both illegally and legally, to speak about issues they hold important, some of whose notoriety is spread across the timelessness of the internet, and others who remain faceless scribbles.

All of whom, nevertheless, play a part of this artistic and social movement. I would more easily call myself a researcher and an urban planner before an artist, but I strongly believe that one of the greatest attributes of urban street art in creating social transformation is that it awakens a dormant creativity within us all, and with it, a refreshed curiosity in how we shape, create and impact our everyday.

So, the next time you Instagram that piece that caught your eye, ask yourself: what just woke up inside me?

Paris, September 2014

Paris, September 2014


Claire is a DPU MSc Environment & Sustainable Development alumna. Since graduating in 2012, she continues to research the role of urban street art in re-naturing urban imaginations and experiences. She is applying for a PhD to begin in 2015 on urban street art in West Africa and the effect of marking surfaces in public spaces, however her interests are rather more interdisciplinary, lying at the cross-sections of; community engagement, urban street art, public interest design, sustainable development, town planning, creative cities, art psychotherapy, mental health, the psychodynamics of public spaces, and their impact on place making in the city. 

She will be publishing a fuller version of the account above as a DPU working paper in the coming months entitled “The power of urban street art in re-naturing urban imaginations and experiences”.