If recent protests across Brazil tell us anything, it’s that cracks in the current business-first “system” of global urbanism are beginning to show and can only grow. Up to 1 million people in about 100 Brazilian cities have in the last few days taken to the streets protesting social issues that have ranged from corruption; general inequality in Brazilian cities and a lack of services in what has become the biggest public unrest of the last 20 years in that country. The protests where initially sparked off by increases in bus fares but quickly gained ground and became directed at the huge expense of the Olympics and World Cup which have cost the country an estimated $26 billion. Whilst anger at the government of President Dilma Rousseff continues, protesters’ unhappiness has coalesced around resentments against FIFA and the World Cup which is due to be held in Brazil in 2014. CNN Reports that protesters in Rio held up signs that proclaimed “I’d swap 10 stadiums for one decent hospital in this country” and “I’d give up the World Cup for better education in my country.”
In a recent Cityscapes feature that looked at the rapid modernisation of Rio de Janeiro as it prepares for the two mega-events, writer Julie Ruvolo picked up on some of these resentments. Part of her story read:
In the face of pressing community needs, the city recently dedicated over $400-million to infrastructure upgrades and social assistance programmes in Alemão. A large proportion of this federal money was however spent on an elevated cable car system, or air gondola. “The number one priority in Alemão is sanitation,” said Alan Brum, co-founder and director of local non-profit Raizes em Movimento, at a public hearing last April. “Imagine a cable car. Just in terms of federal and state money, $362-million has already spent, and we still don’t have basic sanitation for all of Alemão’s residents.” Representatives from the federally funded Growth Acceleration Programme (PAC) promised to complete projects focused on basic sanitation, habitation improvements, street widening and traffic signals, but so far only the cable car has been built to completion.
This dissatisfaction with the prioritisation of big projects and not the more modest ones like sanitation in a city where a third of it’s inhabitants live in favelas prevailed throughout the story. Billed as “integration projects” a lot of these developments in Rio have now become symbols of a system that seems at odds with what most of the country’s citizens seem to agree President Rousseff’s government should be concentrating on addressing.
In response, the Brazilian government has now back-tracked on the fare increases. It remains to be seen whether or not this will reverse the tide of protests that have spread across the country and have now spread to Brazilian communities elsewhere in the world. Brazilians in London and Portugal recently staged solidarity protests. One wonders what impact this will have on some of the government policies.