The successes achieved so far can serve as the basis for visualizing a new reality. In , Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil and had a population of 3 million. Today, it is home to more than 12 million people.
This strong demographic increase was not accompanied by the sort of urban planning that would have enabled Rio to meet its new housing, services, and infrastructure needs. Basic education and health services were practically nonexistent, and the infrastructure for water, sanitation, energy, mobility, and public transport was plagued by serious problems.
With no services and no public authorities, these neighborhoods became hotbeds of urban violence and insecurity. By the year , the city faced extreme levels of inequality. Rio is a megacity, but its economic structure is unbalanced. The city chose to focus on three main urban-transformation goals.
The first goal was to develop four new urban centers, two in prime areas—Barra da Tijuca and Zona Sul—and two in neighborhoods with serious deficiencies: Deodoro and the historic center.
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Rio hoped to increase the urban quality of these areas through the construction of sports facilities. The results have been mixed. The Olympic Village and sports arenas have failed to consolidate a hub of activity in Barra da Tijuca, a peripheral neighborhood lacking in services.
In Deodoro—an area surrounded by low-income neighborhoods and favelas —public space has improved but no real dynamic of transformation has been established. Zona Sul, meanwhile, is just the same as before.
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There is one exception: the transformation of the historic center. Porto Maravilha is a clear example of a successful urban renewal project. In this area, road infrastructure has been renewed, a raised expressway has been replaced by tunnels, high-quality public spaces have been created, a thriving mixed-use commercial and residential neighborhood has been created, suburbanization has been reversed, a new light rail system has been developed, and historic and monumental heritage has been recovered.
All this has been achieved through public-private partnerships: private companies carried out the transformation, which is financed by the city surplus generated by the project itself.
The second major goal was to improve infrastructure, especially with regard to urban mobility, water, and sanitation. The biggest unfinished project is sanitation, a basic objective of the initial Olympic bid and the most ambitious of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The third goal was to lay the groundwork for improving education levels, increasing the standard of living, and fostering urban integration and social cohesion. The main obstacle lies in the extreme differences between neighborhoods in terms of economics, infrastructure, and opportunities:.
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