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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 7:08PM   |  15 comments
Rio de Janeiro

Blog written by Rodrigo Brandao, director of publicity, Kino International

While thousands of cheerful Brazilians celebrated the historical selection of Rio de Janeiro as the host city for the 2016 Olympic Games, many in Chicago, Illinois (USA), were relieved to have the losing bid.

More than 18 months before The International Olympic Committee selected Brazil’s postcard metropolis over other three finalists (i.e. Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo), Chicago residents were already organizing (together with leftists organizations and progressive urban planning institutions) to fight against the Olympic fever -- and protect the housing rights of low-income dwellers threatened by the city’s Olympic ambitions.

“I am afraid that if the city wins their Olympic bid, it would displace many of us poor, Black folks,” said Cathy Weatherspoon, 88, in an a article that appeared on the New America Media website (www.newamericamedia.org) on June 7, 2008. She continues: “My building is three blocks from the Olympic Village site, and I can’t see the city spending all that money to build the darn thing knowing that welfare folks live a few blocks away.”

Weatherspoon’s fears aren’t unfounded, of course.

A year before, in June of 2007, the Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), a U.N.-funded agency, released a report confirming what many have long feared: that the Olympic Games is one of the world’s top causes of displacements and real-estate inflation around the word.

The report, titled “Fair Play for Housing Rights: Mega-Events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights,” revealed that gentrification and soaring real-estate prices linked to the Olympic games have displaced more than 2 million people in the last 20 years.

And while a great number of these forced evictions happened in Seoul, South Korea, and in Beijing, China, low income African Americans were also strongly affected by the 1996 Olympics.

Almost 300-pages long, this respected study has identified key housing issues that result from the staging of Olympic Games. Here are some of them, in a direct quote from the document (the document is available for download at the end of the article; page 196):

 

  • Displacement and forced evictions (particularly of tenants) arising from significant increases in housing costs related to the hosting of the Olympic Games;
  • Escalation of housing costs having a significant impact on the local population’s access to affordable housing;\
  • Reduction in the availability of social and low cost housing in the pre- and post- Olympic Games phases, as well as during the event itself;
  •  ‘Cleaning operations’ to remove homeless people from sight before and during the Olympic Games, as well as the criminalization of homelessness;
  • Introduction of other ‘special’ legislative or policy measures to facilitate the preparations for or staging of the Olympic Games: for example, measures allowing for expropriation of private property, the targeting of the homeless or minorities, increases in police powers, or restrictions of freedoms such as assembly and movement;
  • Discriminatory and disproportionate effects on marginalised groups, including the poor, low income earners, those without security of tenure, the homeless, ethnic minorities, inigenous peoples, the elderly, the disabled, street vendors, sex workers, migrants and other vulnerable groups;
  • Limited transparency and participation of residents and civil society in decision making affecting housing issues.


It goes without saying that Olympic Games represent a unique chance for Brazil and Cariocas (i.e. Rio’s dwellers) to improve their city as well as their standing among the international community. Brazil is by large, open to both foreign cultures and markets, and this event could be an opportunity for the world to strengthen its connection with South America’s largest nation.

Yet, it is important to point out that Rio de Janeiro has a history of class and racial discrimination that goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, and the preparations for the Olympic Games can not exacerbate this problem.

Now more than ever, it is important that NGOs, community organizers, artists, politicians, architects, and engaged citizens attempt a radical re-thinking of the city’s infrastructure, which is still divisive and discriminatory. Historically, poor people have been renegaded to less desirable locations, and the famous favelas in Rio de Janeiro are, in fact, the direct result of large populations being displaced from other parts of the city -- and even, from other parts of the country. 

As such, it is crucial that Rio officials and politicians go against this trend and turn the preparations for the Olympic Games into a rare moment of positive state intervention into public spaces (both in the Favelas and in the “asphalt”). This is a chance for the state to redeem itself, and to establish a different relationship with a new generation of Brazilians which will inhabit the streets of Rio in the decades to come. This is also a chance for the state to ask for forgiviness from its citizens -- forgiveness for decades of exploitative behavior towards its own people.  

The budget for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro is set at approximately $14.4 billion, and there’s little doubt that such massive investment in the city can help its habitants live much more fulfilling lives. But for such a revolution to take place, the Olympic Games has to be seen as an opportunity to re-think the city’s structures and core principles -- and not as an opportunity to cement the city’s discrepancies and alienating prejudices.

Yet, it is important to remember that when Rio de Janeiro hosted the Pan-American Games in 2007, politicians failed to deliver on promises of infrastructure improvements (including building additional highways and cleaning up Guanabara Bay). And after the party was over, there was little to show for, besides a debt that was much higher than the projected $177 million that was initially suggested.

Therefore, it might be a  good idea for Brazilians to start working on (and organizing around) ways to make politicians and city officials accountable for the huge responsibilities they fought so hard to inherit.
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15 Comments

Rodrigo: Until I read this post, I never really considered the "other side" of the Olympics and its construction and redefined urbanist frenzies. Your excellent post made me think inside out. Your post got me thinking that the Olympics are a new camouflaged face of globalization...

Can you share more with us about the political movements developing in Rio to protect the rights of the poor in the face of the Olympics?

Or websites where this is discussed?

Patty

Hey Rodrigo,

I found your perspective on this issue very thought-provoking, too. One issue that occurred in Beijing, Atlanta, Barcelona, and many other Olympic host cities where thousands (millions in the case of China) of people were displaced was continuous violence. Given that Rio is already known for its violence, is there a growing concern about security and, if so, what is going to be done about it?

Thanks for the feedback. Frankly, I am not worried about direct violence against tourists during the Olympics; I think Rio has a tremendous respect (and almost immature obsession) with celebrations of this kind, so I find it very hard to believe that all "parties" involved won't simply join peacefully and make good use of the partying and distractions during the weeks of the Olympic games. My concern is more on the structural level, and about the legacy of the Olympic games. And in this sense, this IS intrinsically connected to globalization, and the somewhat romantic claims that the Olympic games make within that context. One world, equal competitions, free markets, free trade, free transit ... We all know that these terms are more political tools than actual descriptions of global realities – after all, NAFTA eliminated barriers of trade and investment between the USA, Canada and Mexico, but kept these countries' work force locked on their original grounds, without the right to follow the very flow of capital imposed on their lives.

But the application of these Utopian, borderline opportunistic rules of commerce on people's lives (and social spaces) always leaves strong marks, and the Olympics seems to be one of these events that brings these assumptions to everything that it does. And if the Brazilian government is going to think about the needs of the Olympics games to re-think urban housing issues in Brazil, then it is quite possible that what comes out of the Olympics is something that is meant to serve this order of thinking and capitalistic exchange, and not the basic needs of a people that have been ignored, and for too long, by the few men who affect their destiny.

Rodrigo, I was shocked to read this post... I have a hard time thinking that such a reckless event could somersault the city into a new era of more "ethical" political relations between local citizens and the government. It seems to me that artists will be left spray painting their work on the glass and concrete of Olympic structures once the games are over like artists who once transformed the Berlin Wall into a canvas for the expression of their anger and frustration.

Certainly artists view their craft differently; personally I see the need for subtlety... the paint brush is a scalpel, not a sledge hammer. I don't know much about the Olympics, but the very thought of it being used as a way of shifting political relationships within the city of Rio de Janeiro seems ridiculous to me.

Interestingly, this phenomenon is also happening in Singapore, albeit on a much smaller scale. As with every international event that takes place, all sorts of upgrading work will start to take place with an urgency that was never seen before.

Later this year, Singapore will be hosting its first Youth Olympic Games. I am currently an undergrad at the Nanyang Technological University which has also been selected as the Youth Olympic Village. Suddenly, we're having better sports facilities, and construction around various parts of the campus have been sprouting up. One of these improvements would be the addition of air-conditioning systems in the hostels on campus.

I find it terribly amusing that in the past, students have brought it up to the school administration for these improvements to be made, but have never had any luck or much success until the University was appointed as the Olympic Village.

Right now, I really can't complain much about it. Let's just say it's a blessing in disguise for the students of the University.

Thank you for the blog. It gave me another perspective of how Olympics can bring so many problems to the country. I always thought that Olympics will bring in lots of work opportunities, better and improved infrastures and most importantly, great income for the country.

After reading your blog, it brought me back to sometime ago when I was in Beijing, China, visiting the Olympic village. It was rather empty. Many shops were closed as after the competitors moved out, there isn't enough people to support the shops there, hence all closed down and that area turned into a quiet place.

Later this year, Youth Olympic will be held in Singapore. I feel that what happened in Beijing will not be an issue in Singapore as Singapore is improving on current sites and not building a new Olympic village. So even after the competitors had left, what was built will not be in waste but put in good use. The improved facilities will benefit the next batch of students entering NTU.

I feel that inconvenience and relocation of people is just part of a transition period. However, as you have mentioned, great and heavy responsibilities lies on the government to make it work, sustain and maintain this long and tedious construction.

It has definitely been a thought provoking insight to what goes on behind the glamour and surface of the olympics where people who may have lived in villages for their entire life end up getting displaced. This would make us realize the extent of impact that the Olympics may have on human rights.

For example before the Beijing Olympics, it wasn't just forced displacement of villages to make way for construction of the Olympic Village, there was also the poor treatment of migrant workers, as well as the lack of press freedom. In this way, outsiders only see the Olympic games served as a celebratory occasion for sports, as well as an avenue of tourism for the host country. An alternative way of looking at it for the locals in Beijing, is the revenue pumped in to the city, better infrastructure for the locals, and compensation for those displaced.

Regardless of that, there are always going to polarized sides to the issue at hand.

This is an excellent post and really got me thinking. Is choosing Rio as the city for the Olympics a way for global capitalists to take control of Brazil's thriving economy? Will local Brazil businesses be taken over or put out of business by transnational corporations? I feel like the Olympic Committee will not listen to how Brazil wants to use the money and plan out a new infrastructure within the city. Brazil is on its way to becoming the next world super power in the economy and I think choosing Rio to hold the 2016 Olympics is a secret way of stopping that.

There's always more to the story than what you see on the screen with global mediated events like the Olympics. The average viewer does not think about displacement or the takeover of local businesses when they watch their favorite athletes perform. These issues can't begin to be resolved until awareness is spread. Blog posts like this are a great start, but they only target a small audience. How can we get this kind of content into more widely viewed sources?

This Blog completely shocked me! Who knew people could be affected by as what we thought of as an "everybody comes together event". This is very helpful and As I read through other blog, I learn something brand new. I think Blogging is a great way to get awareness out!
Thank you for this blog!!

This post really shocked me. The olympics are depicted in the media as an event that brings people together, not tear them apart. The key housing issue that stood out most for me was the displacement and eviction of tenants that live near or in the area where the Olympics will be held. This is just not fair. Find a different place to host the olympics where it wont make people homeless or poor. A question that I have is since Rio de Janeiro has a history of discrimination and violence, what steps are being taken to make sure these factors don't occur when the time comes for the Brazilian city to host the Olympic Games.

This is absolutely ridiculous. Why has no one created or at least brainstormed a solution for this problem? This makes it sound like the Olympic Games have become so much of a production that the simple themes that once existed are now dwindling away. How can people feel patriotic to a country that lets them be displaced from their homes for a bunch of sports games and competitions?

First of all, I live in Brooklyn. I don't know if people are aware, but the New Jersey Nets from the NBA just bought a piece of property in Brooklyn to build a new stadium and in a few years they will be known as the Brooklyn Nets. Not only am I outraged that we inherited the worst team in the league, I am also outraged that this plan was accepted. I live relatively close to where this stadium will be, and I cannot even begin to stress how much stuff it's going to mess up. Traffic, both car and pedestrian is going to soar in a neighborhood that is already congested. Prices are going to go up even more than they already did over the past few years. My own neighborhood of Park Slope has been transformed into a yuppie paradise for young children, and my parents who have lived there since 1977 cannot afford to keep doing so. All in all, I think it is disgusting to sports, (games, rather), to dictate so much. People's houses, which were lost because of the Nets stadium btw, are more important than a stupid game of basketball. That goes the same for the Olympic games.

This is a great post to discuss the precautions that the Brazilian government and politicians must take to make improvements on infrastructures. I never thought of the Olympics as an event that displaces people. This is upsetting because I always thought of the Olympics as a way to connect people’s country with the world community and expand its tourism and market. Now that it has displaced so many poor people it makes this event seem similar to globalization. I hope that Brazil can effectively hold the people accountable for the large debt that is inherently coming.

I share the sentiments of all who have expressed interest and surprise at the idea that the Olympic games actually displace people and puts a strain on local business and economy. Although this is not an issue I have thought of before, it does not strike me as surprising to learn that there is considerable strain placed on the city where the Olympics takes place. As an American viewing the world through an imperialist lens, I find that the common perception of the Olympics from the Western point of view is that the games are benign and pleasant for all involved. The host city gets a boost in economy, tourism rates go up, multi-national representations puts everyone in a warm and fuzzy mood, etc. But what has been called to attention in this post is that it is not all beneficial and enjoyable for everyone involved. In fact, for some, the hosting of the Olympics may very well be seen as a burden and a hardship. Is there any way we can make it so the hosting of the Olympics is a fair, economically beneficial, and enjoyable experience for all?



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