Update: The NYT travel guide to the Games adds, "For the Pan American Games, Rio overcame concerns about security by promising to hold about two-thirds of the events in a sparsely-populated area, far from the city's most perilous neighborhoods." That's the Barra bait-and-switch I discussed below. However, don't think for a second that Barra itself isn't ringed by favelas as soon as you get to the hills, which aren't terribly far away from it -- where do you think the fancy hotels and condos get their service staff?
The NYT reported last week on concerns that Rio may not be ready ($$ for article) for the Jogos Pan-Americanos (em îngles: Pan-American Games) in July. It reminds me of Athens when I visited in 2003. A year before the big show, there was much hand-wringing among Greeks that crucial buildings -- the olympic stadium itself included -- wouldn't be finished in time. Somehow, a frantic last minute push and they got their act together for the '04 Olympics.
I imagine a similar culture is at work in Rio. Neither city is known for its efficiency (part of the charm, natch). Although the ambition is definitely there: "Sports and government officials attribute some of the busted budgets and delays, which have pushed the cost of the Games past $1.5 billion, to a decision taken to upgrade arenas and stadiums to North American and European levels."
Beyond mere first-world jealousy, the objective is clear: "Brazil hopes to host the World Cup of soccer in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016, so any failure at the Pan-American Games could be a fatal blow to those aspirations." Of course, it isn't the first time the World Cup has been in Rio -- world-famous Maracanã (which bears a striking resemblance to my hometown favorite, RFK Stadium) was built in time for the 1950 cup, only to play host to the equally world-famous Maracanaço. But as global sporting events become such elaborate productions, even Rio's Temple of Soccer may not be good enough.
That shift is plainly evident in the planning for the Pan-American Games. Check out the venue map:
The locus of the Games will be in the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood, a wannabe-American wonderland of condos, gated communities, and shopping malls that I've written about before. Granted, it has the open space necessary for new construction, but it also marks a significant break with historical -- even traditional tourist -- Rio. While Maracanã and Sugar Loaf are both marked off as zones for venues (far right of the map), the historical center and touristic Zona Sul (Ipanema, Copacabana) are definitely not Jogos HQ.
Unfortunately, growth in this area is going to mean more infrastructure accessible only by car, more suburbanization of Rio, and less access for the denser neighborhoods in the city. Of course, the hills behind Barra are ringed by favelas -- no surprise there -- and I wonder if, as both Mike Davis (of Planet of Slums fame) and Robert Neuwirth (of Squattercity) have argued, major sporting events will become a pretext for slum clearance. God forbid you have favelas in the background of TV shots. I shutter to think what would happen if the World Cup or Olympics came to town.
The Games were supposed to lead to some infrastructure development, like an extension of the metro line underground through Copa to Ipanema, but even that's been shelved. Part of a thick recent history of pie-in-the-sky plans for Rio, a city that has global aspirations but seems unable to make that leap (perhaps for the best; leave the cosmopolitan shtick to São Paulo).
For example, there was talk of a Guggenheim extension a few years back: see press release, criticism, and reality. Google sleuthing this endeavor did cause me to come across something of a modest proposal: VidiGug. That is to say, a Guggenheim museum perched atop the favela of Vidigal, which overlooks Ipanema and Leblon beaches. Obviously facetious, but with a sincere goal of integration (even if favela gentrification would be the biggest concern). The author, Ricky Seabra, is full of ambitious plans for the city, including a serious, comprehensive extension of the metro system. Not likely to happen, but one can dream . . .
In any case, what effect the Games do have on Rio's cityscape I'll be sure to report back. They begin just over a week after I arrive in early July, with a distinct promise to pick up the blogging for plenty of carioca snapshots.