PART 2: Olympics and Vila Autodromo [Guest Post by Maulik Bansal]

CLICK TO SEE previous posts: Intro and Part 1

Vila Autodromo – a favela on the western edge of the proposed Olympic Park. Source: ‘Brazil Olympics may send poor families packing’ – Alison Coffey. http://www.globalpost.com

AECOM’s original masterplan almost deliberately overlooks the favela Vila Autodromo. Although the four major components of Barra da Tijuca’s Olympic proposal have pivoted around this crucial land parcel, its current inhabitation has not seemed worthy of consideration. In fact, the fragmentation of the masterplan into four components and their subsequent planning by independent agencies has made the existing community of Vila Autodromo ‘peripheral’. Interestingly, the AECOM proposal places the overhead connection between the Olympic Park and the Convention Center along the southern edge of the community. If one pays closer to attention to this peripheral element, it appears as though AECOM proposes to restructure the existing road network of this area without affecting this favela.

Nevertheless, AECOM does not have the last word in the overall masterplan. The municipal authorities have ignored AECOM’s approach, and have continued to find ways to evict residents of the small favela. Indeed, Vila Autodromo would probably be too visible and stand out in a shiny new Olympic masterplan. How can Rio de Janeiro afford to showcase its not-so-bright reality to the world?  The new image of the bright new future has no room for these unplanned, spontaneous and illegal developments that pock-mark Rio’s urban landscape.

But, Vila Autodromo is not a new neighborhood. It started out as a fishermen community, and has been there for nearly 40 years. It is a low- and middle-income community of about 2,000 people that is five times older than the Convention Center. It has residents rather than the transient population of the Convention Center, and is built with the idea of permanence unlike the pre-fabricated and assembled steel frame of the Convention Center that has been generously integrated into the masterplan. Moreover, this community has legal rights to be there, on land leased to them by the government in 1994 for 40 years. Yet, the Olympic Bid chose to retain the Convention Center over a living community. In fact, the Bid Document does not even acknowledge the existence of this community.

Over the last few years local authorities have made repeated attempts at notifying “obstructing” communities on their imminent relocation. However, these authorities and their top-down approaches to planning have obviously overlooked one more thing – the resilience of these communities. Favela residents have not remained quiet, but on the contrary, have rallied with welfare groups and media to highlight the social injustice of this ‘undemocratic’ act. The stalemate continues, as authorities continue to issue notices to the community which refuses to budge. The longer the stalemate continues, the more significant the issue becomes in regional, national and global context.

Principles of the Olympic Charter and the Olympic Movement’s Agenda 21 state that the ‘action plans should take account of the fight against poverty and encourage the integration of disadvantaged social groups’. The IOC ‘condemn(s) and combat(s) the violations of human rights’. UN Human Rights Council recently adopted a resolution on housing rights in the context of “mega-events” that calls upon States ‘to integrate housing concerns into the bidding and planning process at an early stage and, in this regard, to assess the impact on the affected population throughout the process, as appropriate’. Recently, the Vila Autodromo’s community has petitioned the IOC citing human-rights violation in the act of their forcible removal from the site, and, Amnesty International has now joined the debate pleading IOC to take action to stop these evictions. Similar voices of dissent are emerging from Morro da Providencia, one of the oldest favelas in Rio de Janeiro and located next to the site of the relocated Media Village buildings on the old port.

This is where fiction meets hard fact. This is where the ‘new story’ becomes a power narrative that no longer inspires political will and social sacrifice, but rather, demands it. The new future just met a resilient present, and as the Bid Document predicted but perhaps not hoped for, there is a global audience silently curious and wary, eagerly anticipating the climax of this stand-off.

Are these communities being regressive, unpatriotic? Why are they not enthused by the ‘compelling new future’? The answer could lie in the simple fact claimed by the community that the authorities may not have explored other alternatives. The unquestioning attitude towards the Convention Center as well as the site for the Olympic Park may have resulted in the oversight towards this entire community. Both these components are essentially transportable ideas, that can be planted almost anywhere within the region. In contrast, the living community is a rooted reality, with significant ties – legal, economic, social and psychological – with its particular place.

Why must relocation of a rooted living community be a preferred choice over mere fictional concepts? If the brief for the Barra masterplan mandated the retention of Vila Autodromo, or any living community for that matter, would it be impossible to develop a successful masterplan? This is as much a challenge to societal thinking as it is a design challenge. If Rio de Janeiro is to host a successful Olympic Games that leave a lasting legacy for the citizens, it must first acknowledge people living in it as citizens. The ball is in the court of the city’s authorities, and the world is tuned in hoping that Rio can set a precedent for social justice, equality and inclusivity for the future. There are many precedents of social injustice and authoritarianism, especially in the Global South. Will Rio’s story really be a new one?


Maulik Bansal is an urban designer and architect. He completed his undergraduate studies from the TVB School of Habitat Studies, New Delhi and worked in India as an architect for over nine years before choosing to pursue his Masters in Urban Design from the University of California, Berkeley. He has also been a visiting faculty in colleges around Delhi, and has conducted research trips and studios with undergraduates over four years. Maulik’s urban design thesis focused on the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, demonstrating strategies that can be adopted in order to ensure that the growth and development related with a mega-event is continually integrated with the national, regional and local long-term objectives.

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