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Cities and...

by John Kwiatkowski

Articles/photos/links/videos and my thoughts on urbanism, city planning, and architecture, with a focus on urban interventions related to the 2016 Olympics and 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Brazilian Airports Handed Over to Private Sector

It appears that the grip of the private sector on Brazil is getting stronger. It was announced today that Brazil’s major airports (the five largest) will become charges of private sector companies.

In order to sufficiently increase capacity and prepare adequately for the massive increase in visitors to Brazil, the government claims that they cannot handle that responsibility without massive help from corporations.

However, even this might not be enough:

"According to the government-run Ipea, or the Institute for Applied Economic Research, Brazil isn’t investing enough in its airports to sufficiently boost capacity. According to the Ipea report, which was later contested by President Rousseff’s ministers, even if Brazil completed airport construction according to planned deadlines, the expansion is still inadequate to serve the influx of people expected to attend the World Cup." 

What will happen if/when the Olympics do not live up to expectations in terms of turning a profit and launching Brazil as economic superpower? With a credit-based consumer culture, what will happen when that bubble bursts?

I am torn on the issue of the privatization of airports, in this scenario. While I generally detest excessive encroachment of the private sector into municipal affairs for its potentially deleterious effects on equality and decision-making, the Brazilian case seems to be different.

How many Brazilians will be using these airports? Since the reason for airport renovations is to accommodate millions of international visitors, is it fair to strain the public sector to pay for their arrival?

Rio Times reports that officials claim Olympics plans are "on target"

The Rio Times, the English language newspaper of Rio de Janeiro, published an article synthesizing the status and optimism presented by Rio 2016 to international sporting organizations. They claim that everything is “on target,” despite pushing back the deadline for the third time on the critically important high-speed rail system.

The article ends with a quiet mention of the cost of London’s most expensive Olympic renovations, the refurbishing of the Crystal Palace, which will cost a mere 17 million dollars. The rest of the article is littered with staggering figures for Brazilian interventions, from $21 billion (USD) for the light-rail system to the many billions of funds needed from sponsors to not require support from the Brazilian government.

While London will certainly have more expenses than the $17 million Crystal Palace project, I find it interesting that a Brazilian publication (albeit it one primarily read by ex-pats and elites) would juxtapose those figures. The UK already has the critical infrastructure and private sector funds to successfully host the Olympics, while Brazil is clearly struggling to raise the huge amount of money to sustain two major international sporting events.

Despite its rapidly growing economy, Brazil has staggering social and economic problems that place it in a blurry category between developed and developing. Will pumping billions of dollars from the private sector into infrastructure and planning initiatives stir social development as they claim? When in Brazil, we met with a representative of RioTur, an agency involved in the Olympic planning process. In the presentation, “social inclusion” was listed as a goal. When I asked him what exactly that meant to him, and what mechanisms and strategies are in place to maximize this “inclusion,” he was stumped. It might have been the language barrier, but it was worrisome. Placing shallow labels of goals for improving the lives of poor Brazilians while spending billions elsewhere appears to be placing Brazil on a track of an even more horrifically polarized society.

Reflections on Monuments, Urbanism, and Modernity in Postcolonial Mali

On Wednesday, I attended a lecture at Columbia University by Mary Jo Arnoldi from the Smithsonian Institution. She is considered one of the most eminent scholars and curators of African art and monuments, and was discussing the recent surge in monument building in Bamako, Mali between 1995 and 2002 and its relationship with postcolonial urban space and modernity. I find it pertinent to my study of Brazil because of the ways in which after independence, Bamako attempted to render the cacophany of the city into a neat, cosmopolitan modernity. This backfired in the 2005 soccer riots, when protesters turned on the monuments, damaging and destroying them. As Rio de Janeiro amps up its infrastructure and its image as a perfect modern metropolis, it will be interesting to see how public reaction unfolds during the World Cup and Olympics.

            One of her most salient points was the way in which these monuments (45 of which were built in that seven year time span) reinscribe and re-imagine public space in Bamako. At independence in 1960, the city had a population of 160,000. Since then, it has become the fastest growing city in Africa, ballooning in size to a population of over 1.8 million. Giving a spatial history of the city, she described how Bamako moved from the traditional colonial dual city model, to a model in which the African neighborhoods began to adapt characteristics of the colonial city (grid-like planning as opposed to circular/winding streets). She claimed that the rise of monuments was a way of “rationalizing the visual cacophony” of the urban space. The rationalization of space played out in many ways as a mode of social control. Most monuments were strategically placed in traffic circles, reworking street patterns, rendering it necessary to cross the street at specific junctures and playing a key role in controlling how people are able to move about the city. The majority of monuments are strategically placed along what is known as the “ceremonial way” that works its way from the international airport to the presidential palace.

            The placement of the monuments, their construction, and their political content highlight their role in creating an image of a unified Mali, and also as symbolic of a cosmopolitan Bamako that is deeply connected to global economic and cultural flows. It is interesting to note that most of the monuments praising Mali were actually constructed by factories based in North Korea. One of the most striking monuments features a famed photograph of a Palestinian child under Israeli fire, a sign of Mali, a predominantly Muslim nation, aligning with the global conversation about Israel-Palestine relations.

            Arnoldi argues that there are two primary types of monuments, a first group that commemorate the independence movement (a “living history museum,”) and a second group that speak to nationalist Pan-Africanism. The style of the monuments is considered neo-Sehelian, which Arnoldi argues is often described as an “authentic African architecture, linking the colonial struggle onto a nationalist geography” and transferring ownership of that authenticity to all Malians.

            I was most interested in the ways in which Bamako’s monuments create a narrative of an idealized past and future for postcolonial Mali. Ignoring many of the contestations and trials of postcolonial history and contemporary political strife, the monuments control not only the ways in which city residents are able to move about the city but also the ways in which national identity is absorbed and understood. Arnoldi finished her lecture by describing the soccer riots that rocked Bamako in 2005, during which many monuments were heavily damaged or destroyed. In an unstable economic climate (in many ways due to SAPs, as seen in the film Bamako), these symbols of fictive Malian stability often become targets. Overall, Arnoldi’s vivid description of the relationship between Bamako’s monuments, urbanism, and modernity was fascinating and speaks to a very influential aspect of urban space that I have not spent much time considering.

Then & Now: The Stunning Speed of Urban Development

Shenzen

Interesting collection of photos highlighting the rapidly changing skylines of cities across the world. Not as breathtaking as “Paris Changing: Revisiting Eugene Atget’s Paris,” but still some great images of global urbanization.

"…Latin American cities have ever been creations of the human mind. The ideal of the city as the embodiment of social order corresponded to a moment in the development of Western civilization as a whole, but only the lands of the new continent afforded a propitious place for the dream of the ‘ordered city’ to become a reality."
- The Lettered City, Angel Rama
When in Rio, we saw the very beginnings of construction on the Olympic Village, particularly on the structures being erected near the middle of this photo. Much of the Games will be hosted in the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood. It was shocking how disconnected Barra felt from the rest of the city. Not only is it approximately forty minutes away from Centro on the highway, but its layout (from building setbacks to roadway style to lightposts) looks eerily like Tampa. It’s interesting how an event that claims to celebrate the culture and uniqueness of its host city will primarily be held in an area so lacking in character and regional specificity.

When in Rio, we saw the very beginnings of construction on the Olympic Village, particularly on the structures being erected near the middle of this photo. Much of the Games will be hosted in the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood. It was shocking how disconnected Barra felt from the rest of the city. Not only is it approximately forty minutes away from Centro on the highway, but its layout (from building setbacks to roadway style to lightposts) looks eerily like Tampa. It’s interesting how an event that claims to celebrate the culture and uniqueness of its host city will primarily be held in an area so lacking in character and regional specificity.

Sustainable Transport Moves Center Stage as Brazil’s 2014 World Cup Looms

Hello!

Hello! My name is John Kwiatkowski, and I am a senior at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study.

Primarily a venue for me to post my thoughts related to urbanism, city planning, and architecture, this blog will also be a space for me to link to interesting articles/photos/videos that I find relevant to those broad themes.

While I plan on posting a fair amount about NYC and the world at large, there will be a relatively heavy focus on issues of relevance to Brazil. In January, I visited Brazil and am currently doing an independent study with architect Mitchell Joachim about the implications of the urban interventions planned for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. This will serve as a place to organize and process the things I encounter in this process, and also a way for me to share that process with anyone who might be interested.

I doubt this will garner a huge following, but if you’re here, welcome, and enjoy.