Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Hazardous water, displacement, and rising police violence still plague the city, but Mayor Paes insists Rio is already better off thanks to next year's Summer Olympics.
With a little less than one year to go before the Summer Olympics, Brazilian and IOC officials gathered earlier this week to celebrate the progress made so far. Olympic Park, Olympic Stadium, the athletes’ village, and the aquatic center are all more than 75 percent complete, according to Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes.
That doesn’t mean all is well. An Associated Press investigation last month revealed “dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in Olympic and Paralympic venues.” Health concerns, says Rio 2016 organizing committee head, Carlos Nuzman, have led to “several” unidentified nations dropping out of events. Nuzman, according to The Guardian, insists the venues will be safe for athletes once the Games begin.
For those who live in Rio’s favelas, progress from Olympics-related development isn’t so clear. Last June, displacement efforts turned violent as the last few holdouts in Vila Autódromo clashed with police. City officials say the land is needed for Olympic Park access roads but many residents suspect luxury housing will take their place once the Games are over.
Meanwhile, a new Amnesty International report states nearly 16 percent of Rio’s total homicides since 2010 have been committed by on-duty police officers. The main cause, according to Atila Roque, Amnesty International Brazil’s director, is a “toxic cocktail of a corrupt, violent and ill-resourced police force, communities so poor and marginalized they are hardly visible, and a criminal justice system that constantly fails to deliver justice and reparations for human rights violations.”
But the mayor insists that despite Rio’s issues, the city is already better off for the Games. Paes told reporters on Wednesday that public transit ridership has risen from 16 to 63 percent as a result of new investments in bus and metro service. “Don’t come here wanting Swiss, Swedish or Danish levels of development,” says the mayor, adding, “we are not there—but we have advanced a lot in recent years.”