Recap: World Urban Forum 5

A team from Penn IUR blogged from World Urban Forum 5 in Rio de Janiero, hosted by UN Habitat. Take a look at their reports and takeaways. The latest: an unexpected encounter in the Rocinha slum.

The Rocinha slum. Greg Scruggs

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Wednesday, March 31

We’re signing off and returning to the Penn IUR. But before we go, here’s a look at the World Urban Campaign Launch Video:

Launch film of the World Urban Campaign co-produced by UN-Habitat and messaggio studios, a mondofragilis group company, directed by Raphael Marino.

And, please take one more look at the 100 Cities Initiative by clicking here.

Friday, March 26, 6 p.m.

Uma Cidade Chamada Rocinha. A City Called Rocinha. It is an accurate truism about Rio’s largest favela, home to 150,000-300,000 (estimates vary widely). Rocinha is large enough to essentially be divided into subneighborhoods, several city bus lines pass through, and it is home to every imaginable formal sector service – restaurants, clothing boutiques, small grocery stores, travel agencies, cyber cafes, bars, doctors and dentist offices, hardware stores (home improvement material is easily the biggest selling product category in Rocinha), music shops, snack stands, even a tiny shopping mall affectionately named “nosso shopping” (our own mall).

I’ve been visiting Rocinha since 2006 when I was first a volunteer with the Instituto Dois Irmãos/Two Brothers Foundation, and four years later find myself the vice-president of 2Bros, the American non-profit that provides financial and logistical support to our counterparts in Rocinha at the i2i. The Instituto offers classes in English, French, Spanish, dance, art, cinema, photography, computer, and whatever other skills our volunteers bring with them. It provides a reading room with a circulating collection and computers with Internet as well as wi-fi. In an alleyway that is barely wide enough for two people to pass, the i2i’s three-story building is a vital community center in Rocinha’s Valão area.

While it baffles middle and upper class Brazilians that I would hang out in Rocinha, and frightens them that I actually even lived there for a period in 2007, by contrast foreigners of almost every stripe – from tourists to development and design professionals – are fascinated by, and usually eager to visit, a community like Rocinha. While ethically questionable favela tourism is something of the rage these days, especially in Rocinha, I had the pleasure of leading two groups to Rocinha over the course of WUF5 to visit 2Bros and see some of the community in a less invasive fashion than favela tours’ jeeps. In addition to some of my colleagues from Penn IUR, as well as co-director Genie Birch, we had a group from the World Urban Campaign steering committee, some Penn historic preservation students, and a whole cast of design, architecture, planning, NGO, development, and this or that urban-types who somehow got wind of my informal visits.

The response was overwhelmingly positive on both trips, as visitors were amazed at the buzz of activity and the amount of urbanized services, including a brand new sports complex at the base of the hill and a gleaming health center in the middle of Rocinha that was inaugurated by President Lula a few weeks ago. Of course they recognized the challenges at the same time – insane traffic on narrow streets usually without sidewalks, homes fronting alleyways that lack light and air, and high rates of disease (1 in 20 residents has tuberculosis, for example). Nonetheless, the energy of the place and its picturesque setting nestled in the Atlantic rainforest led one landscape architect who has done community work in Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum, to wryly comment, “Why didn’t I end up working here instead?”

However, the reality of the organized drug crime that rules Rocinha and the vast majority of Rio’s 1,025 favelas might have made her reconsider. She asked if she could take a picture of a small set of benches, as she’s very interested in improvised public space. I said yes, not looking closely enough to see that in fact there was someone next to a tree who ended up in her picture. We got another 50 feet down the road when a runner, shirtless with a pistol in his waistband, stopped us. He asked if we had taken photos and said we needed to run them by his “manager.” I gulped, realizing what had happened, and followed him back. Sure enough, a guy in a blue soccer jersey was sitting in the shade next to the benches but behind a tree.

He acted indignant and vaguely threatening at first when he say that he was in fact in the pictures, but eventually calmed down. Unfortunately, what I had hoped would be a quick process by agreeing to delete the photos became a long ordeal as he demanded that I produce someone born and raised in Rocinha who could vouch for me. I made several phone calls and then settled in to wait for someone to arrive. Figuring it couldn’t hurt to play friendly, I tried chatting with him about several topics that are usually quick conversation starters in Rio. What ensued was a fascinating but depressing window into how the drug trade becomes a worldview.

“What’s your name?”
“I forgot.” (sarcastically)
“What’s your favorite soccer team?”
“Money. It always has the best players and scores the most goals.”
“Oh, well do you like to go to the beach?”
“What about music? Do you go to the baile funk?”
“No, I don’t like noise.”

Tough crowd. But I saw where his focus was when some more runners came by and he produced a brick of marijuana for them to carve up into smaller chunks. A few began smoking, and offered him a joint. He declined, saying it would be rude to smoke in front of his guests. He also provided us with a bottle of water at one point, as the wait dragged on in the midday heat (he didn’t like the first friend to arrive, not trusting him because he also spoke English, and demanded the president of the residents association instead). These were strange marks of politeness and respect, but to me indications that we weren’t in any real danger.

He finally explained why it was no simple matter of just deleting photos. The police had invaded Rocinha a few weeks prior and had occupied the very spot where we were. They had proceeded to take several photos, for mapping he speculated, and in the process of the shootout he had taken several bullets. He gestured to crutches propped up against the tree and showed us some fresh scars.

Finally, out of boredom and the realization that we were in fact harmless gringos and not police informants (my friend asked if I had ever tried explaining landscape architecture to him; I hadn’t), he let us delete the photos and continue on our way. We were welcome back to Rocinha any time, he said, just make sure to ask permission before snapping any pictures.

The encounter highlighted the extremely tight control that the gangs exert over favelas. While it’s easy to ignore them most of the time, the moment you break a rule, you are inextricably under their authority. It didn’t matter that I worked with 2Bros, that I used to live in Rocinha, that I clearly knew my way around the neighborhood. He wanted to be capricious and demand the residents association vouch for us, so wait we did, until finally he changed his mind and said we could delete the photos then leave.

It was particularly uncanny to have the run-in with the bandidos at the end of my trip. One of the new developments in Rio that I had followed all week in the news was the UPP, a security strategy to “pacify” favelas through overwhelming force, then reestablish the state’s relationship with the favela through a community policing program with vetted, honest police (corruption among the ranks being a big problem). Morro da Providiência, Rio’s oldest favela, was invaded during the WUF’s opening session, only a mile from the conference site. While only a handful of the most visible favelas (visible defined as proximity to upper class neighborhoods) are under this program, Rocinha is on the radar. It is terrifying to think about the potential loss of innocent life – especially the safety of my friends, our students, and the volunteers at 2Bros. The shootout that the wounded bandido referred to was certainly not the last as the government seeks to implement the UPP.

The shift from extralegal authority to the police protection of the state also invites a whole host of questions. Will physical security threaten security of tenure for squatters? Will favelas like Rocinha with amazing views and some urban services become gentrified, as Janice Perlman has speculated? What kind of civil society will establish itself in the absence of the gangs? Will baile funk, the Rio gangster rap that is the most popular form of cultural expression in the city, become further marginalized or further mainstreamed? Time was short and I didn’t have a chance to visit any of the UPP communities, but it is a topic I will be sure to investigate on my Fulbright study/research grant to Brazil next year. Obrigado e até logo.

— Greg Scruggs
Friday, March 26, 3 p.m.

Expo Boulevard in Shanghai

After the successful 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Shanghai World Expo 2010 is another significant opportunity for China to show its advances in economic and cultural development. The expo will take place from May 1 to October 31, 2010 with the title of Better City, Better Life. I attended one of side events about United Nations Pavilion at Shanghai Expo at WUF today and was surprised to learn that this is the first expo with an urban theme.

The United Nations has been invited to demonstrate their best work on urbanization and development. The UN pavilion theme is One Earth, One UN and will showcase the betterment of urban life through the work of over 40 UN agencies. The pavilion will be the size of about half a football field and includes a forum area for events throughout the Expo. Although the pavilion will showcase their work, the UN also sees this as an opportunity to learn from China, a unique and shining example of how to meet the challenges of modernization and urbanization challenges.

I was also surprised that not only is this the first urban themed expo but also the first time that these 40 agencies have worked together to present their work at an expo. Although it is just one part of Shanghai Expo 2010, the UN Pavilion will provide a very modern exhibition area with a theater for meetings, movies and much more. It will host six major forums on urban issues in partnership with the Chinese national and local governments. The forums will focus on the major issues facing cities: education, poverty, reduction, governance, sustainability, climate change, and human rights. For those of you who can’t make it to China this summer, the speakers also introduced the expo website and magazines. After the session, I visited the expo website and discovered that are only 38 days left until the beginning of the Shanghai Expo 2010. Does anyone want to go to Shanghai in May??

Mengke Chen

Friday, March 26, 9 a.m.

What is e-topia? For Rodrigo Baggio, e-topia is a virtual state where technology is used throughout the world to create solidarity and peace. Introduced as one of the 100 young social entrepreneurs recently recognized by the World Economic Forum, Baggio’s presentation more than lived up to these accolades. Baggio founded CDI, or the Center for Inclusion, the first organization to address the digital divide in Latin America. CDI establishes community centers and then trains youth to not just use computers but utilize technology to improve their communities. The number of CDI community centers is impressive: 803 in 13 Latin American counties, training 1.3 million people in technology and civic engagement thus far.

But even more impressive were Baggio’s stories about CDI’s work. His first story was about 10 young people working with a community center in a Sao Paulo slum. Armed with digital cameras on cell phones, they interviewed community elders about the largest problems facing the neighborhoods. After reviewing the interview videos as a group, they decided to address the problem of huge rats that lived throughout the neighborhood. They then used the computers in the community center to research how to encourage the rats to move out of this neighborhood. They learned that the rats thrive on garbage and communities that separate and collect their trash are rat free. The youth then produced a digital video to educate the community on separating garbage and containing it. Amazingly, within four months of distributing the video to the neighborhood, 100 percent of the residents were containing, separating and recycling their garbage and the rats had disappeared.

The second project Baggio described was in the Amazon, where 32 communities are connected to the Internet through satellites and solar power (I admit, I was holding my breath for where this story was headed). The problem faced by the Ashaninkas was much more difficult than rats. Although the indigenous Ashaninkas have been living in the Brazilian rainforest since before the Incas existed, drug dealers from Peru had recently decided to move into the forested area. After a series of serious and violent incidents, the Ashaninkas decided to go to war with the drug dealers. Unfortunately, the drug dealers were armed with guns and the Ashaninkas had little hope of winning — until they emailed President Lula. The email explained that the Ashaninkas had gone to war and were defending Brazil from the drug dealers because the army was not there. President Lula actually read this email and sent the Brazilian army to the rainforest in helicopters. Like the rats, the drug dealers decided that they could not withstand these new conditions and moved away from the Ashaninkas territory. Through the use of CDI technology, the Ashaninkas won their war.

To see another CDI innovation, Apps for Good, click here.

— Kirsten Kinzer
Thursday, March 25, 4 p.m.

I decided to take a field trip today to the Roberto Burle Marx Sitio about an hour west of Rio and am I glad I did! Burle Marx (1909-1994) was a designer of international repute who was the mastermind of the Copacabana waterfront promenade and Rio’s 296-acre Flamengo Park, comparable to Chicago’s lakefront parks.

The “Sitio” was a real treat. It is 100 hilly acres of plantings (3,500, reportedly) collected by Burle Marx, including 28 discovered by and named for him. There is a 17th-century chapel still in use and two houses. One is the rebuilt farmhouse is filled with Burle Marx’s collections, ranging from wall-sized colonial paintings from Cuzco to pre-Colombian pottery from Minas Gerais to Burle Marx’s own works of painting, sculpture, textiles and ceiling murals. The other is one fabricated shortly before his death from the rescued, solid granite facade of a demolished coffee warehouse adjacent to the WUF 5 conference center. About 28 gardeners, drawn from the neighborhood, keep the place in shape. Bright young guides for the required Portuguese-language-only tour explain it all. (Fortunately, our small group of Brazilians had a guide-in-training attached to it. She is scheduled to take on English-language speakers soon, so naturally, we bonded. She helped me imagine the flower-filled rooms and convivial parties that Burle Marx loved. She was from the vicinity and told me of neighbors who still remembered Burle Marx — I urged her to get a tape recorder and do some oral history!)

All of this was worth the trip but seeing city’s westward spread was equally fascinating. Greg Scruggs had mentioned that Rio’s population was decanting into a place called Barra but I had no idea how important this movement was until I saw it! The district seems larger than Copacabana and Ipanema together. And at the U.S. delegation briefing I had heard of the country’s phenomenal economic growth and associated expansion of the middle and upper middle classes. Well, here it is: block upon block of beachfront high rises, shopping centers, auto dealerships, some office buildings. It is dense, pierced by a boulevard-like spine … but entirely auto-dependent. I saw the crush of cars in morning rush hour on my way out to the Burle Marx Sitio. A metro extension is expected with the Olympic construction — the area certainly needs it. While the favelas receive well-deserved attention, it may be time for a study of this urban eco-system as well.

Ciao again,

Genie Birch

Thursday, March 25, 2 p.m.

Raising Eyebrows: Thoughts from WUF 5

Urbanization has splashed across the World Bank agenda … finally! A brilliant presentation by a team led by Abha Joshi-Ghani, Urban Sector Manager, Finance, Economics and Urban Development Department, is raising eyebrows. Building on the World Bank’s Development Report “Reshaping Economic Geography“ (2009) that argues place and high density matter in the economic development of the Global South, Ms. Joshi-Ghani and her group outlined and illustrated the key points of the Bank’s approach, one with the tag line “harnessing urbanization for growth and poverty alleviation.”

The strategy has five lines, all directed to regions or systems of cities in the belief that future growth is tied to promoting agglomeration economies and linkages in and among small and medium-sized cities (under 500,000 population), often in the orbit of large mega-cities. It also assumes that national government will be involved, as “urbanization is too important to be left to cities alone — it requires national attention to critical policy areas.”

The five lines? Summarized by Joshi-Ghani and captured in a World Bank publication, “Systems of Cities,” they are:

• Focus on core elements — city management, finance and governance

• Make pro-poor policies a city priority

• Support city economies

• Encourage progressive urban land and housing markets: urban land, housing and PLANNING (my capitals!)

• Promote a safe and sustainable environment

So what does this all mean? The World Bank will try to balance agglomeration and congestion’ focus on land market issues, especially title/property rights and cadastral systems; enhance administrative capacity in local government; develop information systems to inform decision-making and performance benchmarking; promote community engagement; map existing informal settlements; prepare for peri-urban development on fringe lands; foster financial instruments for rental and ownership housing; build sensible transportation systems; and incorporate environmental resilience considerations into all of the above. This is all quite exciting to veteran urbanists who welcome this new focus!

Also raising eyebrows is the practical and scholarly “on-the-ground” work being undertaken in Global South slums. Brian English, Country Director, India, CHF International, reported on a slum enumeration project in Pune that trained and supported census and mapping projects undertaken by the residents themselves. Slum Dwellers International (SDI) has undertaken a similar project in Nairobi, reporting on 183 slums of varying sizes — Kibera, for example has 700,000 inhabitants, half the city’s total; others are much smaller. Of great interest is the SDI land tenure inventory. Twenty-four are on public land; 92, on private property; 72, on precarious and vulnerable sites(basically uninhabitable). This simple bit of information is remarkable — first for it being done when it wasn’t done before and second, for assisting local government in selecting places for slum upgrading.

Finally, another eyebrow raiser is Janice Perlman’s paper, “It All Depends: Buying and Selling Houses in Rio’s Favelas.” Drawn from her soon-to-be published Favela (Oxford, June 2010) it tells us how land transactions occur is places that have no secure land tenure.

Genie Birch

Wednesday, March 24, 7 p.m.

While there is much inspirational about the spirit of international cooperation and the reality of rubbing shoulders with people from all over the world at a UN event, it seems that borrowing from many different governmental traditions has led to a unique morass of bureaucratese. I confess to being bewildered at times in a whirlwind of secretariats, campaigns, chairmans, directors of all kinds, programs, agendas, and forums.

Today I served as the official report writer for day one of the business caucus, where the private sector’s voice is heard in the movement for sustainable urbanization. I followed the format I was given and tried where I could to give the prose a little pizazz, only to watch the army of editors in a back room somewhere in the conference center hack it into dullness. When the “Rio Agenda” is published, as dry as it may be, I will have played my small part.

And dare I share, but here is the court stenographer’s version of this morning’s event.


Mr. Alyanak initiated the discussion by asking, “What private sector actions or innovations can transform environmental challenges into opportunities in the most general way?”

Ms. Grossi responded that joint efforts will be the most successful. The private sector has technological solutions to these problems and must be part of the process from the beginning.

Mr. Papy asserted that cities belong to their inhabitants and the private sector cannot drive change on its own without cooperation with cities and local governments. He then stressed the private sector’s advantages in terms of technology, methods and optimization of resources.

Mr. Jordan gave examples of a company in Guatemala that sells wood-burning stoves, reducing smoke by 70 percent, and a company that manufactures a plastic water filter producing 10 gallons of clean water per day for a year. He concluded that the most pertinent question is “Who is the market?” and that it is crucial to analyze the challenges at stake.

Mr. Noy argued that one of the major contemporary challenges is pollution from greenhouse gases. He referred to the impact of climate change on major urban areas, particularly to cities located in delta areas, where the poor neighborhoods are the most affected, such as in the case of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

Mr. Alyanak then asked how companies actually do bridge the urban divide.

Mr. Noy mentioned Arcadis Brazilian landfill projects that extract methane gas for use as electricity. It is an investment with considerable returns in both revenues and carbon credits.

Mr. Jordan referred to the tremendous efforts to transport dump trucks from Miami to Port-au-Prince, because rubble and debris is an ongoing environmental challenge that continues to impact public health. This example highlights how a sector such as medical also relates to urban transportation, logistics, education, and workforce.

Mr. Papy highlighted Veolia’s work on a widely heralded bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Bogotá, wastewater treatment for industrial and agricultural purposes in Mexico City, and biogas production at several French landfills.

Ms. Grossi asserted that her organization promotes new models for urban infrastructure. Rio de Janeirom which will soon host the Olympic Games, will be a test bed for companies to demonstrate sustainable construction and innovative infrastructure solutions.

Mrs. Tibaijuka then gave a welcoming address. She reminded the audience that the private sector is crucial to the future of cities. Climate change challenges can be seized as new business opportunities. Clean, low-carbon infrastructure investment and retrofitting of buildings are opportunities for green investment. This calls for true and operative partnerships with the private sector. In turn, she invited the business community to engage in the World Urban Campaign to carry the message of “better cities, better life” and ultimately impact on policies and people’s lives.

Dr. Dembo made a presentation of the Zeroprize for re-skinning buildings to make them more energy efficient. Dr. Dembo explained that 40 percent of total US,. energy consumption can be attributed to operating buildings and that over 90 percent of buildings in most big cities are “old.” Thus, he launched a worldwide competition for solutions on retrofitting cities. The small and large commercial winners are a warehouse in San Francisco and a bank, respectively. The small and large residential winners were a generic American house and a Berlin suburban apartment complex, respectively. He concluded by announcing a US$10 million prize for the first zero energy, zero water, and zero carbon building.

— Greg Scruggs


Tuesday, March 23, 6 p.m.

Although the grave nature of the challenges faced by the world’s cities is underscored in every session I have attended at WUF thus far, it is clear that some cities are gradually chipping away at monumental problems. Lagos, Nigeria is one of these cities and today I attended a very optimistic presentation on the steps Lagos has taken to address crime, population growth, transportation and employment through participatory planning. Lagos has had success with some strategies tried in other cities, like coupling job training with microfinance, but the most exciting parts of their presentation discussed success at addressing problems identified by residents through initiatives created by the government, financed by the private sector and employing the poor. My favorite was the creation of a bus rapid transit system through a co-op founded by the city government. Private capital was used to initially purchase buses and existing private bus drivers then bought into the co-op by purchasing all or a portion of a double-decker bus. In return, members of the co-op can drive these buses in dedicated bus lanes provided by the city. The choice between sitting in gridlocked traffic or driving in a dedicated lane was clear and the BRT system is now up and running. As highlighted by a comment from the audience — that someone born in Lagos today can expect 30 years less life than someone born in the U.K. — this presentation focused exclusively on the positive side of the Lagos story. Nonetheless, it was clear from the questions from residents of nearby African cities that the Africans in the room were there to learn everything possible about transferring these positives to their home cities.

I attended a session this afternoon on the UNICEF Child Friendly Cities program, which focuses on the rights of children in ways that are familiar to Americans, such as child protection and the right to play in a safe environment, and in ways that are a bit less common in the U.S. Cities from the Philippines to France are implementing UNICEF’s nine point Child Friendly City framework, which includes both explicitly planning and budgeting for children’s needs but also engaging children in creating, implementing and evaluating these plans. And this is not just a lofty goal. In Amman there are now nine district children’s councils with 28,000 children involved. To enable children to make plans that can be implemented, capacity building is a major part of the councils’ work. The success of these efforts is underscored by the ideas generated by the councils now put into place, including new parks and a community center for handicapped children. Imagine what the planning culture will be in Amman when these children become adults trained to expect a meaningful role in shaping the future of their city and educated on how to contribute constructively! Although a future improved planning culture is this is not one of the stated goals of the Child Friendly Cities program, I could see this objective as a major motivation for an American city seeking the Child Friendly title.

— Kirsten Kinzer

Tuesday, March 23, 3 p.m.
Sweaty Urbanism: Launch of 100 Cities Initiative

The newspaper’s weather map publishes Rio’s temperature extremes for every day. The high yesterday was recorded at the Praça Mauá, the entrance to WUF5. Today we were greeted by a massive cruise ship that towered over the conference center – this is still a working port in some senses – providing some much needed shade, but also the tantalizing but clearly forbidden prospect of a swimming pool.

We soldiered on, sweaty urbanists that we are, for one of the key launch events that brought Penn IUR to the WUF. Today marked the official beginning of the 100 Cities Initiative, an online, participatory database of “living practices” in urban planning, development, and governance. There are roughly a dozen cities confirmed at the launch – including Alicante (Spain), Vienna (Austria), Makati (Philippines), São João da Barra (Brazil), Livingston (Guatemala), Ougadougou (Burkina Faso), Medellín (Colombia), Rabat (Morocco), Rosario (Argentina), Mumbai (India), and our own Philadelphia. Each was represented either by a mayor (or someone speaking on behalf of a mayor) or “city champion,” a local institution that is sponsoring a particular city’s involvement in the Initiative. Penn IUR nominated Philly for its coordinated urban greening efforts at the municipal level (Greenworks, PWD’s Stormwater Plan, the new Parks & Rec, Civic Vision for the Central Delaware, Philadelphia Green, and Fresh Food Financing Initiative).

The initial list may seem haphazard, and it is, based largely on the first handful of cities to get in place both city support and a city champion. That is certainly much easier to do in a smaller city, and I think it makes sense that in the initial round there is only one mega-city (in fact Mumbai was not represented at the launch) and only two national capitals (Rabat and Ougadougou). Tiny São João da Barra, city of merely 40,000 about an hour up the coast from Rio, struck me as a particularly strange choice. That is, until their mayor, with translation assistance from Marlene Fernandes of IBAM (Brazilian Institute for Municipal Administration, a key partner in the 100 Cities Initiative and the World Urban Campaign), explained that they expect to swell to 250,000 people in the next ten years because of newly discovered oil deposits and a port under construction. They’ve put a substantial master plan in place to ensure that SJdB avoids “big city problems” (read: favelas). I still wondered how that was really a “living practice” that would be applicable elsewhere – how many small cities are about to become oil boomtowns? The answer, apparently, is quite a few, including many coastal cities in the Brazilian states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Espírito Santo. Likewise, many African cities are anticipating similar growth as their oil reserves begin to get tapped.

Nonetheless, some presentations seemed like tourism commercials, such as SJdB’s city profile including the hard-hitting statistics “36km of beautiful beaches” and “traditional food.” Likewise, Alicante, which will host the first 100 Cities Summit in April 2011, showed a promotional video that ended with “Come visit us soon!” I am not leveling these criticisms to dispute the merit of the initiative – indeed the IUR wouldn’t have worked so hard to get Philly into the first batch if we didn’t think it was worthwhile – but I think the presentations highlighted the need for voices other than city officials to speak on behalf of cities. One of the 100 Cities Initiative’s many goals is to improve on the Best Practices database by giving a complete picture – transferable successes as well as lessons learned. It may be a bitter pill for some mayors to swallow to see what they think of as dirty laundry aired on the (digital) world stage, but knowing that the Big Dig ran horrendously over budget is something any city considering a similar highway project should know (of course the newspapers took care of letting the world know about that one, but just as an example). As Penn IUR begins working on Philly’s city story, I for one am curious to see how that plays out with such new initiatives. How many Greenworks targets have been met? Has that even been rigorously determined? Do some now not seem feasible or need revised completion dates? Pushing and prodding to get this kind of information will hopefully, in its own organic way, ultimately influence – and improve – the work that has already been started.

Last but not least, want to see your city in these proverbial lights? Nominate!

— Greg Scruggs

Monday, March 22, 5 p.m.

We took the metro from the brand new multi-million dollar stop in Ipanema. We passed a public bike-share program outside the modern entrance, and used our plastic swipe-cards (no tokens!) to descend into the high-ceilinged vault of the subway station. During rush-hour there is a separate car for women (to avoid the hustle and bustle of intrusive, sweaty men?). We emerged in a beautiful plaza across from city hall, and looked at the oldest part of the city with its colonial architecture and towering cathedrals. Unfortunately, it was the wrong stop. We took a cab the rest of the way to the port area.

When we got to the conference site, a one-hour queue wrapped around the old dock warehouses that would house the 21,000 attendees. When the first World Urban Forum was held, it had only 10,000 attendees. Now, WUF5 has doubled the attendance and had to turn registrants away because the venue ran out of space (I had a hard time thinking of a place in Philadelphia or New York where we could even begin to house a conference of this magnitude). Luckily, we had registered the day before- or the wait to get through security would have been twice as long. Members from the UN youth forum, that had convened the day before, took advantage of the queue to petition and raise awareness for World Water Day. While waiting for the opening ceremony, we were multi-tasking in a Guinness Book of World Records competition for the world’s longest toilet line. Hopefully we win!

The opening ceremony was an electrical guitar rendition of the Brazilian National Anthem followed by a capoiera group’s recycling-themed dance. Only in Brazil. The energy was captured and focused by the speakers. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (or simply, Lula), the charismatic, nine-fingered president of Brazil declared that “taking care of the poor is the cheapest, fastest, highest impact thing we can do for our cities.” The Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, Dr. Anna Tibaijuka, gave a stirring speech about the importance of cities. This year, more than 50% of the world lives in cities; they have come to the forefront of policy for energy and climate change. Dr. Tibaijuka noted that more than 70% of our growing population is expected to live in cities in the next two generations. She noted that in sub-Saharan Africa more than 60% of people live in slum-like conditions. This compares to 35% in Asia, 24% in Latin America, and 6% in the countries with advanced economies. She stated simply, “We can do better.” While Dr. Tibaijuka mentioned the beautiful city of Rio, she urged us to reap what we could from the conference, to learn and share through best practices, and make the connections and networks that would ready the cities to take care of their people. She ended her powerful message with a quote from Mother Theresa meant to hearten those who were overwhelmed with the challenges, “Don’t worry about doing the big things. It is the small things that become big.”

The emphasis of many of the panels is on readying the city, which I am likening to a readying my house for guests. It is time to make room, to clean, and to stock the kitchen with enough food for all. On that last point, I am off for a brainstorming session on food security and rural-urban inter-dependence.

-Catherine Brinkley

Brazil’s Rocinha slum.

Monday, March 22, 2 p.m.

Before the conference started, our small Penn IUR (Institute for Urban Research) took a moment to orient ourselves in Rio.

The beaches are entirely deserving for their reputation. One immediately understands why Brazilians dominate the world of beach volleyball and soccer; public nets and goals were in heavy use. The entire coastline along Rio is public property to be shared and enjoyed by all, and Copacabana and Ipanema are separated from the commercial buildings with designated bikes lanes and separate pedestrian lanes. The humid fall climate reveals the ease with which the cities parks flourish. Any patch of dirt will sprout lush foliage. Perhaps what is most striking is the view around the hilly city. Nearly all of the favelas (slums) are located on the steep hillsides. While they do claim the best views over the city, they are vulnerable to landslides in heavy rains. Numbering 1000 settlements in all, they are home to one sixth of Rio’s population.

Greg Scruggs, an IUR research associate, organized a tour to Rocinha, the largest favela. Greg helps run the Two Brothers Foundation, one of the handful of organizations that run fund-raising and outreach programs in Rocinha, home to about 100,000 people. We met for the tour in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Rio. Many of the residents in Rocinha work as maids, doorkeepers, and trash removal men for the neighborhood immediately next door to them. The walk over the bridge and up into the hills was a striking change from the polished country club tennis courts behind the condos. Unlike many of the slums in Africa, the slums in Rio have multi-story dwellings. Perched on the hillside, families will expand upwards with new rooms as they can afford to. Rocinha just opened a new hospital, which will help in the ongoing battled against tuberculosis, which plagues nearly one in three residents. The houses were all connected to city water, and we walked through the Sunday market just as it closed. Children had shoes on their feet, and there were fresh fruits and vegetables for sale. In the streets, there were only a few stray dogs, and many rumbling motorcycle cabs with passengers clinging onto the backs of their drivers. As we neared the Two Brothers headquarters, we passed through a section with a few cafes that were blaring hip-hop music. Men with semi-automatics and pistols stashed in the back of their jeans, drank beer and chatted with each other. Unfortunately, Rocinha is one of the many favelas run by local gangs. We were told that the favelas are not dangerous, but if you are there during a police raid or a gang takeover- there can be stray bullets. Of the 1000 favelas in Rio, only six are pacified and “free of gangs”. The work left to be done to bring these settlements into the city proper is staggering, but Rio is on its way.

In true UN fashion, we plunged from one extreme to the other. Dashing back to the hotel, we washed the fish juice from the Sunday market off our sandals, threw on an appropriate outfit, and set out for the Rockefeller Welcoming reception. The US ambassador, Mr. Sheraton, welcomed us and stated the problems that we would tackle this week. Shaun Donovan of Housing and Urban Development brought the news that congress had passed Health Care Reform. The Brazilian representatives standing next to me whispered that Brazil already has universal health care; the US is the last developed country to institute it. Judith Rodin, former president of UPenn and current present of the Rockefeller Foundation, gave a shout out to Prof. Genie Birch and the collaborative work at UPenn. The brilliant public treasure of the beaches, the harsh realities of Rocinha, and the call to action from Rockefeller left us invigorated for the next day. We fell asleep to the crashing waves of the Atlantic shore as the midnight clean-up crew scraped the beaches clean.

-Catherine Brinkley


Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Monday, March 22, 2 p.m.

It’s 90ºF in late summer and the port’s massive old warehouses certainly aren’t air conditioned, though they make for an impressive adaptive re-use as a convention center. Today’s O Globo (Rio’s main daily) ran a feature (PT) on the revitalization of the derelict port area at the edge of downtown, comparing it to Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires, the historic center of Mexico City after the earthquake in the 1980s, and a new park in Bogotá. While it still feels isolated – the walk from the subway to the center is a bit dodgy, and the conference is running shuttle vans instead – the location is stunning, right on the water, and retains an industrial vibe.

Attendance at WUF has exceeded expectations, with 21,000 registered (UN-HABITAT finally had to close registration), though surely not that entire number is present. By contrast, I was told, Nanjing (site of WUF4) only had 2,000 people show up and the embarrassed Chinese government bussed in thousands of bewildered seniors the next day to fill seats. Still, it is packed to the gills here. This morning’s opening session was full of dignitaries galore, including the mayor, the governor, the president, V.P. of the Philippines, Shaun Donovan (secretary of HUD), Anna Tibaijuka (executive director of UN-HABITAT) and the President of the European Union.

It began with a propaganda video about the wonders of Brazil with an emphasis on natural resources and new investments. The narrator frequently repeated the old refrain of Brazil as the country of the future (a notion that goes back to president Juscilino Kubashek in 1950, when he said the country would accomplish “fifty years in five”). Favelas were not mentioned by name, but rather as “precarious settlements.” In turn it pushed all the buttons of the conference in terms of addressing democracy, citizen participation, the right to the city, etc. A musical revue followed, with the Brazilian national anthem belted out on electric guitar (channeling Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner?), with a backing drum corps. Breakdancers followed, a nod to the World Youth Assembly that took place in the days leading up to WUF5.

The main Brazilian politicians – Mayor Eduardo Paes, Governor Sergio Cabral, and President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula for short) – all took their turn in the limelight with a similar set of talking points: the PAC (accelerated growth program) is a huge step forward for basic investment in all cities, the World Cup and Olympics validate Rio and Brazil, and Rio is truly one of the world’s most marvelous cities. Lula, to much applause, asserted, “The cheapest, simplest thing that a government must do is to take care of the poorest part of the population.” He also discussed the importance of “boas estratégias administrativas” (good administrative strategies), or what you might call “best practices.” BPs are one of the main subjects of Penn IUR’s work in relation to UN-HABITAT and WUF5. Finally, he trotted out some impressive statistics on the amount of work that has gone into favela upgrading, including the fact that the federal bank, Caixa Economica, has already lent more money for housing in the first two months of 2010 than in the entire year of 2005. And to much laughter, he said that even during the madness of Carnival, the economy added 209,000 formal jobs in February. In short, he concluded, what’s being written in books and the news can’t tell you what’s happening in Brazil right now, that it’s nothing short of amazing. Presidential boosterism? Of course. But I can see why the Brazilian people like this guy so much – he’s a populist but doesn’t come across as an exceptionally manipulative one.

There was a lot of talk of favelas and slums, moreover, from folks like Tibaijuka, who essentially gave a valedictory address as she will step down from head of UN-HABITAT in June. She specifically asked what urbanization will mean for favelados and indigenous peoples, as well pointing out that even in advanced economies, things could be better. Citing Shaun Donovan, she worried about the effect of the subprime mortgage meltdown and general financial crisis. Slum conditions exist in the developed world as well, she emphasized. Finally, she concluded by paraphrasing JFK, “It is not what UN-HABITAT can do for you, but what you can do for the mission of UN-HABITAT.”

Finally, our own Shaun Donovan had a tough act to follow, coming right on the heels of Lula. However, his speech on “metropolitan laboratories” could have come right from a Bruce Katz talk, highlighting all the more why NAC chose him for their issue 26 cover.

Update: The latest headlines from Globo online indicate that the BOPE (SWAT equivalent) has invaded Morro da Providência, Rio’s oldest favela and very near WUF5. They chose today – how significant? – to begin a takeover and transition to their community policing program.

Also, though I don’t Tweet myself, the WUF hashtag has quite a bit of even liver coverage.

— Greg Scruggs

Monday, March 22, 12 p.m.

Our intrepid Penn IUR Global Urban Commons Group assembled in Rio over the weekend to attend the Steering Committee Meeting for the soon-to-be-launched 100 Cities Initiative. We also attended the reception for the U.S. Delegation (headed by U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan) hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation. Here Secretary Donovan announced that, with 43 members, the US had the largest and most diverse delegation ever attending a world urban forum. (Note of disclosure, I am a member as a representative academic.)

But on to today’s observations. The Penn IUR group set off from our hotel on Ipanema for the conference center, a beautiful, recently reconditioned warehouse with breathtaking waterfront views, a few miles away in downtown. We walked quickly along the Burle-Marx-inspired inlaid stone sidewalk to the soaring General Osorio metro station. We opted this mode over the more scenic route via car or bus to avoid widely predicted traffic jams, a good choice!

The metro is clean, fast and efficient. We streamed into the station with many others, sliding our metro cards (complimentary to WUF participants) over the turnstile that opened into a station reminiscent of the D.C. metro—high ceilings, brightly lit, long and wide platforms.

The train glided in quietly, we moved on and within minutes were at our destination — another attractive, well-signed, stop. Despite the heat, we were fresh and ready for the WUF plenary session. While not extensive, this metro system bodes well for handling crowds at the upcoming World Cup and summer Olympics if and when the Brazilians extend it to the venues. My only complaint is that we all could use one of those handy wallet-sized public transit maps to help plot metro and bus trips on this metro and buses through Rio.

Well I am off to some of the sessions, will report more tomorrow and give special attention to the launch of the 100 Cities Initiative.

— Eugenie L Birch, Lawrence C. Nussdorf Professor and Co- Director, Penn IUR

Sunday, March 21, 9 a.m.

Welcome to the Marvelous City, as Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is frequently known. Situated on Guanabara Bay in the southern tropics, Rio is home to a metro area of 13 million people and a city population of about 8 million cariocas (residents of Rio). Long the cultural capital of Brazil, it is the birthplace of samba, the Brazilian national music, and bossa nova, the 1950s modern cool of a rising middle class that signaled Brazil as the country of the future. Its postcard beaches greet millions of tourists and locals alike every year for an intoxicating mix of sun, sand, surf, and swimwear. While tourism is a major economic engine, Rio is also home to Petrobras, the state-owned oil company. Likewise, the city is the base of operations for offshore exploration of the massive Tupi oil field, the largest discovery in the Western Hemisphere in 30 years. President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva called the find “a second independence for Brazil,” already a country that is energy independent, with many of its cars running on sugarcane ethanol or propane.

There is much to marvel at in Rio, but another, perhaps more accurate nickname, is the Cidade Partida (Divided City). Beyond the beachfront, the urban periphery is dramatically poorer from the posh enclaves of Ipanema and Leblon. In particular, one-third to one-fourth of residents live in 1,000+ favelas that ranges from extremely developed, quasi-formal communities like Rocinha, to fresh collections of improvised housing still unknown to cartographers. Violence plagues the majority of these communities, as police power is wielded not by the government but by armed, organized criminal factions that control the lucrative drug trade. This seemingly Sisyphean conflict leaves favelados in a classic rock and hard place situation. If there is a truism to the War for Rio, as the newspapers sometimes call the gunfights between police and gangs, it is Elizabeth Leeds’ understated comment: “Squatter populations in particular are caught between the illegal violence of drug dealers and the official violence of security forces.” Nevertheless, favelas hold a place in the carioca cultural imagination – indeed samba really got its groove in the favelas, and more recently gave birth to funk carioca, a kind of syncopated hip-hop derived from Miami bass.

Moreover, there are some potential bright spots since the awarding of the 2014 World Cup to Brazil (with the finals at Rio’s famous Maracanã stadium) and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games to Rio itself, a major coup as the first city in South America to host the Olympics. Police efforts to neutralize some strategic favelas has been coupled with a community policing project, Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP). Meanwhile, the federal PAC (Programma de Acceleração de Crescimento, or Accelerated Growth Program) is currently making infrastructure investments in the midst of some of Rio’s largest and neediest communities. Finally, the choque de ordem (order blitz) has been cracking down on abandoned cars, irregular construction, and informal economy activity citywide for over a year, to the applause of some that Rio is cleaning up its act, and to the chagrin of others that its losing some of its soul. The jury is still out, however, on how sustained these efforts will be and how much substantial social change will result form them. Already, the traditional Olympic specter of slum clearance has reared its ugly ahead in the face of the Vila Autódromo, a favela without drug trafficking problems that is slated for demolition as part of the Rio2016 master plan.

These are heady times of transition if not transformation for Rio, truly one of the world’s great cities but also a microcosm of many of the urban world’s most pressing challenges to housing, the environment, transportation, social equity, the built environment, and economic growth. Consequently, it has yet another feather in its cap on the international scene as home to World Urban Forum 5 from March 22-26. With the theme “Right to the City – Bridging the Urban Divide,” Rio is an ideal venue to address the multifaceted topic of sustainable urbanization. Please follow along as the Penn Institute for Urban Research (Penn IUR) live blogs the World Urban Forum for Next American City. We will keep you up to date on insights from sessions, inform you of major initiative launches, and send back a few postcards from Rio – the marvelous and divided city alike.

— Greg Scruggs

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Tags: built environmentgovernanceun-habitatrio de janeiro

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