As Rio+20 wrapped up on Friday, most people were focused on the underwhelming results of the summit. But the event provided an excellent opportunity to determine what the city has accomplished and what it still needs to get done before upcoming mega-events over the next few years.
- Traffic: Undoubtedly, the biggest complaint at Rio+20 was the incredible amount of traffic. Despite attempts by the city to create dedicated lanes, provide buses for conference participants, and declare a three-day holiday for schools and city government workers, there were still huge traffic jams. Another cause of traffic were protests throughout the city during the conference, causing bottlenecks. One columnist jokingly called the conference Rio2h20, based on the amount of time it took to commute to Riocentro; others called it Rio mais trânsito (Rio plus traffic). Participants faced several hours of traffic a day getting to and from the main event, not to mention Cariocas going about their daily commutes. While protests may be a lesser issue at upcoming mega-events, the city's transportation system promise to be one of the most critical areas. The rapid bus transit system could be helpful if the full system is constructed, it doesn't solve the fundamental problem that Rio has more vehicles than its roads can handle on a daily basis, a problem that is growing as more and more members of the new middle class buy cars. (In fact, some argue that the BRT lanes could actually worsen traffic.) Though an extended metro system could potentially provide much-needed relief for clogged roadways and frustrated commuters, bus companies are a powerful lobby. Fewer buses in Rio's West Zone--one of the city's most congested areas--seem unlikely. The city's expanding infrastructure is one of the key things to watch through 2016.
- Security: As with other mega-events, Rio's police and military set up a massive operation citywide. While a European tourist was stabbed a day before the conference began, the conference was largely free of criminal incidents. (There was a strange incident with an indigenous man with a bow and arrow during a protest near BNDES, captured in this photo, though no one was injured.) On June 19, several drug traffickers reportedly prohibited the sale of crack in several favelas, perhaps in an effort to prevent military occupation. It may have been a coincidence that the announcement came during the days of the conference, though perhaps not, given the number of military and police deployed throughout the city. Despite the brief period of relative peace, the day after the event ended, several criminals stole and flipped a car and had a shootout with police in Leblon, one of Rio's wealthiest neighborhoods.
- Favelas: While the city and state government invested in constructing walls around several favelas over the past few years--perhaps most notoriously near favelas visible from the highway connecting the city to the airport--politicians showed off the favelas during Rio+20. Some conference participants visited favelas throughout the city, and the mayor showed off several programs at favelas as well. In one of the more maddening visits, Rio's mayor accompanied New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for a half hour to a favela in Zona Sul. In preparation for Bloomberg's short visit, the city paved a street, removed graffiti, and knocked down a wall--all in less than 24 hours. The reason for knocking down the wall? So Bloomberg would have an ocean view during the visit. In addition, residents of Vila Autódromo held a protest during the conference to bring attention to the community, slated for removal to make way for Olympics infrastructure projects.
- Accommodations: While an estimated 50,000 participants were anticipated at Rio+20, the city actually received double that amount--110,000 tourists between June 13 and 22. Around 45,000 participated in the official conference, while 300,000 participated in the People's Summit, a side event. Hotel capacity was at 95 percent, forcing some attendees to sleep at the Sambodrome and camp out. Interestingly, only 54 percent of tourists stayed in hotels, while the rest found alternative accomodations. Creating more space for tourists is another key area before upcoming mega-events.
- Prices & Service: Rio+20 participants complained about high prices, including food at official events and hotel prices (which were lowered due to a government negotation). The government estimates tourists spent R$274 million during the conference, or $132.5 million. As Julia Michaels pointed out, there were also complaints of poor service and disorganization. Similarly, Globo journalist Gilberto Scofield encountered conference volunteers who had no clue what was going on. Though it will take some work, better organization and better trained volunteers seem more likely than reasonable prices at future mega-events.
Photo: FIESP/Helcio Nagamine