By Martina Merlo
Currently the new constructions of the Olympic Sites remain under construction. From observation at the Port of Marvels, nothing large has been erected yet, other than the emergent construction of the Museum of Tomorrow, designed by Calatrava, on the pier. Not only is there nothing constructed, but there is also no pedestrian activity surrounding the area. In fact, construction managers have shooed us away from the construction and also disallowed us from taking photographs from close up—this, to me, was a foreshadowing of observations lying ahead. From speaking to locals about their experiences with the Olympic constructions, no one seems to have any hope that anything will be erected in time. While the Olympics provide the hope of an exciting and innovative future of athletic celebrations tomorrow, Jonas, our guide while in Rio, has joked that there is nothing there today.
An interesting observation of the Olympic constructions both at the Port and at Barra is that the barriers surrounding the construction provide promises. They show off important tourist sites of Rio as well as advertising what the Olympiad hopes to be. It seems that these “promise-barriers” are projecting views of Rio that would normally show externally. To explain further, it is the government’s way of pointing tourists and visitors in the direction of sites that proudly display what is most “characteristically Rio” for them. What the government deems as characteristic, should, in theory, reflect the same ideas as the residents but often do not. The “promise-barriers” highlight certain attractions as a means to project an image of utopia, yet also very clearly leave out parts of the city that some might consider “dystopian,” or just run-down, poor, or barren. What is even more riveting about these “promise-barriers” is that they exist only within the city itself.
Notions of national identity, both internally and externally, were hotly debated around the most recent World Cup. The Cup was controversial throughout Rio with the restructuring of Maracana and the government’s focus on “cleansing” the city. With the advent of several thousands of global visitors and the prospect of an old Modernist construction having a new life, the communities of the Favelas risked displacement. Peaceful protests led to police brutality and turmoil, and utopic ideas were underscored by violence.
For the Olympic construction, it seems that the government uses the barriers to justify inconvenience to the city. While there seems to be no prospect of community displacement this time around, the barriers in place project images inward, and therefore seem to justify inconvenience of any type. The propaganda shows Rio as the “city of the future,” yet still residents scoff in the wake of such tumultuous events of not even one year before.
A last question that should be asked is about recycling. One positive outlook on the situation of the World Cup was that the stadium had already been in place and in use beforehand, and continues to serve the same function even after the mega-event. In fact, it will be the stadium for the soccer games within the Olympics as well, therefore serving as part of the “construction” without having to be constructed anew. Yet, much of this justificatory propaganda surrounds buildings and villages that have not yet been erected, and therefore leads to questions of future function of these sites. While violence has not ensued surrounding Barra and the Port of Marvels, will the future Olympic park lead to an uprising? How will the real estate around Barra, currently partially slums, change economically, and how much displacement occur with latency?
For now, there are only promises—given the track record of the government we can only guess how many will prove to be true.