Eduardo Paes, the mayor of the city of Rio de Janeiro, believes that mayors really can change the world. In a TED talk in 2012, he set out his view that cities are great places to live, but he suggests that they can become even better. So what are his lessons for creating the city of the future? There are four key commandments, and the good news is that they don’t necessarily require large amounts of money. Sometimes, he suggests, citing Rio’s Olympic success, the most powerful does not win, and smaller ideas can make a huge difference.
Beauty and the beast
Rio is a beautiful, vital city, full of green, and a great place to live. But it also has lots of cars, concrete, and people, and therefore of course it also has problems, as does any city.
Eduardo Paes suggests that the first commandment is that the city of the future must be environmentally friendly. But here, surprisingly, he is not necessarily using the phrase in the sense of ‘good for the earth’. Instead, it’s about creating an environment which is open and usable. He suggests that when you have a ‘concrete jungle’, you have to look for the open spaces. Once you’ve located them, you have to open them up, and make sure that people can get into them and use them. You have to give the city back its lungs to enable it to survive.
Cities are full of people. This leads to one very obvious question: how do you move them around? By 2060, it’s estimated that there will be 60 million people worldwide living in cities, and some kind of high capacity transportation will be necessary. But this costs money. Doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. A massive new underground or subway system does. But Eduardo Paes has followed the example of one of his fellow-mayors, and opted for Bus Rapid Transit. This uses surface transport, rather than underground, which makes it cheaper, but feasible through the creation of segregated lanes alongside existing roads. In 2012, only 18% of the population of Rio was travelling by public transport. This figure was expected to rise to 63% by 2015 by the addition of new routes and investment in high capacity buses. The second commandment? Cities of the future must ensure that their population can move around rapidly and effectively.
Favelas are not always a problem
Favelas, or slums, are often seen as the problem. This isn’t a new viewpoint; only consider the Victorian ‘slum clearances’ in London. But Eduardo Paes turns the problem on its head by suggesting that favelas don’t have to be a problem. Instead, they can be part of the solution, provided that you deal with them right. Rio has 6.3 million inhabitants, and 1.4 million of them live in favelas. The favelas are spread all over the city, and yes, there is huge contrast between rich and poor.
But Paes is getting basic services into the favelas, and making sure that those services are high quality. From education to healthcare, he is ensuring that the population of favelas has access to good quality services to meet their needs. And this is creating a virtuous circle, instead of the vicious one that existed before. He’s also opening up the favelas rather more. In line with his first commandment, he recognises that you can’t allow favelas to become completely urbanised; you have to create open space within them, and make it accessible to the inhabitants. His third commandment, then, is that the city of the future must be socially integrated, and the way to do that is to get policy into the favelas, not ignore them.
Paes’ fourth commandment relates to the day-to-day operations of the city. Rio’s management has been made easier by the development of an operations centre. This has access to information about weather forecasts, traffic, city services and the like, all available remotely. The centre works 24/7 without generating any paperwork. The city of the future must use technology to be present.
A new way to govern cities
Eduardo Paes offers his four commandments as a way to govern cities in the future. He believes cities must be primarily seen as gatherings of people. He points out that bringing people together cannot be viewed a problem. Instead, it brings together minds and talents, enabling them to work together. The city of the future must support this integration, and care about bringing its citizens together.
Image credit: Christ the Redeemer by Greg Inda