Who would ever think that something as beautiful as a soccer championship could be destructive? The World Cup has become a social and public policy disaster for Brazil.
I’m an architect and entrepreneur living in São Paulo, so I care what happens to my city. I need to speak out, because politicians are busy spending money we don’t have to build a stadium we don’t need and won’t use again, and to build infrastructure that we know will only make our transportation problems worse, while making it nearly impossible for entrepreneurs to provide services to the mass of people who are coming.
That’s not even the worst of it. The attempt to produce a “legacy” does not only have a financial cost, but also an invaluable social cost, possibly the largest loss of all generated by the World Cup. Research done by NGOs such as ANCOP and Conectas estimates that around 250 thousand people will be evicted from their homes because of new public works related to the event.
The large majority of them live in informal communities that happen to be in public land instead of private land. That detail eliminates their legal right of homesteading, which had it been private land, they would have earned long ago. Most of the mass evictions aren’t in recent communities, but in real neighborhoods that should have been formally recognized a long time ago. After a century of not receiving their property titles or any public investment, the oldest of them – and possibly the first Brazilian favela – Morro da Providência in Rio de Janeiro — is now getting R$ 75 million to build a cable car to serve tourists. Instead of trying to solve their problems, the city will create a spectacle for the elite, removing people and houses that stand in the way.
An independent documentary called “Casas Marcadas” (Marked Houses) reveals that the Rio de Janeiro Municipal Housing Department (SMH) marked hundreds of houses with codes in preparation for sending bulldozers to tear them down, without any prior notice or personal contact with the residents. The price of properties sold in these communities, even restricted to the informal market and with low quality construction, reach R$100 thousand.
However, reparations handed out to residents that lose their homes rarely amount to R$10 thousand, when they even get anything back. To make it all worse, there are hundreds of police brutality complaints filed and reported by those who have challenged their removal, with no success. Now imagine this happening throughout the country in all cities preparing for the World Cup. Being literally removed with no other place to go, the already astonishing inequality and social exclusion gap widens even more.
The mess started when Brazil was selected as host country, and the government promised to redirect public resources to do whatever was necessary to provide a stadium that meets FIFA’s requirements and a city that can handle the influx of people.
Let’s remember that large urban agglomerations with adequate host stadiums are already ideal places for large events. Urban centers can generally absorb mass influxes of people as they count on relationships between a large variety of suppliers and entrepreneurs. Hotels prepare for an increase in demand by adjusting their prices and pack their rooms with maximum efficiency. Homeowners use websites such as AirBnB, where they can easily create short-term rentals and temporarily increase room supply.
Problems arise when government interferes in this process. Hotels in Rio de Janeiro face price controls and a mandatory discount for tourists. This puts investors and entrepreneurs at great risk, while virtually ensuring that many won’t be able to find a place to stay. To make matters worse, regulators are cracking down on AirBnB for promoting “commercial” activities in residential areas. The easy rental process which made AirBnB so successful suddenly isn’t that easy anymore.
As for transportation during the event, President Dilma recently said that it is “too expensive to make collective transportation. If it isn’t through a partnership or if the Federal Government doesn’t finance it, it just doesn’t happen.” But is money really the largest challenge to entering the transportation market?
No, much more harmful are laws keeping transportation operators and taxi drivers from simple fixes like putting more vehicles on the road, creating new routes and raising fares to balance supply and demand during an event. To be an entrepreneur and innovator in transportation – both land and air — is a job for the very powerful or for the insane given the barrier to entry for these sectors.
Micro-entrepreneurs running small vans, a sight common in East-Asian or Central-American countries, are illegal in Brazilian cities. Ridesharing is also forbidden, seen as a threat to taxi corporations. The path to better urban planning will not come through building more infrastructure, but by revising old urban regulations that control the proximity of urban attractions and the competitiveness of the transportation system.