Whither Cities after the U.S. Presidential Election?

Hi everybody,

I know there’s no class this week, but since the course has put in the habit of being extra-sensitive to news involving cities/urban issues — and given our peripheral discussions of the outcome of the 2016 elections in class — I thought I’d post a few pieces I’ve come across that could be of interest to folks. Although all three are nominally about the urban-rural political divide in the U.S. in the wake of the election, they forecast what I see as an increasing regional and perhaps global concentration of political and population-driven power in cities that has provoked backlash of which the election of Donald Trump is but one example. The most optimistic — and global — case for this is made in Ishaan Tharoor’s Washington Post analysis of cities as irreversible frontiers of globalization via changes in technology and “a ‘rebalancing of the relationship’ between nations and cities that will enable greater local governance across the world for the benefit of all.” On the more targeted, U.S.-centric level, both Reid Wilson’s article in the Hill about Democratic mayors who’ve pledged to oppose Trump’s deportation agenda and Henry Grabar’s cover story in Slate postulating a similar role for urban infrastructures themselves suggest the value of an activist reimagining of the political importance of cities as we inaugurate what may come to be viewed as a new era in U.S. politics.

One obvious question that follows from these readings is to ask how/whether the situation these three authors describe in the U.S. relates to Latin America and other global metropolises. Does Tharoor’s notion of cities as a bulwark against provincialism and more rural-oriented concerns survive export to Latin America and other parts of the globe? Perhaps what we’re really seeing in these dynamics is the emergence of a global urban hierarchy in which cities reproduce the relationships of influence, power, and core-peripheral division formerly seen among nation states. If that’s true, we should be wary of imagining that Tharoor’s rosy predictions about the future role of the city apply to anywhere but the developed world.

A more challenging question might be to ask whether these sunny forecasts are themselves too reductive, forgetting (or perhaps simply not concerning themselves with) many of the issues of urban life we’ve discussed throughout the course as being typical of but hardly unique to Latin American cities. Are urban centers in Latin America seeing the same backlash from rural areas as in the U.S., or do deep-rooted, path-dependent differences in historical progression belie any parallels we might otherwise be inclined to highlight? If the challenges confronting cities in one part of the world differ so drastically from those confronting cities in another, and as those differences become increasingly more vast, at one point does simply the term “city” cease to be an effective unit of analysis to apply to the kind of prognosticating Tharoor in particular seeks to do?

Hopefully some interesting food for thought to munch on in between bites of Thanksgiving food.

Official (government) videos on the Olympic structures

Like it was mentioned in Occupy All Streets, the Olympics was also about creating/highlighting on peoples’ imaginaries a certain vision of Rio: the city, its people, its culture, atmosphere….

In order to do this, the prefeitura makes heavy investments in marketing, in order for people to swallow and replicate the idea of Rio Olympics that they want to convey, both nationally and internationally.

Here are some examples of the official videos the government (I chose mostly the ones on infrastructure construction or change) has made on the Olympics. Pay attention to what underlying messages they are trying to convey in each. What do they show/what is left invisible? Who speaks, who is silenced?

(the first one is a music video)


Occupy All Streets – About the Authors + statistics

Mariana Cavalcanti

Mariana Cavalcanti received a Phd from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She currently teaches in the Sociology department at Rio de Janeiro university.

She co-directed the documentary “Favela Fabril”. The film has been nominated for the Pierre Verger award by the Brazilian Anthropological Association. I couldn’t find it with subtitles, and i don’t speak Portuguese. But if you do, check it out here:

The dissertation that she wrote for her Phd is interesting.
It is entitled “Of Shacks, Houses and Fortresses: An Ethnography Of Favela Consolidation In Rio de Janeiro“.
Here is an extract from her essay that I believe best summarizes her thesis in a nutshell (Note: I added a few of my own words to give it slightly more context):
“I argue that the dynamics of violence, drugs, poverty and marginalization in the favelas produces a paradoxical situation that traps residents in a double bind: the conditions for their political visibility and leverage rest on their constitution as a threat to the city; and yet it is this very perception that has brought them unprecedented political recognition and material improvements.”

She does her research in the favela of Bela Vista, Cavalcanti uses the term “consolidated favela”. This term “captures a shift of conjuncture, in which certain “consolidated” favelas have ceased to be legally framed as “squatments” and have come to be subsumed by the legal category of “special social interest zones.”” (pg 8). In other words, she analyzes why some parts of the favelas that have been integrated in the formal city.

She believes that “favela consolidation is not a “natural”, “evolutionary” process, but the result of a particular conjuncture: structural adjustment policies, a series of economic and social crises and the neoliberal fostering of inequality.” (pg 9)

Bruno Carvalho
Bruno Carvalho teaches in the Spanish and Portuguese department at Princeton University. His body of work focuses on culture.

He is the author of award winning Porous City: A Cultural History of Rio de Janeiro (2013).

He is highly critical of exclusionary methods practiced by the government in the 60’s and 70’s, and like Cavalcanti applauds the favela’s inclusion in the city, both physically and metaphorically.
On page 25 of Occupy All Streets he writes, “As Rio became less compact, spatial segregation grew. The 1960’s and 70’s were marked by “removals” under a military dictatorship, when the state razed several favelas located in prime real estate areas, forcibly locating residents to housing projects in the peripheries. The estimated population living in favelas grew from around 10% of a city of 3.2 million in the 1960’s to almost 20% of a city of 5.8 million in 2000″.

I have a slight issue with these statistics, and Im going to use this opportunity to get on my soapbox about quoting statistics to push a narrative. By using these statistics here in quite a simplistic fashion, it suggests that from 1960 to 2000: 1. Poverty has increased, and 2. Relocation has caused this increase.
I would argue that these statistics do not account for economic change in society or the methods of poverty measurement in use.  They make the poverty situation in Brazil look pretty dire.

There are obviously many more factors in play over this 40 year period.

Some of the factors in play:
Total Population is Growing:
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2: Increasing Urbanization: I.e more people are moving to the city.

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3: GDP per Capita is growing: (The situation on the ground in the favelas looks different)

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We must also keep in mind the Urban-Rural poverty gap. Those that arrive in the city usually come from rural areas, and arrive into the favelas.
Carvalho’s statistics also don’t account for upward mobility. There are many cases of people who are able to move from the favelas into the formal city. The dream of making money is what brings people to the city in the first place.


Compatibility is Almost Love


Given the topic on Rio and the Olympics, I thought you might be interested in this reflection on the Ryan Lochte scandal, which also muses on some of the virtues and flaws of the Marvelous City. I wrote this in the wake of the scandal and ended up not posting it anywhere.



Photo: Fernando DeLuz, Olympic Hero (via The Daily Mail)

Compatibility is Almost Love: Ryan Lochte and Rio

Bryan McCann, Georgetown University

Hundreds of others have already written about Lochtegate, but I haven’t seen anyone put it in the context of CCC (Carioca Cultural Codes), and so I’ll add my dois centavos here.

You could write a book about what Ryan Lochte doesn’t understand about Rio. But what really got him into trouble (other than lying to his mother) was failing to abide by the codes of the streets of Rio, where amiable camaraderie among strangers coexists with the threat of sudden violence. The amiable camaraderie makes the threat of violence bearable, and creates the illusion that one can guard against violence by being friendly. And this is not entirely an illusion—being unfriendly to the guys with guns is always a bad idea.

Lochte (rather than his unlucky relay mates) insulted the authority and status of the private security guards at the gas station. He did so not by urinating on the premises or even by tearing down a metal-framed advertising poster. I am sorry to say that public urination is merely part of the carioca landscape (although far likelier to give offense on private rather than public property). And a little semi-intentional vandalism hardly rises to the level of comment. Where Lochte went wrong was in acting belligerent and arrogant when questioned, disrespecting the guys with the guns.

In doing so, he made the security guards look like chumps. Worse, he did so in front of the gas station attendants, who occupy a humbler status in the employment ranks. It was the equivalent of telling the guards that they were losers. If the guards had let Lochte and company walk away, they would have lost face in front of their co-workers. It is not surprising that they pursued the swimmers with guns drawn. This was the most delicate moment of the encounter, one that easily could have gone disastrously awry. The one smart thing Lochte and company did was to stop and sit down meekly on the sidewalk, while one security guard stood above them, with a hand on his gun, putting them in their place.

Here enters the hero of the story, the DJ Fernando Deluz, on his way home after a long night at work. Deluz recalls, “I perceived some tumult and, as I know the personnel at the gas station, I said, ‘Whoa, it seems like something is happening.’” This is classic Rio. How many of us who live in major cities know the attendants at the gas station where we fill up at 6AM on our way home from the club? I know I don’t. But in Rio, that kind of congeniality among near strangers is what allows the chaotic city to function, and is highly prized in consequence. As the name of one beloved carioca carnival group puts it, Simpatia é Quase Amor. The literal translation would be Sympathy is Almost Love, but in carioca usage it really means something more like Compatibility is Almost Love.

Deluz immediately saw the risk of violence, and stepped in to mollify the security guards and calm down the swimmers. Deluz, a fluent English-speaker, mediated the subsequent transaction, in which the swimmers turned over approximately $60 and the security guards let them go on their way.

While the material details of that exchange are now well known, debate still rages between Lochtephobes and Lochtephiles about whether it constituted a rational negotiation between willing parties or extortion of tourists by gunmen. The answer is neither: Lochte and friends were not paying restitution for the poster but offering a bribe to keep the police out of it (as it turns out, the security guards were off-duty prison guards, who are among the most volatile public agents in Brazil—in that regard, the swimmers would have been much better off with the specialized tourist police). And the guards were not extorting the swimmers—if they had been, they would have taken the entire contents of the swimmers’ wallets—several hundred dollars, along with credit cards. Instead, the exchange was a token offering of submission, a way for the security guards to reclaim their public status and authority. According to Deluz, the security guards immediately turned the money over to the gas station attendants, and instructed them to give it to their manager. (Even in Rio, a transaction where one party has guns and the other just wants to walk away is probably not legal. But that is a different matter. For better or for worse, that is the way things work at a gas station at 6AM, with tempers on edge.)

In his revealing five-minute interview with the Globo newspaper, Deluz used one significant word twelve times: tranquilo, or tranquil, calm, easy. Deluz repeated this to the guards and the swimmers as he mediated between them, soothing nerves. Deluz is originally from São Paulo, but he has thoroughly absorbed carioca social mores: tranquilo is the oft-threatened ideal state. In times of stress, the true carioca just wants to return to tranquilo.

Lochte, on the other hand, was the opposite of tranquilo. He went to NBC with a wild tale of car-jacking by assailants with fake police badges. This essentially repeated and scaled up his initial offense, insulting not just Rio’s police but all of Rio de Janeiro. Just as the security guards pursued the swimmers with guns drawn, it is no surprise that Rio’s police and press pursued the swimmers with equal vigor. In a city where compatibility is almost love, deliberate incompatibility is a grave offense. Once again, the swimmers found themselves in positions of symbolic submission, forced to deliver public apologies and payments that allowed cariocas to reclaim their public face. Lochte’s saga and abasement are really a parable of the importance of a little cultural understanding in international relations, even among professional athletes. If the swimmers had only stuck around the gas station for a few minutes to talk to Fernando Deluz he could have explained to them that in Rio, that’s just the way it goes. No problem. Tranquilo.


Gentrification the Colonization ?

This is not about Rio but I thought it would be interesting to share with the class.

Colonizing the Inner City- Gentrification and the Geographies of Colonialism.


Also this twitter thread about colonization rhetoric and gentrification is also quite interesting.

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Ilha Pura



In an New York Times article a few weeks prior to the Olympics, Vanessa Barbara wrote, “Two of the biggest winners of Rio 2016 will be the contractors and the landowners — particularly Carlos Carvalho, who owns at least 65 million square feet of land in and around the Barra Olympic Park and the athletes’ village. Last year he told The Guardian that he wants Barra to be cleared of poor communities. When the Games are over, the village will be converted into an area of luxury housing called “Ilha Pura” — Pure Island.”[1]


Pure Island… The name sort of freaked me out. I am currently writing my final paper on the way that the urban poor are otherized in Cairo and Mexico City, and the name Pure Island stood as a red flag to me after my research. The name pure island really disturbed me. I looked into the developer Carvalho Hosken a bit more, and in an interview last year he had said he named it Pure Island because  “‘It needed to be noble housing,” Carvalho said, “not housing for the poor.’”[2] The elitisim and otherizing is very real, and unfortunately it is a phenomenon that is found all over the world. The poor are dehumanized to an extent like never before, and with the way the world is turning into fascist tides like back in the 1930s, using the word “Pure” is really frightening.


I wanted to look into it more and I found that it is the Olympic village to host 18000 athletes, but it will be sold to buyers after the Olympics. According to the Carvalho Hosken website it is an area “Occupying an area of over 800,000 m², the Pure Island is a neighborhood that meets the latest urban trends. With residential, commercial enterprises and a mix of operations, services, brings together the concepts of sustainability in all processes, providing the rational use of resources”[3]


Below is a video describing Ilha Pura :

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/03/opinion/sunday/brazils-olympic-catastrophe.html

[2] http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/08/building-barra-rio-olympics-brazil/493697/

[3] http://www.carvalhohosken.com.br/ilha-pura-0#sthash.QblvFztJ.dpuf

Exporting “Occupy All Streets”

In a post on “Spatial Ethnography Lab,” a website maintained in part by the authors of Occupy All Streets, the authors note that the book documents the torsions that wracked Rio de Janiero’s existing “city politics, urban projects and disputes” as the city prepared to pay host to the 2016 Olympic Games. The Games “imprinted a distinctive temporal structure,” the authors write, citing “the urgency of a final deadline [that] altered the usually extended, intermittent temporality of large public works, expediting (re)development projects of massive proportions run by shady PPPs, producing heaps of futile debris, delayed projects and waterfront ruins.” As its authors summarize, the book explores the effect of preparing to host the Games on the city “to elaborate the particular temporality of expectation/anticipation of an open ended future that engenders large institutional schemes, makeshift arrangements, and daily practices of speculation that occur at and on different scales of actions and analysis.”

I wonder what wider lessons might be gleaned from applying the lessons, themes, and approaches of the essays that comprise Occupy All Streets to other urban contexts that sporting events have altered. While the authors make it clear that Rio is not unique in having been drastically impacted by the financial, space, and urban capacity constraints imposed by hosting a large sporting event, I’m curious how a detailed, culturally and historically informed look at a similar situation elsewhere might play out. I’m thinking particularly of the case of Qatar, which is set to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Responses to the Gulf nation hosting the soccer tournament have predictably ranged from the optimistic to the polemical. A salacious 2015 bookThe Ugly Game: The Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup, discusses internal machinations within FIFA, global soccer’s governing body, that led to the awarding of the 2022 tournament to Qatar. But I have yet to see deep reporting or scholarly work in the vein of Occupy All Streets about the effect of preparations to hold the World Cup on the small Gulf nation. This seems like a fruitful area for exploration in the run-up to the event itself.

What important confluences might there be between the approaches, analysis, and answers about the effect of the Olympics in Rio and the potential impacts of the World Cup? How would different population dynamics, urban histories, and regional statuses between the two nations refract some of the book’s conclusions? And does the focus on Rio in Occupy All Streets say anything about the wider scholarly context in which a book like Cavalcanti et al.’s emerges? Are scholars more prone to critical examinations of urbanization in Latin America than in other parts of the world? If so, is this because of access to information, scholarly preferences, academic disciplinary legacies in the Americas versus the Middle East more generally, or another reason entirely? How might a book in the vein of Occupy All Streets impact how the public sees Qatar in advance of the 2022 World Cup?