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Saturday, 20 August 2016

As tourists take over Rio, locals lose their way of life

 
There is something in the soul of the favela resident that leads them to speak in verse and poetry – perhaps it’s a trick in life to compensate for the many difficulties of routine. Martinho dos Santos, 78, whose eyes allege fatigue and hands that prove the effort, is one of those men who chooses the right words without meaning to, almost as if he were trying to make a testament of his own story. He also speaks with the weight of having to summarize in phrases the memory of his community, its roots, which are gradually being erased from the map of Rio de Janeiro. 


"It’s not the houses that are being destroyed, it’s is our world that is falling apart," said Martinho, a shoemaker, who owns a small shop assembled in the garage of his humble residence in the Gamboa neighborhood, in the city center, where he mends shoes for just USD 5. "We will cease to exist, both the buildings and the people."
It’s a few minutes past 10 a.m. on a sunny Wednesday and life in front of Martinho’s garage is a lot busy. It was in this renovated port area of ​​downtown Rio, until recently the most degraded area of ​​the decadent historical center, that the municipality created the "Porto Maravilha," a revitalization project budgeted at USD 2.5 billion. The area received a museum conceived by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, a modern streetcar, beautiful graffiti murals, dozens of food trucks and hundreds of tourists. But inside the small shoemaker’s shop, a few steps from where tourists are now taking pictures, the routine has a completely different pace – it seems to move in slow motion. Here in the heart of Rio, Martinho remains undaunted behind the counter, waiting for customers to appear. "Now you only have tourists here. The residents of Rio don’t appear because prices have risen, coffee became more expensive, beer is more expensive, everything is becoming more expensive," he said. "I've heard from my neighbors that a construction company is trying to buy our homes to build a commercial skyscraper. I will not last long, my son, the next time that you come to Rio, surely I'll be far from here”.


(Before and after the urban regeneration plan, which encompasses the Santo Cristo, Gamboa, Saúde and São Cristóvão neighborhoods. Historically, these districts have been integral to Rio’s development – it’s the birthplace of samba, the original entry point for the African slave trade, played a big role in the era of the Brazilian emperors and was the largest port in Brazil until the 19th century)
Martinho is not the only one who will disappear. Just two blocks from there, Raimundo dos Santos, an experienced carpenter, is also without much business and kills time watching the Olympics on television.  "All I've done is to root, which is what is left for me," he said.  It’s the same feeling that haunts the Biribinha candy store, selling jawbreakers, chewing gum, bonbons, cookies and ice cream for nearly 20 years – just USD .90 cents for lemon ice cream. The small business already is already closing its doors.  The shelves and the aisles are empty, silent, sad. It even seems that the region is getting a little less sweet.

The city center urban renovation, which turned the site into a tourist promenade, did not only change the streets of the area. They are also changing the lives of characters who created the history of the region, who built the family businesses from scratch for decades, but now plan or are even starting to leave their commercial addresses because of the real estate valuation. They are shoemakers, carpenters, fishermen, small item salespeople and tailors; popular trades that will not have a chance in this "new" and "rich" port zone. At the same time as the degradation has disappeared, old habits and practices are fading – they are professions and trades that have withstood the time, but not the lack of customers.

There is also a debate about the management model, as revealed by El País. Once the construction is finalized at the end of Olympics, a private holding called "Porto Novo" (or "New Port") will have the concession of the area until 2026, being responsible for the maintenance of the site, traffic operation and street lighting, among other services.

There will be five million square meters in area, with 75% of public land, in the hands of large contractors – with projects to build large commercial towers and megastores. Many older residents and merchants have already left the region, and those who resist seem to live in a mix of anticipation and fear.

"It’s not pleasant to live this way, without knowing what the future will be like," said Maria Donizete, 38, a resident of the Gamboa neighborhood, and waitress in a diner in the port area. "I already know what will happen because it is happening to several colleagues. The cafeteria will probably close, my rent will be more expensive, and I'll have to move to a more precarious place, far away," she said. "My son will have to study in an even worse school, and the chances of him having a better future than mine will further decrease. But who cares about us when we have a lot of tourists around?

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