No, Rio Won't Screw Up the Olympics

Small startup blocos are an outlet for those who wanted to participate in a more traditional street carnaval at a more manageable scale. Fernando Sergio, a local dentist, co-founded a small bloco called Me Esquece (Forget Me) in 2004 after participating in the early drum workshops. Back then, he says, "these first parades were really just a few friends. We used to make a loop around the neighborhood and that was it." Then other friends started forming blocos. These startups revived and popularized traditional songs from the 1930's and 40's and wrote new compositions. Over time, they too grew in size.

This year, Fernando estimates Me Esquece attracted 15,000 people. They paraded with a bateria of 230 people, and their song for the year won this year's prize for best lyrics.

For his part, Fernando feels the city's participation has improved Carnaval na Rua. "I think the city does a good job of balancing the rights of those who aren't participating in Carnaval to get around the city with the logistics of street Carnaval.

The scheduling and logistical support makes it much easier to put on a bloco in the street and also forces the more disorganized blocos to improve their own planning. As a result, things run much more smoothly and everyone is much happier, performers, spectators and non-participants alike."

To be sure, not everything this year was perfect. The biggest concerns for public safety were the overcrowded metro system and the lack of sufficient on-site medical attendance in the streets. Rio's metro lines are overtaxed at peak hours during normal times, so with millions of people leaving or arriving in the same place at one time, the metro often became dangerously crowded. And even at the most highly attended events or in the most central locations, ambulances or medics were difficult to find.

"Hundreds of thousands of people went to the beach during Carnival, where, in part because of the inadequate and overtaxed waste treatment system, the human coliform levels in the water were incredibly high," Gaffney said. "So maybe you can cycle six million people through the city in a week, but it stresses every single system we have, including water, sewer, waste, transportation."

As the street Carnaval has exploded, legislation, regulation and coordination have simply not adapted quickly enough to the city's changing needs.

There is little disagreement about the source of the logistical issues. Brazil's government is famous for overlapping jurisdictions and a lack of coordination between the state and local officials. Rio's mayor and governor are known for working very well together, but as the street Carnaval has exploded, legislation, regulation and coordination have simply not adapted quickly enough to the city's changing needs.

The press has reported on the issue repeatedly, and there is at least frank talk about addressing the problem by municipal and state representatives. Years ago, the public response would have been a collective shrug of the shoulders, as corruption and lack of adequate service had become expected. Now, in public fora and on social media, the public is pressing for improved conditions and service.

By most accounts, though, especially given Brazil's reputation for a more casual management approach, this year's Carnaval was a very well run affair. In a city whose reputation for violence once rivaled that of its beautiful beaches, security was not a major issue. Public toilets, while not always adequate, were fairly ubiquitous. Streets that were trash-strewn in the aftermath of 2 million people were mostly cleared for the next day's onslaught. Many see these events as a helpful test run for the upcoming mega-events, and Rio's governor and mayor are well aware that Carnaval is a prime opportunity to reinforce or diminish the image they're trying to create of Rio as a safe and organized city.

Seth Colby, Visiting Scholar at the Centro Brasileiro de Relações Internacionais put it this way: "If the Brazilian government managed everything as well as the city managed Carnaval, this country would be in a much better position than it is today."

Rio's citizens are getting more of the services and protection they deserve from their municipal government, even while the increasing popularity of events like Carnaval put added stresses on the municipal infrastructure and logistical processes. If the city government continues to respond to mega-event challenges as it is with the annual Carnaval, the city will be far better prepared for the upcoming World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games of 2016 than many predict.

Presented by

David Lavin

David Lavin is the founder of XRE Global, a consultancy that supports businesses, international organizations, and social enterprises working in Brazil.

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