Rio prepares to host the world

Rio prepares to host the world (an interview with Carlos Robert Osorio) 

The eyes of the world are on Rio de Janeiro. The city already boasts the highest GDP in Brazil (which itself is experiencing enthusiastic attention as a BRIC country) and is widely seen as the economic powerhouse of Latin America.

Rio is also receiving particular attention as the host city for three of the world's biggest events to be held over the next five years: the 2012 UN Summit on Climate Change, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Each of these will require a massive investment in infrastructure.

Striking a new path

Until recently, Rio's reputation for infrastructure maintenance and development was far from stellar. "After the Capital City was moved from Rio to Brasilia in 1960, investment in infrastructure declined and many of the necessary developments failed to take off," admitted Carlos Roberto Osorio, Rio's Secretary of Conservation & Public Services.

Today, however, Rio is virtually buzzing with new infrastructure activity. In transit alone, the city has four major projects on the go which - combined - will transform the way people move to and around the city: the federal expansion of Rio's airport to add new capacity; the addition of a new subway line to link the city center to the future Olympic venues; the complete overhaul of the suburban rail network to add new rolling stock, switching and command facilities; and the development of four new Bus Rapid Transit routes through the city.

"We are experiencing a very special time in the development of Rio," said Mr. Osorio. "It's a total transformation and urban infrastructure is playing a key role in this metamorphosis over the medium and short term."

Caring for the environment

City administrators are also putting particular focus on environmental sustainability. Rio hosted the UN's first summit on climate change in 1992 and now - on the twentieth anniversary of that event - will welcome delegates back to evaluate the world's progress over the past twenty years. But for Rio, environmental sustainability is about more than brandishing credentials. "What makes Rio so special is our natural resources - the sea, the beaches, the lakes and lagoons, the mountains, our urban forest - and we have a great responsibility to take care of these environmental assets," added Mr. Osorio.

Putting the house in order

But it is Rio's progress in the funding and financing of urban infrastructure projects that has been the biggest catalyst for change. Over the past three years, both the city and state governments have aggressively tackled their finances and debt to achieve investment-grade ratings from global credit agencies. This has enabled the city to not only tap into new sources of financing, but has also raised Rio's appeal as a destination for foreign investment.

The city has also put an emphasis on encouraging Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) to develop urban infrastructure projects. As a case in point, Mr. Osorio points to the country's largest PPP program, a USD5 billion redevelopment of Rio's port area currently underway as a partnership between private enterprise and the municipality. But there are plenty of other great examples: the Olympic Village and Park will be an entirely private venture and much of the new transit system is being developed under PPP models.

Rio's civic leaders credit much of their recent success to changes in the way government approaches infrastructure development. "By recognizing the need to restructure our finances, debt and administration, we were able to become more efficient and put more money towards investments," added Mr. Osorio. "It took a strong action plan and determination, but now we are reaping the rewards of that strategy."

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