... in brazil

Rio de Janeiro as a smart city

04 Mar 2012 | 499 words | brazil rio smart cities streetart urbanism technology

The New York Times has a longish article portraying the Operations Center of the City of Rio that has been build by IBM’s smarter cities unit.

In the article both the city of Rio de Janeiro and IBM portray the operations center as some kind of magic wand that enables the benevolent city government to steer the daily life of the city’s population using video feeds and text messages:

City employees in white jumpsuits work quietly in front of a giant wall of screens — a sort of virtual Rio, rendered in real time. Video streams in from subway stations and major intersections. A sophisticated weather program predicts rainfall across the city. A map glows with the locations of car accidents, power failures and other problems.

[…] Rio represents a grand challenge. A horizontal city sprawled between mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, it is at once a boomtown, a beach town, a paradise, an eyesore, a research center and a construction site. Oil-industry giants like Halliburton and Schlumberger have been rushing to build research centers here to help develop massive oil and gas fields off the coast.

Special police units have moved into about 20 slums, called favelas, in an effort to assert government control and combat crime. Rio is also reconstructing major arenas and building a rapid-bus system ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

This is a city where some of the rich live in gated communities while some of the poor in the favelas pirate electricity from the grid. And where disasters, natural and otherwise, sometimes strike. Rainstorms can cause deadly landslides. Last year, a historic streetcar derailed, killing five people. Earlier this year, three buildings collapsed downtown, killing at least 17.

[…] In real flood conditions, the operations center decides when to set off the sirens. That decision is based on I.B.M.’s system, which uses computer algorithms to predict how much rain will fall in a given square kilometer — a far more precise forecast than standard weather systems provide. When the program predicts heavy rain, the center sends out text messages to different departments so they can prepare.

The article lists a number of criticism of this surveillance based approach to smart cities:

Some wonder if it is all for show, to reassure Olympic officials and foreign investors. Some worry that it will benefit well-off neighborhoods more than the favelas. Others fear that all this surveillance has the potential to curb freedoms or invade privacy. Still others view the center as a stopgap that does not address underlying infrastructure problems.

Which seems perfectly summarized by this graffiti that i came across in central Rio last january (two days after the building collapse mentioned in the NYT article above, which took place within 10 minutes walking distance from the location of the graffiti).

Smart city graffiti

Makes me wonder if the graffiti artists was referring to a general tendency or to the Operations Center of the City of Rio in particular.

Looking at the crisis from inside the belly of the beast

One of the more notorious/famous places in São Paulo is the boutique department store (Villa) Daslu. According to wikipedia ‘the boutique is known as the ‘fashion designers mecca’ of Brazil as it houses more than 60 labels plus 30 store-in-stores and is the place where Brazilian socialites, ranging from multi-millionaire soccer players to conglomerate bigwigs shop for the latest accessories and clothing’. Leged has it that Daslu is the only department store in the world where you can also buy helicopters (although that seems to be a bit of an exaggeration, in reality you can (could?) buy fractual ownership in helicopters operated by HeliSoultions) though the store.

Yesterday Kai and I decided to pay a visit to Villa Daslu to have a look at this icon of Brazilian upper class lifestyle. To our surprise/disappointment/excitement we found relatively little of the expected abundance. Instead large parts of the building stood empty looking as if they had been hastily abandoned and the few shoppers to be seen were easily outnumbered by the staff.

Large sections of the 2nd and the 3rd floor as well as some of the showrooms on the 1st and the 4th floor (including former Chanel, Gucci, Dolce & Gabana outlets) were completely empty, with all merchandise and most of the display-furniture missing. Strangely the management of the store did not even try to hide these empty spaces (one employe told us that they were ‘changing the concept of the store’ but in the absence of any sign of construction this seemed a bit implausible). As a result we were more or less free to stroll though the deserted parts of the building and take pictures of the emptiness (more pictures in this flickr set):

Moving through this half deserted temple of luxury shopping was easily one of the most surreal experiences i have ever had. This was reinforced by the fact that in other parts of the building the staff carried on as if everything was completely normal.

While i would certainly hope that this situation is illustrative of the effects of the economic crisis on the über-posh lifestyle of the Brazilian upper class this is probably not the case (it seems that the herd has simply moved to other pastures on the other side of the river). Instead it appears to be more likely that this situation is the result of the recent legal troubles of Eliana Tranchesi, owner and founder of Daslu who was recently sentenced to 94 years in prison and fined €434 million for tax fraud and smuggling. Apparently the aftermath of this verdict is slowly eating away this once iconic symbol of São Paulo’s immense economic inequality from the inside.

Bonus: one other option that i had considered for spending queens-day was to make a quick one day trip to brasilia (inspired by these incredible photos of the construction of brasilia by Marcel Gautherot). guess that will have to wait until next time…

Update (23.04.2012): The January 2012 edition of Time Out São Paulo contains a short article about the demise of Daslu (‘Death of a showroom‘) that uses two of the photos i took during my visit.


26 Oct 2006 | 82 words | brazil elections democracy music

Love this picture which i found when i was going through reports from the submidalogia#2 conference this morning:

Picture by Cris Cabello

From what i can make up from his tags the picture was taken in Olinda in Brazil and shows a mobile sound system used to campaign in the presidential elections (see the ‘Lula e Eduardo’ sticker on the car door).Ii particularly like the mixing panel build into the ceiling of the drivers cabin and the serious expression of the driver.

Schlechte stimmung again

01 Jul 2006 | 172 words | brazil soccer

This time in Rio de Janeiro but as much connected to football (or ‘futchibol’ – as the locals pronounce it, but the also call Michael Ballack ‘Ballaki’) as last time. Brazil just lots the quarter final match against france and that led to an atmosphere of intense sadness in the streets (against the backdrop of lots of firecrackers exploding in the streets but i guess these have to be used anyway). People are crying, some of them are dancing and i have seen the first Portuguese flags hanging out of windows.

What a contrast to the last game when the city erupted into a spontaneous party after the win over Ghana, which even made people miss flights and will be remembered for some time. Also at some point during that party i discovered that the Cariocas have much more style when it comes to pissoirs than the dutch:

Anyway the world-cup just downgraded itself to a euro-cup. I really wish the argentinians would still be in, they did not deserve to loose.

A2K make it happen

One of the strange things here at the iSummit 2006 in Rio de Janeiro are the excessive amounts of hotel staff that seem to have no other function than to stand around and smile. seems like that after 2 days of conference somebody finally found something more useful for them to do and made them attach ‘a2k – make it happen’ stickers to their dresses:

Aren’t they looking absolutely fabulous like this?

When i am dead....

…i want to be buried here:

razor wire graveyard wall

Walked past the catholic (this might constitute a ideological problem) graveyard on Consolação today and to my immense joy realized the paranoid citizens of this fine city have had the ingenious idea to put razor wire on top of the sky blue walls that surround it. Until now i have never really known where i would want to be buried but now i am sure (other places i have briefly considered can be seen here and here). I will feel much safer here than on any other graveyard once i am dead.

Also i feel a bit sad that i have to leave as well. São Paulo has been really great. I must come here more often. I spend the last 2 hours at an amazing place: Prestes Maia 911. it is 23 story building in downtown that has been squatted by 458 families associated with the roofless movement (they do not say homeless because what they are missing is a roof or a dwelling and not a home with all its non material implications). It is a very organized place with an incredibly warm and friendly atmosphere. In fact it is the only squat i have ever been to that smells good (i was there around dinner time and the smell of all the different families cooking is absolutely mouth watering. The families live in separate little rooms that are made from wood and other discarded materials. in a way it is pretty much 23 favelas (by lack of a better word for collections of tiny makeshift housing units) stacked on top of each other. The whole place embodies the anarchic, organic chaos of the city on a miniature scale. Being there and talking to some of the inhabitants has been quite an experience. unfortunately it looks like the place is going to be evicted pretty soon.

Thanks to everybody who invited me into their ‘apartments’ and thanks to Fabiene for taking me there.


28 Oct 2005 | 160 words | brazil media technology waag sarai work travel

Right now I am at the submidialogia event in Campinas organized as part of the Waag Sarai Exchange Platform on the campus of the local university Unicamp. It is a pretty impressive gathering of all sorts of Brazilian media / open access practitioners ranging from free radio activists to government officials involved in the digital culture projects the Brazilian government is deploying throughout this vast country. Parts of the event are streamd live although without the marvelous simultaneous translation services by lots of volunteers the Portuguese only stream will probably be pretty much useless for most readers of this post.

The place where Unicamp is located – Barão Geraldo – is a bit surreal. It is a pretty wealthy settlement that reminds me a lot of California. Accordingly the hotel where some of the participants are staying is called Funcamp:

welcome to funcamp

Update (26 feb 2006): A short report about the conference is available on the exchange platform blog.

On cities and villages

27 Oct 2005 | 297 words | brazil sao paulo urbanism cities stupidity

We went on top of the Edificio Italia building yesterday afternoon. It is one of the tallest buildings in the city and located smack in the middle of it. They have a ridiculously overpriced executive bar on the 41st floor with the worst piano player i ever had to listen to. The whole thing feels distinctly 80-ties, but if you want to have access to the outside gallery you have to order drinks in this bar.

The view from the bar an the gallery is absolutely breathtaking. Tthe Sao Paulo metropolitan agglomeration extends to the horizon (and probably beyond) in all four direction. The city seen from above is a collection of high rises of all shades of gray all states of decay and pretty much any architectural style imaginable. extremely beautiful if you ask me.

View from the Italia building in downtown São Paulo

Being in a cities of this size always make me lament the fact that i was raised in a provincial nest where you could cycle to the country side in 5 minutes and to the ‘city center’ in another 15. places like that should be called what they are: villages. That place also prides itself in having the largest inside the city forest in germany which is even more stupid. since when does a forest belong into a city? If you ask me people should either live in places that are so big that you cant see the end of it when you are standing on a 45-story building in the middle of it or they should live in villages and raise cows and chickens. Most stupid thing is this idea of living in the green and commuting into the city to work at the sparkasse or some similar place every day.

Guard in a box

26 Oct 2005 | 139 words | brazil sao paulo banking security

Did i mention that the people over here are paranoid (or to put it more mildly: security obsessed)? I have never seen so many armed security guards in my life. and then there are the (electrical) fences around apartment buildings in the better-off neighborhoods and zillions of police agents who drive around in their cars with their guns on their laps (i have been too scared to snap a picture of this particular behavior until now). Anyway i went to the bank today and there they had a security guard in a box with just his head sticking out. no idea what the purpose of this is (is he supposed to be hidden but this particular guard was too tall? or is the box bullet-proof and supposed to protect him in case of a shoot-out?):

guard in a box

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: