... in rio

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.

Penguins in Rio - update

18 Sep 2006 | 579 words | migration penguins rio argentina climate cange

When i was in Argentinean Patagonia in January our host at the Estancia Monte Leon (by the way one of the most gorgeous places i have ever stayed in my life, totally worth the hefty price tag) told us that the penguins who hang out at the beach there in order to raise their kids would go all the way up to Rio in the (southern hemisphere) winter as they find patagonia to cold during that time of the year.

While i can see that Patagonia might be a little bit too cold in July i could not really picture penguins in Rio. Also i did not run into any Spheniscus Magellanicus down there (but then that is probably due to the fact that we did nose around in all the wrong places). A couple of days ago i ran into more anecdotal evidence that there are indeed penguins in Rio. This time in the form of someone blogging about migrants being washed up at the beaches of the canaries and penguins in Rio (which as the alert reader will notice are both subjects that have kept me busy in the past):

Penguins in Rio, abnormal concentrations of jellyfish in the Mediterranean coast, giant crabs invading Norway’s waters, Sub-Saharan immigrants stranding at the beaches of Canary islands in unhuman conditions surprising tourists… Nature claims… something is wrong with our world today… (from: extremo occidente

Seems like the author wishes to imply that the world is a bit out of control which does not seem totally wrong of an observation if you ask me.

update to the update: Looks like i should do my google reserach first. seems like while we did indeed see no penguins in Rio they have been there this summer. CBS reports that at least 135 showed up on the local beaches and are now being airlifted back to the southern Atlantic ocean in a heroic joint operation by the brazilian armed forces:

A Hercules C-130 transport airplane will take the flightless birds to Pelotas in southern Brazil on Sept. 23 for the first leg of their journey home, the Air Force’s press office said. There, they will be examined by veterinarians at the Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center of the Eliezer de Carvalho Rios Oceanographic Museum. From Pelotas, the penguins will be driven to the coast and placed on Navy ships. They will be taken 40 miles offshore before being released into the southern Atlantic. “Ocean currents will hopefully carry them back to their natural habitat,” Candiotto said. “If everything goes smoothly, the penguins should be back in Antarctica within 10 days after leaving Rio.”

According to the Guardian, Rio became a popular destination for penguins in 2001 or so. in that year they published a first article on penguins in rio and linked it to global warming (isn’t it refreshing to see that in the summer of 2001 the press could still explain strange things in other ways than blaming terrorists for them?). The article does contain absolute gems on how ordinary brazilians behave when suddenly confronted with penguins on their doorstep:

… some are being kept as pets by Brazilian fishermen, who feed them sardines and even walk them on a leash. [.. but also one would not expect] how many people put these penguins in freezers when they rescue them …

Regardless of this update the conclusion remains more or less the same. the world seems to be a bit out of control.

Shrinking cities

I am in Rio right now, which is anything else than a shrinking city. I have no figures ready but i guess there is a table which shows Rio’s growth in the last decades somewhere in Mike Davis’ excellent ‘Planet of Slums‘ which i finished reading just before coming here.

Now the lonely planet for Rio mentions that in Rio gas stations are one of the favorite places for party-goers to hang out as they sell beer all-through the night. This particular bit of travelers advice reminded me of one of the posters for the shrinking cities exhibition in Berlin a while back which showed an gas station that apparently served as the hang-out place for youngsters, supposedly because gas stations are the most exciting places to hang out in shrinking cities or something like this (I can’t find a single copy of the poster/image on the entire internets, but my sister has one hanging in her kitchen so go there if you do not know what i am talking about…).

Anyway, being in Rio we were of course looking for nocturnal excitement ourselves and the most exciting thing in town these days when it comes to going out are funk balls. The guardian has a fascinating article about the whole baile funk thing online (o.k. – if it has been in Guardian it is probably not the most exciting thing anymore for the locals but the whole thing still sounds quite exciting for visiting white boys). The only problem is that these funk balls take place in the Favelas and it does not seem like a good idea to venture out there in the middle of the night when you are drunk. However at some point we found some brazilians who had the same urge and took off to a ball in two cabs.

Of course being all slightly tipsy we did not really notice that it was 3A.M. and when we finally arrived at the venue the party was over and we did not get to dance at all (it was sunday night hence the early end). Instead we got some more drugs and gave some money to the 12 year old begging kid in an Osama bin Laden t-shirt (pictures of more OBL t-shirts here, here and here) and then descended from the hill to hang out at the gas station in shrinking city style:

p.s: Good thing to know that the USAF is giving $450K for ‘Automated Ontologically-Based Link Analysis of International Web Logs for the Timely Discovery of Relevant and Credible Information‘ – i wish them good luck making sense out of this post…

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?

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.

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