Meeting the Demand for Urban Sustainability in Rio

Rio de Janeiro is a city known for its vibrant culture, beautiful beaches and rainforest, as well as carnival celebrations. With the 2016 Olympics on the horizon, this city faces challenges related to transportation, security, sanitation and environmental protection. In response to these challenges, the city invested in programs that help promote sustainable growth and urban revitalization.

One of these programs is the Morar Carioca (Portuguese for Rio de Janeiro living), also called the Municipal Plan for the integration of Informal Settlements, which aims to turn all favelas into neighborhoods by 2020. This program is expected to improve the living conditions of up to 320,000 households. [1] Apart from improving the living conditions of several households, transforming slums into formal housing will also contribute to improving health conditions of the people and minimizing environmental pollution.

Another adopted program is the Municipal Recycling Collection Expansion, which is supported by the Brazilian National Development Bank. This gives high priority to increasing household waste segregation and recycling programs. The city also aims to collect an additional 31,000 tons of waste per year by this year [1] and this will benefit the local waste picker cooperatives that depend on waste recycling for their livelihood.

With regard to transportation, Rio implemented the “Bicycle Capital City”, a key program that promotes bicycle as a mode of transportation for improved urban mobility, environmental quality, social inclusion and economic benefits. The strategies to this program include the expansion of cycling infrastructure, implementation of bike-share program, increasing the number of bike-parking facilities and the development of bike map. [1] Bike-sharing was first introduced in Amsterdam back in 1965 where bicycles were free to use as long as they will be returned in good conditions. [2] Cycling has a lot of mental and health benefits too and is an efficient and environmentally-friendly way to travel in short distances. Building a cycling culture has also been initiated in several countries such as in Turkey. [3]

In addition to the cycling program of Rio, it has also been successful in launching its first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor that helped hundreds of thousands of residents by providing them with safer transport and shorter commutes. Apart from this, BRT also has great impact in reducing pollution emission from transportation. In the future, BRT system in Rio is expected to expand from one corridor to four. As stated by Mayor Eduardo Paes “This is the first BRT with others to come. It is a cultural change around how people move about in the city. It’s like a subway train on wheels, at much lower costs.” [4] The second BRT system was opened last year and this is a great advancement of this program.

Because of the massive transit improvements in Rio, together with two other cities, Belo Horizonte and São Paolo, these three Brazilian cities garnered the 2015 Sustainable Transport Award; the first time to have a three-way tie in this award. A great accomplishment for Brazil! This award was established in 2005 and is given annually to a city that has implemented innovative sustainable means of transportation projects in the preceding year. Last year’s award was given to Buenos Aires, Argentina, which launched two new corridors of their BRT system. [5]

Attaining high level of sustainability in Rio will cost a lot, but with the projected economic and environmental returns it will definitely pay off provided that these programs be continually monitored and there is cooperation among involved individuals. Gaining support of the residents will be a key success to the full implementation of these programs.

Meg Daupan
M.S. Natural Resources and Environment ’16


[1] http://www.epa.gov/jius/policy/rio_de_janeiro/rio.html

[2] Midgley, P. 2011. Bicycle-sharing schemes: Enhancing sustainable mobility in urban areas. NY: Commission on Sustainable Development.

[3] http://www.embarq.org/our-work/project-city/building-cycling-culture-turkey

[4] http://www.wri.org/blog/2012/06/rio-de-janeiro-opens-first-bus-rapid-transit-corridor

[5] http://staward.org/

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