Rio’s port area enjoys Olympic-inspired renaissance

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Triggered by preparations for the Olympic Games Rio 2016, the “Porto Maravilha” project has transformed Rio de Janeiro’s long-neglected port area into a strategic centre for business, culture and leisure.

Following many decades of neglect, the Rio de Janeiro port area has undergone nothing short of a transformation, with the staging of the Olympic Games Rio 2016 providing the catalyst for its long-awaited renewal.

Taking its cue from the successful regeneration programmes implemented by previous host cities – among them Barcelona, Sydney and London – and adopting sustainable development as a strategic guideline in its bid to create a lasting urban Olympic legacy, Rio came up with a long-term project entitled “Porto Maravilha”.

A beacon of the sustainable, long-term benefits that can come with staging an event the scale of the Olympic Games and yet which extend far beyond it, the project has transformed the city’s port, an area of historical and strategic importance covering five million square meters.

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The transport infrastructure serving the area has been suitably revamped, with the construction of three new road tunnels, the refurbishing of an existing rail tunnel and 70 kilometres of roads, and the creation of a new Light Rail Vehicle system and 17km of cycle paths.

As well as offering improved mobility and public services to its residents, the area has also seen its urban infrastructure upgraded, with the construction of 700km of new water, sewage and drainage networks, three new sewage treatment plants and improvements made to telecommunications. New lighting and urban furniture has also been installed and 15,000 trees planted.

The cultural benefits are also clear for all to see. Two new museums – the Museum of Art of Rio de Janeiro (MAR) and the Museum of Tomorrow – have been built, along with the largest aquarium in South America and the largest open-air urban art gallery in the country. All of these new attractions are making a valuable contribution to Rio’s cultural scene and helping to breathe new life into the area.

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Improving quality of life for the local residents has also been a key driver in the Porto Maravilha project. Lined with bars, nightclubs and restaurants, Rio’s port now boasts the bayside Olympic Boulevard, which runs for 3.5 kilometres and is adorned with colourful street art, not to mention eight new plazas helping to attract new residents and visitors to what is a flourishing part of town.

At the heart of the redevelopment project are the improvements made to housing conditions, as well as the efforts to attract major companies to the area, which is designed to stimulate growth of the local economy and its population, as it is expected to rise from 32,000 to 100,000 in the next 15 years.

Made possible by the largest public-private partnership in the country, the project, which is now 86% complete, also has an important historical component. Redevelopment work uncovered archaeological sites dating back many centuries to the founding of the city, revealing the cultural heritage and historical value of the port.

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The area includes the Valongo Wharf, a stone pier built in 1811 to accommodate ships carrying slaves from Africa. The main gateway to Brazil at the time, it was buried beneath a square, a street and a car park before being discovered by chance in 2011. In recognition of its historical importance and in memory of the many slaves who died there during this dark period in the country’s past, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 9 July this year.

One year on from Rio 2016, Porto Maravilha has developed a personality all of its own. In the process, it has done justice to the project’s guiding principles of sustainability, the protection of local cultural heritage, and social, environmental and economic development, making its own valuable contribution to the legacy of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad.