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Rio's Olympic land grab

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“The use of [existing highways] would avert the construction of new hotels and the growth of the tourism industry, which would be one more missed opportunity for the city,” the municipality wrote to the judge, highlighting the need for new highways.

But skeptical residents and observers doubt the highways will materialize on Vila Autódromo’s lagoon-bordering land. “We know perfectly well it is because they want the Olympic Park and other enterprises,” said Eliomar Coelho, a city councilmen leading the opposition to the community’s removal.

“They alleged that our removal from here is because we cause environmental damage,” says Inalva Mendes Brito, a public school teacher and Vila Autódromo resident resisting eviction. “And so, you’re going to put in a highway?” asks Ms. Brito, after waiting through the hours-long public bidding ceremony in order to raise her protest banner in the small city office.

Even though the winning design plan for the Olympic park promotes mixed economic use of the area, and would keep the community where it is, the Rio city government has led the call for eviction.

“What they [the Rio city government] want to do is create an environment for the upper middle class,” says Mr. Coelho.

The government wants to assure public-private partnership (PPP) investors that the area will be a wealthy neighborhood once the Olympic games are complete, Coelho says, reserved for shopping malls and condos.

The government created a PPP to develop the Olympic park in order to minimize how much the government has to invest in the Olympic infrastructure. It also allows private developers to build commercial and residential units after the games.

Rio officials argue they can offer residents a better relocation option (remember those barbecue pits and leisure areas?) than their current neighborhood. But a recent local media report showed that the land promised for the new housing project was going to be purchased from two of Mayor Eduardo Paes’ campaign donors, for an elevated price and without public bidding.

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