Skip to main content

Rio mayor: How to build the city of the future

By Eduardo Paes, Special to CNN
July 22, 2012 -- Updated 1524 GMT (2324 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eduardo Paes: More than half the world's people now live in cities
  • Paes: Cities must be environmentally friendly, must find answers to congestion, pollution
  • Rio is using "bus rapid transit" as an alternative to building costly subway lines, he says
  • He says cities must be integrated socially, must take advantage of technology

Editor's note: Eduardo Paes is mayor of Rio de Janeiro, which will host the 2016 Olympic Games. He is planning to attend this year's Olympics in London. Paes spoke at the TED2012 conference in Long Beach, California, in March. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to "Ideas worth spreading," which it makes available through talks posted on its website

(CNN) -- I strongly believe being mayor is the public post in which you have the greatest opportunity to change peoples' lives for the better.

People live in cities, not states or nations. As a mayor, you are connected directly to citizens. And cities are increasingly the preferred place for most people to live. Today, half of the world's population is settled in urban areas. By 2050, seven out of 10 people will live in cities, according to United Nations projections.

I like to say I have the best job in the world. Rio is an incredible place, a vibrant place, full of energy, culture and virtues. In the recent past, the city and its people seemed to be be headed down -- after 1960, Rio was was no longer the capital of Brazil and it faced economic difficulties and bad public management, which helped aggravate urban problems such as poverty and violence.

Watch Eduardo Paes' TED Talk

How to lead a city into the future

But those days are over, and that's symbolized by the fact that Rio will host the fist Olympic Games in South America in 2016. It was not easy to get there. Our Olympic bid had to be selected over strong candidates such as Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago. But the International Olympic Commitee found our proposal was the one that would leave the greatest legacy. With dedication, inspiration and professionalism we have shown that things can be done.

TED.com: Jaime Lerner sings of the city

Running a city is a great challenge. But it turns out that you don't have to be powerful or rich to be innovative and find good forms of urban development. I believe there are four basic commandments that serve as pillars for building a better city:

Commandment 1 -- A city of the future has to be environmentally friendly

Rio is an energetic, vibrant place, full of beauty and nature. But we face the kinds of problems any developing metropolis does -- with pollution, traffic congestion, poverty. Distribution of green areas, for example, is not uniform. Madureira, the heart of the suburb in Rio, is a concrete jungle. You have to find open spaces and make it so people can get to them. We are building the third-largest park in the city in Madureira, the temperature will drop 2 to 3 degrees centigrade. Every time you think of a city you have to think green, green, green.

Commandment 2 -- A city of the future has to deal with mobility and integration

Cities are packed with people. How can you move people around effectively? High-capacity transportation usually requires a lot of money. A solution we found was Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), presented by a former mayor of Curitiba, Jaime Lerner. You transform a bus so that it functions virtually as a train car, with dedicated lanes and the same comfort and features as a subway station. A kilometer of BRT costs 10 times less than a subway and it gets built much faster. We will see the proportion of Rio's population served by high capacity transportation rise from 18% today to 63% by 2015.

TED.com: Why the world needs charter cities

Commandment 3 -- A city of the future has to be socially integrated

In Rio, 1.4 million of the 6.3 million people live in favelas, or slums. They are all over the city but favelas are not always a problem -- sometimes they can be a solution, if you have the right public policies. What you need is to change from a vicious circle to a virtuous circle: Bring basic services inside the favelas with the same high quality you have in richer areas. The second aspect is to create open space in the favelas and develop infrastructure. By 2020, Rio aims to have all its favelas completely urbanized.

Commandment 4 -- A city of the future has to use technology

We use technology to be flexible. In Rio we built a Center of Operations, a situation room that gathers information from municipal departments and allows us to manage and help decision-making. I can check the weather, the traffic and the location of city's waste collection trucks. Each of 4,000 buses in the city has a camera connected to the situation room. That help us manage emergencies and extreme situations.

At the end of the day, when we talk about a city we are talking about a gathering of people. We cannot see that as a problem. The city of the future is a place that cares about its citizens and brings them together.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

Part of complete coverage on
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 1710 GMT (0110 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options