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
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger