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
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Newt Gingrich warns that President Obama's border plan spends too much and doesn't do what is needed
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
Errol Lewis says if it really wants to woo black voters away from the Democrats, the GOP better get behind its black candidates
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2241 GMT (0641 HKT)
Martin Luther King Jr. fought and died so blacks would no longer be viewed as inferior but rather enjoy the same inherent rights given to whites in America.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
Alex Castellanos says recent low approval ratings spell further trouble for the President
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0349 GMT (1149 HKT)
Paul Begala says Boehner's plan to sue Obama may be a stunt for the tea party, or he may be hoping the Supreme Court's right wing will advance the GOP agenda that he could not
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
The rapture is a bizarre teaching in fundamentalist circles, made up by a 19th-century theologian, says Jay Parini. It may have no biblical validity, but is a really entertaining plot device in new HBO series
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1749 GMT (0149 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette: President Obama needs to send U.S. marshals to protect relocating immigrant kids.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says charging the dad in the hot car death case with felony murder, predicated on child neglect, was a smart strategic move.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1326 GMT (2126 HKT)
Van Jones says our nation is sitting on a goldmine of untapped talent. The tech companies need jobs, young Latinos and blacks need jobs -- so how about a training pipeline?
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
A drug that holds hope in the battle against hepatitis C costs $1,000 per pill. We can't solve a public health crisis when drug makers charge such exorbitant prices, Karen Ignagni says.
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1133 GMT (1933 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says our political environment is filled with investigations or accusations of another scandal; all have their roots in the scandal that brought down Richard Nixon
July 6, 2014 -- Updated 1814 GMT (0214 HKT)
Sally Kohn says Boehner's lawsuit threat is nonsense that wastes taxpayer money, distracts from GOP's failure to pass laws to help Americans
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1526 GMT (2326 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has circumvented Congress with his executive actions and plans on filing suit against the President this month
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 1331 GMT (2131 HKT)
Hands down, it's 'Hard Day's Night,' says Gene Seymour-- the exhilarating, anarchic and really fun big screen debut for the Beatles. It's 50 years old this weekend
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 2201 GMT (0601 HKT)
Belinda Davis says World War I plunged millions of women across the globe into "men's jobs," even as they kept home and hearth. The legacy continues into today.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1824 GMT (0224 HKT)
Pablo Alvarado says all the children trying to cross the U.S. border shows immigration is a humanitarian crisis that can't be solved with soldiers and handcuffs.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT)
Elizabeth Mitchell says Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi dreamt up the symbolic colossus not for money, but to embody a concept--an artwork to amaze for its own sake. Would anyone do that today?
July 2, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says Jamaica sold two protected islands to China for a huge seaport, which could kill off a rare iguana and hurt ecotourism.