Making Rio 2016 a success for everyone

Editor’s Note: Eduardo da Costa Paes is mayor of Rio de Janeiro, the host city for this year’s Summer Olympic Games. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN  — 

Rio de Janeiro received with excitement the news that it would be the next Olympic city. On that day, October 2, 2009, hundreds of Cariocas (Rio residents) went to Copacabana Beach to celebrate. Along with the thrill of welcoming the world and showing the beauty of our landscapes and warmth of our people, there came a sense of responsibility and commitment.

Then as now, one thing had to be at the center of the project: the Rio de Janeiro Games must be used to help catalyze the efforts to address our urban challenges.

Rio Mayor Eduardo da Costa Paes

Rio won the Olympic bid against Tokyo, Chicago and Madrid, not because of its existing infrastructure. On the contrary, our challenges became an asset for the organizers. Rio, hosting the first games in South America, was at a point where the Olympics could leave a long lasting legacy and improve the quality of life of the population. For the last seven years we have been working with that goal in mind.

One of the most significant legacies is the transformation in mobility. We are integrating the city by expanding the subway network, creating a Light Rail Transit system downtown and building 150 kilometers of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors. That means cutting the commute time of around 2.5 million people by half, especially citizens who live in neighborhoods further from the center. In 2009, only 18% of the population had access to mass transit. By 2017, this share will rise to 63%. Some of Rio’s neediest areas have been re-urbanized, such as the city’s historic Port Area and Madureira, the heart of our suburbs, far from the tourist-packed districts. These initiatives have little or nothing to do with athletes, coaches or medals; instead, they directly benefit the citizens.

In 2009, Rio residents celebrated the announcement it would be an Olympic city.

We have managed to turn the projects into reality by implementing an innovative financing model, using the Olympics as an opportunity to attract investment. Almost 60% of the games’ budget stems from the private sector, thus saving taxpayers’ money. With sports installations funded by non-governmental entities, public resources could be concentrated in priority areas, like education and health. The Olympic Park was built through a public-private partnership. The Olympic Village and the Golf Course follow the same model.

Together with the concerns about legacy and saving public money, we had to pay attention to another issue: the infamous “white elephants.” To avoid building huge venues that would be useless after the competitions, we have looked for simplicity while meeting Olympic-quality standards. In addition to using existing facilities and focusing on sustainable design, we prioritized lean construction and long-term planning, developing a concept we call “nomadic architecture”.

Temporary arenas will be taken apart and reassembled as public facilities in underprivileged areas. The handball stadium will be transformed into four public schools and the aquatic center will become two public gymnasiums. A 500 square meter area at the Deodoro Sports Complex – in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Rio – will be delivered to the local community as a public leisure area after the games.

The games will pass, and the legacy will stay. We always knew we had an ambitious project, but we faced it with hard work. At this final stretch, we already see that our city is much better now than a few years back. We will have the eyes of the whole world on the competitions in Rio, but I hope that what remains is the inspiration that it is possible to not only host a mega event without breaking the city’s coffers, but also build a lasting and better place once the athletes go home. This is how everyone can be a winner.

Eduardo da Costa Paes is mayor of Rio de Janeiro, the host city for this year’s Summer Olympics. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.