The four commandments of cities

by Jörgen Eriksson on September 12, 2013

Eduardo Paes often says he has the best job in the world and we believe him. He is the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, a sprawling, complicated, beautiful city of 6.5 million citizens. He is is on a mission to ensure that Rio’s renaissance creates a positive legacy for all its people. It is clear to us in Bearing that he understands the core principles of place management very well.

Rio de Janeiro

In a TED-talk last year, Paes shared four big ideas about leading Rio, and all cities, into the future, including bold and do-able infrastructure upgrades and how to make a city smarter. There is nothing really spectacular about Paes ideas. Any city or town of any size can follow his principles. What sets him aside is that he is actually doing it. The four ideas are:

1. A city of the future has to be environmentally friendly

Every time you think of a city, you have to think green, green, green,” says Paes. “Every time you see concrete jungle you must find open spaces. And when you find open spaces, make it so people can get to them.” This thinking is why he spearheaded the creation of the third largest urban park in Rio, opened in 2012.

2. A city of the future has to deal with mobility and integration of its people

By their nature, cities are packed with people, which means that high-capacity transportation is critically important. An issue with this, of course, is that such systems cost a lot of money. He references a project to redesign the urban plan of Curitiba, Brazil, that Jaime Lerner presented at TED in 2007, now being co-opted in the name of Rio’s systems. 63% of the population will be carried by the new system by 2015. “You don’t have to be rich or powerful to get things underway,” he says. “You need to be original.

3. A city of the future has to be socially integrated

Paes acknowledges the favelas, the shanty towns, that are prominent in Rio. But, he adds, they are not always a problem. And if you deal with them properly, he maintains that they can even be their own solution. He needs this to be so as he acknowledges, 1.4 million of Rio’s 6.3 million inhabitants live in favelas. “They’re all over the city.” But he maintains that you can change the vicious circle to a virtuous one if you bring education, health–and open spaces–into the favelas. His aim is to “urbanize” the favelas by 2020.

4: A city of the future has to use technology to be present

Paes shouldn’t be in Long Beach, he says. After all, it’s high season in Rio. But, he can be here because technology allows him to be. To prove it, he calls his secretary of urban affairs in Rio, who broadcasts some of the urban tracking system from the city’s Operation Centre. This allows him, and us, to check up on the state of the city, on the weather, the traffic and even on the location of the city’s waste collection trucks, which appear to be stationed around the city nicely. This means Paes can keep an eye on what’s going on, even when he’s not there.

To sum up, he emphasizes his enthusiasm for cities of any size. “At the end of the day, we talk about the gathering of people. We cannot see that as a problem. It’s fantastic,” he says. “The city of the future is a city that cares about its citizens and integrates its citizens.” Below is the TED-talk video.

The four commandments of cities

We expect to hear much more about Rio in the next two years, as the city prepares to host the summer Olympics in 2016.

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