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Marinho Avenue | In the Zone

Bridge over troubled waters: Roberto Marinho Avenue, which serves as backdrop to Globo news broadcasts

Bridge over troubled waters: Roberto Marinho Avenue, which serves as a backdrop to Globo news broadcasts

Nabil Bonduki of CartaCapital on one of São Paulo’s most controversial  Big Digs: a bridge and highway interchange on the Avenida Roberto Marinho — dedicated to the memory of the founder of Globo and apparently part of a long-term plan to shift the city’s business and financial center from the Paulista to Santo Amaro and Berrini Avenue.

The exaggerated cost of the project led to its inclusion in the CPI do Banestado in 2003, a parliamentary commission on money laundering. Results unknown.

Pressured by “the streets,” mayor Fernando Haddad last week decided, correctly, to suspend the construction of a 2.3 km tunnel linking Roberto Marinho Avenue and the Imigrantes highway.

After issuing the “order to initiate” the project, which was contracted for by the previous administration, the mayor delayed its execution — indefinitely, one hopes — demonstrating that his rhetorical support for public transportation, unlike that of other officials, is sincere.

Use of the tunnel, which would be the longest in the city, if built, would be confined to automobiles.  In addition to generating a large number of expropriations, the tunnel would have no other function than funneling traffic, leaving aside other urban planning benefits.  Studies carried out by the city government show that there exist various alternatives, with a better cost-benefit ratio, for lengthening Robert Marinho Avenue in the direction of the Imigrantes highway, maintaining the avenue as a park and qualifying the surrounding area.

The project was “planned” by former mayor Kassab and would cost the fabulous sum of R$ 2.5 billion, along with routine contractual amendents.

The suspension of the project ordered by Haddad is significant from the financial and urban planning point of view and extremely symbolic from the political.

It is hoped that it will mark the beginning of a reversal in a model of urban policy planning which privileges the automobile and the “socio-territorial” and which has corroded the finances of the city and proven itself unmanageable.

The lengthening of Roberto Marinho Avenue is part of a program of intervention by the Operação Urbana Consorciada Águas Espraiadas, approved in 2001, during the Marta Suplicy administration.

Under the original plan, authored by architect Paulo Bastos, who died in 2012 indignant with the  depreciation of his project, the tunnel would extend only 400 meters, where the avenue meets the highway.

The plan was altered by the last administration: At first Kassab proposed a tunnel of 4 km, then reduced the project to 2.3 km after encountering strong opposition from area residents. The mobilization of protests was fundamental in maintaining the hope that the project would not be realized.

The tunnel would represent the continuation of an urban planning policy based on the grand traffic projects that for decades have determined the growth of the city, rendering it unmanageable.

This tradition, which favors the major public works contractors, compromises the city’s already weakened capacity for investment. This is what would happen if this low-priority project were to move forward.

Defenders of the tunnel argue that it would be financed with the resources of Operação Urbana Águas Espraiadas, which can only be applied to the periphery, and therefore does not compromise the city budget.  This is a false argument: the funding of the urbanization projects comes from the public sector and is run by a management committee controlled by the city government.

Furthermore, the project would not have enough resources to complete this structure and all the other planned interventions, such as the 8,000 public housing units for shantytown dwellers that need to be redistributed, the park to be installed along the extension of Roberto Marinho, the extension of Chucri Zaidan and the city government’s contribution to the subway system.

If the tunnel were to begin construction, there would be no option other than for the city to sacrifice these other compromises and allocate money from its budget in order to prevent the project from stalling.

Since 2004, this project has received R$ 3.3 billion, R$ 2.3 billion (70%) of which remains in its current account.. Of the remaining 30% , the most costly item (15%) was for services and projects, with the Ponte Estraiada bridge consuming the majority of these funds. Very little money was used to construct housing units, even though this has been part of the plan since 2001: only 7% of the funds raised, including compensated expropriations.

This shows that the Serra-Kassab government, in eight years, preferred to accumulate cash rather than to produce housing to serve slum dwellers in the region.  Note that the construction of 200 apartments for residents of the Jardim Edith -– exorbitantly priced at R$ 200,000 per unit, not counting the value of the land — was executed only after a judicial ruling ordered the city to acknowledge the rights of residents to remain at the location.

With the new city government, which has decided to suspend the tunnel project, the scenario is completely different.  The priorities now are the production of public housing, the elongation of Roberto Marinho Avenue, and the installation of a parkway that runs along Aguas Espraiadas creek.

This urban planning project, which to date has produced only socio-territorial exclusion, may yet change direction and invest the necessary resources in public works that benefit the population and improve the quality of life in Jabaquara and Brooklin.

For this to come to pass, however, it is absolutely urgent to put an end to the tunnel planned by Kassab and reform the program of urban interventions based on an urban plan that is widely debated. This would be a crucial step in ending the socially exclusive, speculative and antidemocratic character of urban planning in Brazil.

In 2008, mayor Gilberto Kassab inaugurated the Complexo Viário Real Parque, comprising the Octávio Frias de Oliveira Bridge — [named in honor of the founder of the Folha de São Paulo –] and two access ramps that connect Roberto Marinho Avenue to the Pinheiros Beltway. This work is the first phase of the expansion plan for the avenue.

An idle stroll through the neighborhood produces a strange sensation: city planners seem never to have heard of mixed-use zoning — in which small and midsize businesses run by local residents serve  a local clientele — so that the region is like an archipelago of highrise buildings separated by humble, ghostly residential streets.

And then there is the smell: The Pinheiros River remains a greasy smudge of hydrogen sulfate-producing industrial and human waste.