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Brazil’s urban transformation ahead of the World Cup

The madness has begun­—and the first match hasn’t even started.

Over the past few weeks, hun­dreds of thou­sands of inter­na­tional trav­elers have flocked to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which begins on Thursday and runs through July 13. Some 3 mil­lion people plan to travel between host cities.

In prepa­ra­tion for the mega-​​event, urban plan­ners and pol­i­cy­makers have used public funds to ren­o­vate air­ports, expand high­ways, and build sta­diums and hotels. But public infra­struc­ture is broken and many projects have been delayed or can­celled, like the brand new subway system in Belo Hor­i­zonte, a cap­ital city in the country’s southeastern region. What’s more, at least eight workers have been killed in World Cup-​​related con­struc­tion accidents.

“The World Cup as well as the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have presented unique oppor­tu­ni­ties to further develop Brazil’s growing cities,” says Thomas Vicino, an associate professor of political science at Northeastern Uni­ver­sity, “but there is a need to understand how and why many of these projects have failed and evaluate the impact.”

That’s where he comes in. Vicino, whose schol­ar­ship focuses on the polit­ical economy of cities and sub­urbs, has recently received a U.S. Core Fulbright Schol­ar­ship to ana­lyze the socioe­co­nomic and envi­ron­mental effects of urban­iza­tion and glob­al­iza­tion in Brazil’s largest met­ro­pol­itan areas. He is one of approx­i­mately 1,100 U.S. Fulbright scholars who plan to travel abroad in 2013–14, according to the U.S. Depart­ment of State’s Bureau of Education and Cul­tural Affairs, which coor­di­nates the program.

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Vicino is currently in Brazil, where he is conducting preliminary research for his four-​​month Fulbright.

Vicino will be based in Belo Hor­i­zonte at Pon­tif­ical Catholic Uni­ver­sity of Minas Gerais, one of the country’s pre­mier private universities. From August to December, he will gather quan­ti­ta­tive data from Brazil’s housing and pop­u­la­tion census and qual­i­ta­tive data from inter­views with urban planners, pol­i­cy­makers, and administrators.

His research will seek insight into the plan­ning and policy impli­ca­tions of metropolitan cit­i­zen­ship; the major socioeconomic and environmental transformations in Brazil’s largest cities; and how and why urban and regional planning has impacted the implementation of local eco­nomic development policies.

His find­ings will lead to a series of peer-​​reviewed journal articles and cul­mi­nate in a book on the dynamic processes of con­tem­po­rary urban­iza­tion in Brazil.

“Brazil is a land of con­trasts,” says Vicino, who led more than 140 North­eastern stu­dents on Dialogue of Civilizations programs there between 2009 and 2013. “These defining char­ac­ter­is­tics, including demo­graphic shifts, eco­nomic transitions, polit­ical changes, and landscape transformations, offer a great laboratory into the study of urban transformation of global cities.”

In fact, Vicino is working there right now, con­ducting pre­lim­i­nary research for his four-​​month Ful­bright with funding from the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties’ Research Devel­op­ment Ini­tia­tive. He is cur­rently writing two papers—one on the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of urban space in Rio de Janeiro’s slums, known as favelas, the other on the country’s urban protest move­ments, with a par­tic­ular focus on demon­stra­tions against the Olympics and World Cup.

“The protests and the anger against the World Cup have taken on a life of their own,” Vicino writes in a forthcoming article on the failed promises of the popular tournament. “They have successfully united Brazilians from all walks of life in opposition to Brazil’s huge public investment in a mega-​​event.”

– By Jason Kornwitz

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