Rio is a city as famous for its natural beauty and Carnival spirit as for its crime-plagued slums. After the national capital moved to Brasilia, Rio lost economic clout to Sao Paulo, which became known as Brazil’s business hub while Rio gradually declined due to drugs, corruption and mismanagement. But ambition, good luck and better leadership have given the city a second chance. The city was one of 12 venues where the 2014 World Cup was played, and Rio also won the right to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Preparation for these games turned the city into a construction site, but also gave it opportunities to revitalize itself, create a better transportation system and deal with long-standing infrastructure problems, including flooding.
Information and communications technology is at the heart of the transformation. A central Operations Center was built by IBM in the aftermath of disastrous flooding in 2010. It has become the nerve center for city administration by displaying data from thousands of cameras and sensors and giving emergency managers a comprehensive view of problems and the resources available to deal with them. The city also runs a high-capacity fiber network, Rio Digital, linking 70 universities, schools and research centers as well as city facilities. But more profound has been the use of ICT to expand economic opportunity and make government better. It has built Knowledge Squares in nearly 40 low-income, crime-ridden neighborhoods. These facilities offer classrooms, labs, digital libraries, recreation areas and a cinema, and provide young people and local communities with skills training in IT, robots, graphics, Web design and video production. The city has also built 32 Casa Rio Digital facilities in partnership with Cisco, Intel and the Sequoia Foundation, which have provided digital literacy training to 69,000 citizens.
How Information Improves Services
The Rio Datamine is an open-data system that makes available vast amounts of city information as well as powering a city-hosted RioApps contest. One RioApps winner was 26-year-old computer engineer Andre Ikeda, who used data on bus transit to create an app that put real-time scheduling information into rider’s hands. The publicity and access to information created public pressure that led to sharp improvements in service.
Luck has played its part. Rio is home to the national oil company Petrobras, and the discovery of vast offshore fields has given a significant boost to the economy. Rio is now receiving twice the foreign direct investment of Sao Paulo. By continuing to open its government and empower its citizens for the digital age, the city is striving create a future worthy of its nickname: Cidade Maravilhosa or the Marvelous City.
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