The Rise of the West Zone of Rio de Janeiro

A brief history of West Zone of Rio de Janeiro:

In the early 1970’s, Rio de Janeiro inaugurated the Joá Bridge and Tunnel, that joined the South and West Zones. This began the unprecedented growth of this new area in both construction and population. The West Zone (Barra da Tijuca, Baixada de Jacarepaguá and beyond) was formally planned by head urban planner Lúcio Costa, famous for designing the “Plano Piloto” in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, in 1960.  Lucio Costa re-used many of his concepts of sizable residential blocks connected by automobile super-vias; similar to suburb living in the US where residence and commerce are built separate. The objective was to bridge the well- known and rapidly overpopulating South Zone (Ipanema, Copacabana, Leblon, etc…) to the newly accessible West Zone with “city planning for the twenty-first century”, or as more pessimistic people prefer “Brazilian Miami”. Over the course of last three decades, three different stages of this regional occupation can be recognized. The first being in the 70’s the emergence of private upper-middle class condominiums.

Barra da Tijuca Closed Condominiums - Rio de Janeiro

Closed Condominiums – Barra da Tijuca, West Zone, Rio de Janeiro

The residences wanted to relieve themselves of the stigmatized unsafe surrounding areas by creating these controlled ‘free-to-roam’ spaces that provide essential services residents need within its fenced off limits. This idea of private condominium living would spread throughout the rest of the western zone, and define it as separatist lifestyle, the “I live here and you don’t” ideals. In the 80’s small scale commerce, services and leisure, and multi-family  residences began to fill in the gaps. Hotels and tourism began to attract more attention to the region.

In the 90’s, as a huge surge in population began flooding this West Zone, big scale residences and commerce were erected to accommodate, creating a new real estate “boom.” Also with development in newly improved access to this zone and surrounding infrastructure, bigcommerce began to seek more affordable and spacious office location out of the city center and here in the west zone. The big influx of people and commerce gave the West Zone a notion of leisure and “privilege”. To this day the are is very car-dependent, with distance between congregating areas, and it has a striking resemblance to Miami, hence the “Brazilian Miami.”


Rio das Pedras Favela - Rio de Janeiro

Rio das Pedras Favela – Rio de Janeiro

Simultaneously, as status and population were growing in the nicer parts of the West Zone, the surrounding areas further from the coastline, closer to Jacarepagua, grew at an even faster pace. Formal growth, meaning recognized titled-owned and taxed real estate, grew between 1.7% and 6% per year in the 90s, while the informal sectors grew by 7.5-10% and even 19% in the later years of the 90s. Rio das Pedras, the biggest formed favela, suffered the most intense population explosion and no municipal urban planning help. This has resulted in major infrastructural problems, trash build up, and direct pollution into the lagoon, surrounding rivers, and canals. Although some measures have been take to help alleviate these problems, still countless are left unresolved.


What is happening now in the West Zone:

As most cities that experience big population booms, Rio de Janeiro undoubtedly suffers from intense traffic congestion. Rio de Janeiro’s municipality has harnessed the international investment from the world events, raised state and federal investment, and are making strides towards solving this growing transport problem. No other big metropolis suffers from as many geographical obstacles as Rio de Janeiro does. These obstacles are both a blessing and a curse. They are what make Rio de Janeiro the most beautiful metropolis in the world, yet complicates transportation infrastructure. Today big transport arteries, bridges, overpasses, and wider highways are being built in the West Zone (where the Olympic Village and numerous Olympic event centers reside), Rio is improving the connection to the South Zone, the City Center and the North Zone. The Bus Rapid Transit, a concept originate by Curitiba’s mayor Jaime Lerner, is a surface bus transportation system that acts like metro/subway yet is a fraction of the cost. It has specific routes, its own isolated, unblocked lane and well maintained stations. There are currently 3 lines in function, which connect the international airport, the Metro Line 2, and the far reaches West Zone and beyond. This new system has had success thus far, but the demand for more lines remains high. The expansion of the Metro Line 1 (South Zone) to the West is at top of the list of most important projects as well. Engineers have been brought from all over the world to assist in this project because of the massive rock the tunnels have to dig through. These geographical features have caused many setbacks and delays, and although the metro line will not be ready for the games in July of 2016, but completion is near and will have a dramatic impact on Rio de Janeiro future transportation systems.



São Conrado Ciclovia - Rio de Janeiro

São Conrado Ciclovia – Rio de Janeiro

Just as tunnels are being built to accommodate the day-job commuter, leisure commuters are benefiting too. Ciclovias along Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon Beaches, and the Lagoon built in the 1990s have given the Rio de Janeiro’s residents a tremendous amount of pleasure and are used everyday for exercise, dog walkers, tourists, and everyone in between. Now the South Zone and West are being connect with a beautiful ciclovia along the undulating coastline. Instantly when the first leg connecting Leblon and São Conrado was inaugurated at the end of 2015 residents began using it on a daily basis. Now the Barra da Tijuca and São Conrado connection is finalizing in March of 2016. This is a very symbolic project for Rio de Janeiro affirming that it values progressive urban planning, green building, and is trying to stray away from car dependency.

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