Mega-events and the invisibilization of poverty: Notes from Beijing and Rio de Janeiro
Mega-events like the World Cup and the Olympic Games play a great part in urban image construction and the marketing of cities. The spectacular construction of the event-city promotes the projection of a highly restricted city image from which urban realities that may suggest poverty, incompetence, disorganization, backwardness, or decline are either silenced, cropped out, relegated, concealed, or beautified. The paper discusses the social and spatial implications of urban image construction used when hosting sporting mega-events to control urban representations, to transform perceptions, and manipulate images. It details four strategies devised by local authorities and event organizers to erase or transform unsavory aspects of urban reality, including the poor, the uncivilized, the unsightly, the dangerous, and the unmodern. Such strategies of hiding include forced evictions, with the bulldozing of material landscapes of poverty and the displacement of their population; concealment, which hides the blight that cannot be displaced with the use of visual filters; aestheticization, which beautifies poverty and decay to make them more visually acceptable, thereby anesthetizing their political power; and intentional design, where spaces are purposely conceived to exclude specific categories of users. These image construction strategies are not innocent but pose a sizable threat to urban justice. They perpetuate patterns of domination and stratification and reinforce old hierarchies and power disparities at the local and global levels. The resulting urban landscape, aestheticized, homogenized, deproblematized, and depoliticized, exacerbates pre-existing socio-spatial inequalities. The paper draws from over twenty years of field research on event-led urban construction in Beijing and Rio de Janeiro.
Keywords: mega-events, invisibilization, poverty, urban image construction
DR. ANNE-MARIE BROUDEHOUX is Full Professor at the School of Design of the Université du Québec à Montréal, where she has been teaching since 2002. She received her doctoral degree in architecture from the University of California at Berkeley in 2002. She published multiple books, articles and chapters on the socio-spatial impacts of sporting mega-events and on the process of urban image construction, especially with respect to the invisibilization of poverty, in both Beijing and Rio de Janeiro. Her book, The Making and Selling of Post-Mao Beijing was awarded the International Planning History Society book prize in 2006. Her ongoing research is concerned with the spatialization of the memory of the Atlantic slave trade