The Porto Maravilha project, an initiative of the City of Rio de Janeiro, will revitalize the Port Region and once again make it an integral part of the city. All urban infrastructure in the area is to be revamped and modernized, while new, environmentally friendly buildings will go up. But a city is not only about infrastructure. Buildings are important because they represent a place?s memory. However, first and foremost, a city is a space where its people make a way of life and shape their history.

The Saúde, Gamboa, and Santo Cristo Cultural Protection Area (Apac Sagas), which includes the neighborhoods of Morro da Conceição, Morro do Livramento, Morro da Providência, and Morro do Pinto, covers over 900 of the 1,235 acres that make up Porto Maravilha?s Area of Special Urban Interest (AEIU), created under Municipal Statute 101/2009. According to city registries, the Sagas protected area is the site of at least 1,500 properties of historical and architectural value, the vast majority of which are privately owned and are underused, if not in ruins. Of the remaining 300 acres, 75% is occupied by property that is owned by public agencies or companies. Rio de Janeiro?s port authority, Docas-RJ, holds the biggest parcel. The area also concentrates pieces of property that are protected or have been declared heritage sites. Distributed across 14 sectors, nearly 1,000 acres of potential construction sites have been added to the Porto Maravilha?s Area of Special Urban Interest.

The funds to pay for Porto Maravilha are being sourced from the sale of Certificates of Potential Additional Construction (CEPACs). At least 3% of these sales will be allocated to endeavors that value the area?s tangible and intangible historical and cultural heritage. The Port Region is unique because it is home to great diversity. Its neighborhoods have their own lifestyle yet also display the social, economic and political dynamics typical of Rio and Brazil. These are locations that have marked the history of the Brazilian people from the outset of colonization to the impact of port modernization. As a meeting place of the indigenous, European and African cultures, the Port Region provides an outstanding illustration of Brazil?s economic growth, culture and national identity. It has also been stage to some of the country?s main struggles for social rights and freedom.

Every place is a bit local and a bit global at the same time, and this reality is even more striking in the Port Region. Elements of the local lifestyle, like samba, have traveled the globe and yet remain characteristic of a nearly pastoral setting. In the past, the intensification of port activities formerly qualified the region as Brazil?s dynamic hub. Much more recently, even though it has remained the site of major public agencies and companies, with the help of the Perimetral elevated highway, port activities were shifted to the district of Caju, condemning the area of today?s Porto Maravilha project to decades of decay and abandonment. Subsequently, economic activities typical of degraded areas came to predominate in the region, while some traditional activities managed to survive the recent years of decline. Property holders who saw no future deserted their real estate, leaving it underused and allowing it to depreciate.

Rio Port Art Fair in Harmonia

The Porto Maravilha project goal of transforming the Port Region sets several challenges: modernization in tandem with preservation of the identity of the Sagas protected area; the construction of modern buildings that blend in with the area?s rich architectural heritage; and boosting population in harmony with the lives of current residents and users. A new dynamic will emerge. Even while promoting the renewal of urban infrastructure and a new land use pattern, we must prepare people for new job and business opportunities, including those related to cultural and artistic heritage, a characteristic that inarguably enhances the appeal of the neighborhoods now undergoing revitalization.

As the Port Region begins playing a new role in the life of the city, both its local features and its global features will be accentuated. Once the goal of increasing the area?s population has been fulfilled, day-to-day life in these neighborhoods will be further enriched.

The business brought in by office towers and hotels and by new and restored cultural facilities will strengthen the region as an extension of downtown Rio and will highlight its international facets. With these challenges in mind, Municipal Statute 101/2009, which created the Porto Maravilha project, stipulates that the government must launch initiatives that integrate and foster social and economic development for the people residing in the region today. The same statute states that the area?s tangible and intangible historical, artistic, and cultural heritage must be restored and valued.

The Port Region Urban Development Company (CDURP) has designed the Porto Maravilha Cidadão and Porto Maravilha Cultural programs to coordinate endeavors by the government and public private partnerships (PPPs) in order to foster and promote socioeconomic development for the current population and to guarantee that the area?s historical heritage is actively valued. This is the road to building a city that respects its history and its environment. The partnership between CDURP and the Brazilian Support Service for Micro and Small Enterprises (Sebrae/RJ) has a strategic role in this transformative process. Reconstruction of the region?s urban infrastructure proceeds apace, urban services are improving in quality every day, and real estate ventures are moving from drawing board to construction site. Concomitantly, investments that will increase the social capital of the region?s residents and business owners are on the rise.

The Hanging Garden of Valongo, restored by Porto Maravilha Cultural, is one stop on the Circuit Celebrating African Heritage

The Port Region will benefit from three key economic processes: construction works, major events, and the new Port Region per se. The construction works economy will demand intensive use of labor power and will generate business within the industry and for its material and service suppliers. This cycle will be highly intense, especially during the public works projects scheduled for completion in 2016, but its effects will extend beyond this date, albeit at a slower pace, thanks to real estate ventures undertaken by the private sector.

The major events economy will generate short-term opportunities when the city plays host to the large events that will impact the region. Although of limited duration, these activities will draw on the area?s tourist and leisure resources.

Lastly, the new Port Region economy is already coming together and its potential is indeed enormous. As large commercial buildings and hotels go up and the population increases, demand will rise for commerce and services in a gamut of arenas. In addition, the region will boast more than 70 heritage or protected sites along with cultural facilities like the Rio Museum of Art, the Museum of Tomorrow, and the Historical and Archeological Circuit Celebrating African Heritage, the latter comprising the Pedra do Sal, Valongo Wharf and Empress Wharf, Hanging Garden of Valongo, Largo do Depósito, and the José Bonifácio Cultural Center. Jointly, these will enhance the region?s potential in the realm of cultural, entertainment, and tourist activities.

The Hanging Garden of Valongo, restored by Porto Maravilha Cultural, is one stop on the Circuit Celebrating African Heritage

These factors combine to offer a large universe of opportunities for job growth as well as business prospects for micro and small enterprises. The strategy of the Porto Maravilha project is to encourage the entrepreneurs already established in the region and to prepare those who are interested in joining in the effort to forge this new economic territory.

Strengthening local micro and small businesses, which are tremendous job generators, serves a strategic purpose, since a large share of these business people have been there for decades. A good number are residents. By throwing its support behind them, the project will thus help to ensure that they will effectively profit from the process of transformation and, moreover, participate as a driving force. Mapping out opportunities, helping upgrade management skills in order to improve products and broaden their range, and mediating access to credit are tasks that will find echo on another front, by awakening the region?s economic agents to the prospect of change. After decades of abandonment, many had lost faith that this would ever happen.

What we have witnessed is a mounting sense of energy. The first Business Round Table, the first Week of the Entrepreneur and support for the first Gastronomic Festival in Morro da Providência and Morro do Pinto met with very positive responses. The number of property owners in the region who are coming up with new projects for their real estate is trending steadily upward.

Work has just begun and many lessons will be learned. The Porto Maravilha project is a process of urban renewal and transformation of the region?s social fabric. Residents can be active agents either as workers or as entrepreneurs, thereby benefitting from the generation and distribution of the wealth that will be created during the construction of this space, which will contribute to making Rio de Janeiro an ever more inclusive and well-integrated city.

Originally published in "O PORTO MARAVILHA e os Desafios da Reintegração Econômica da Região na Dinâmica da Cidade" (Porto Maravilha and the challenges of the region?s economic reintegration within the overall dynamics of the city) in BOLETIM SEMESTRAL (No. 03, July 2013), Special issue: "Observatório Sebrae-RJ, os pequenos negócios em foco" (Sebrae-RJ Observatory: small business in focus).

By Alberto Silva, president of the Rio de Janeiro Port Region Urban Development Company (CDURP), which is the City of Rio enterprise responsible for the Porto Maravilha project

Photographs: Alexandre Bragança (panoramic) / Divulgation Sebrae (Harmonia Fair) / Bruno Lima (Hanging Garden of Valongo)