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Rio de Janeiro is one of the most visible sites of “smart city” experimentation. In response to catastrophic natural disasters, calamitous traffic congestion, and urban health epidemics, the Centro de Operações Rio (COR) was designed as a corrective tool and as a new command and control hub that would allow the city to prepare for the 2016 Olympic Games. Launched in 2010, COR now monitors its urban camera network and information sensors, gauges optimal traffic patterns, determines landslide risk zones, predicts weather disruptions, and maps disease paths.
Rio’s wild topography, wealth disparities, and aging infrastructure make it an unlikely testing ground for the smooth rationality of urban management that “smart city” rhetoric proclaims. Through COR, the predictable impression of Rio de Janeiro as a lush playground of beaches and samba dancers conflicts with the new image of a Rio governed by smart city control systems. As the city also becomes increasingly marked by extreme police tactics and political protests, Rio appears less a case of urban optimization than a platform for viewing the conflicts that have erupted around urban data management, civil rights, and issues of social control. Yet, COR is also a sign of a new form of participatory civic politics. Citizens may visit the COR building to observe its image screens, data displays, and information collection technologies. In this way, COR serves as a public relations space from which the city broadcasts an image of urban administrative control.
The exhibition shows Rio structured through COR’s control syntax and smart city command processes. This syntax is assembled from seemingly banal “if-then” statements that become surprisingly charged by their encounters with the political and circulatory life of the city. Through COR, the exhibition sees traffic engineering as urban politics and as haunted by potential catastrophe. The exhibition also understands COR as indicative of an important new space of representation for the 21st century city and its emerging computational governmentality.