Learning continues

Last week ended with some additional learning about the city, and its Participatory Budget projects.  On Thursday, we visited a new sewage plant that will become operational this month, increasing the amount of treated sewage from 27% to roughly 80%.  Porto Alegre already provides potable water to 100% of its population. The general impression is that this is a state-of-the-art plant, based on Belgian technology, and some  improvements from Brazil.

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The current situation makes Lago Guaiba, the river/lake where 11 rivers meet in a big delta in Porto Alegre, not suitable for bathing.   During the hot days of summer, people are forced to travel tens of kms to reach a spot where the bacteriological conditions of the water are “reasonable”.  Currently, together with the pollution coming from industries, the situation is close to an ecological disaster.  Check the before/after conditions of the river.  Red designates really bad bacteriological conditions, which will be reduced most significantly when the plant starts operating.

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We also learn that environmentalists in Brazil are very strong politically. Quoting one of our hosts, you go to jail for polluting the environment, but you may no go to jail for killing a person.With the completion of the sewage project, Porto Alegre will be way ahead of the UN Millenium Development Goals.

Our next stop was in a disadvantaged neighborhood of the city, where through Participatory Budgeting, a new daycare facility (Trevo de Ouro = Gold Cloverleaf) was built. They provide 4 meals to the kids, and the general impression is of a well run facility.

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A couple of views of the rooms where the kids were sleeping:

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We also met Cristiano Tatsch, Secretary of Urbanism.  This is the office where all constructions works in the city need to go through approval.  They interact with all other secretaries to obtain approval of the different projects.  Today, this is a very lengthy project, with significant opportunity for improvement.  We also learn that Participatory Budget projects tend to have a higher failure rate, since they do not have access to good consultants when preparing the projects.

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Our next day followed with meetings with two additional organizations of the city.  INOVAPOA focuses on innovation projects, mainly encouraging high-tech companies to establish in Porto Alegre, and providing grants to students.  The second organization we met, OBSERVAPOA, is an “independent” (funded by the city) monitoring organization whose goal is to provide transparency about the situation of the city in a broad set of indicators: health, safety, etc.  One of their main clients is supposed to be the Participatory Budget council.  One of their main challenges is to make the information “consumable” by their stakeholders.

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Lunch was in a very special place…  Santander Cultural which is hosted in a old bank.   The restaurant was actually located in the bank vaults!

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Our lunches are working meetings… where we plan on the back of the napkins our next meeting:

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and a beautiful view of Santander Cultural:

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Our two last meeting of the week were with Mrs. Izabel Matte, Municipal Secretary of Planning and Budget, and the Mr. Eloi Guimarâes, Municipal Secretary of Human Resources.  Mrs. Matte took us through the city’s budgeting process.  The team is impressed with the long (4 year) planning that they work on.  The HR department is moving from a “job for life” mentality to more of a meritocracy.

In the afternoon, we summarized our week of activities, and started planning for the next week…  and off to Iguazu!

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#smartercities Challenge

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