By Nathan M. Walters, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Gamboa, the historic neighborhood in Rio’s harbor district, is being hailed as the “New Lapa.” All but abandoned for the past decades, the area is now slated for significant changes in the coming years. As with all of the port area, Gamboa is expected to benefit from significant investment aimed at turning the area into a new point of interest for locals and the tourists expected for the 2016 Olympics.
One of the Rio’s oldest neighborhoods, Gamboa was originally occupied by the colonial aristocracy with a view of the previously idyllic Guanabara Bay, the area has gone through significant changes in the past century.
Gamboa is still home to some of Rio’s most beautiful colonial architecture, as well as the British cemetery, which dates back to the 1811. The area is also considered the most important neighborhood in Rio for samba, adjacent to the Cidade de Samba (City of Samba) and Pedra do Sal.
The comparison to Lapa, and the changes that area underwent before stabilizing its image as the safe(r) premier music and party district of Rio, seems appropriate. Gamboa has a perfect equation for organic development: decreasing risk, plus large vacant industrial space, equals artists, equals great parties and free-thinking individuals fleeing overpriced rentals in other popular neighborhoods.
New York’s Soho, Kansas City’s Crossroads Art District, Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, and many others in almost every former industrial capital around the world have gone through the same gentrification process now starting in Gamboa.
Industrial and port areas are well suited for the initial invasion of artists looking for cheap and plentiful space for studios and galleries. Gamboa is no exception and the Behring building, a former candy factory, first occupied by artists in 2009 has recently been sold at an auction to private investors.
Artists in the building have been given an eviction notice, leading to controversy about development plans for the area. Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has offered his support for the artists and their fight to preserve their tenancy in the building.
Yet, it is difficult to guess how long that support will last, especially considering Gamboa is part of an almost US$33 billion city-wide renovation project (with almost US$157 million earmarked for investment in Rio’s port area).
“All that underground movement at Gamboa, Pae’s support, will end after elections, and then the focus will be the speculation about selling the buildings for as much as possible,” says Carol Lyra, a concerned citizen closely observing the developments in Gamboa.
Gamboa will be home of the new Olympic Village, and stands to receive a large part of the investment aimed at the pharaonic Porto Maravilha project.
Porto Maravilha will, if completed according to plan, revolutionize Rio’s port area, provide modern dock space for cruise ships (that will be relied on to meet the demand for accommodations during the 2014 World Cup), and add two new museums to Rio’s arts landscape.
The development plan is impressive, offerings a series of tax exemptions to investors and setting out forward-thinking building specifications. However, the risk, as with other areas in Rio targeted for substantial development, for example Vidigal, is that the area moves too fast, too soon, forcing the lower middle-class that have lived in the area for the past thirty years out of the community.
Gamboa continues to develop, the collection of galleries and studios in the area continue to draw a good crowd of open-minded locals. How long that will last and what comes after is still an open question. Better to make a trip to the neighborhood to get a better understanding of what has been and what’s to come.