By Oliver Bazely, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – A little over 100 years ago, Barra da Tijuca – the long, thin strip of beachfront land to the west of Rio de Janeiro – was a land of swamps, lagoons and sugar plantations. There was little sign of the impending wave of urbanization, and land ownership was being contested between banks, railway companies and landowners. Eventually the land rights fell into the hands of the federal authorities, who started to lay the foundations of the modern, North American-indebted neighborhood we know today; loved by some, maligned by others, but home to some of the city’s finest condominiums and more affordable properties.
In 1969, large scale development started in earnest, and urban planner Lúcio Costa proposed the ‘Barra Pilot Plan’. His modernist cityscape was based on ‘urban islands’, which featured 72 identical circular Niemeyer-designed towers, surrounded by nature reserves and parks. Fast-forward to today, and it is clear that the urbanization has been a success, although perhaps not quite in line with the original intentions (only two of the Niemeyer towers were ever built, and one is still an empty shell).
More recently, the 1990’s saw the population increase by an estimated 44 percent, and Barra now boasts one of the highest qualities of life of any Rio neighbourhood.
Stine Valeur Brøndum Bøegh is a Danish mother of three and resident of Barra, for whom the key to life there is the relative affordability of houses with outdoor spaces, combined with lower crime rates. “We feel safer here, and are happy that we can live in a house with a pool and that the children have space to play.”
The trend of rapid growth has continued over the past ten years due to an expanding Brazilian middle class, as well as an influx of ex-pats working in the oil industry (Shell Brasil has its HQ on the main highway through Barra, Avenida das Américas). This has put added pressure on local amenities, such as the British, American and Rio International schools, which have reached full capacity for some classes this year, but also places huge stress on the roads.
“It will be great when the Metro is extended here“, says Stine’s husband Jens Bøegh. “Certainly, some multinationals are based here, but often the business is in Centro, so traveling downtown is common. It has taken me three hours to drive back from Centro.”
Despite the troublesome commute, there are many benefits to living in Barra. At eighteen kilometers long, there is plenty of beach to explore. Watersports such as surfing and kite-surfing are popular, and there are plenty of facilities available for beginners. There are also many other outdoor activities to choose from, with golf clubs and country clubs available to members, or for a walk and picnic the Bosque da Barra park is a great option and being on the outskirts of the city, the countryside is close by.
Housing developments in Barra are more spread-out than in Zona Sul, and both apartments and houses are available. City-wide accommodation sites, such as zap.com.br, cover the area, but there are also local specialists such as Fernando Brandão Imóveis to approach.
The average monthly rental cost is around R$25 per square meter, although being a large neighborhood, that does increase towards Rio. Apartments, such as this typical example, feature two bedrooms, 100 square meters of living space with a balcony, parking for two cars and communal pool. It is listed at R$2,000 per month to rent, while a similar apartment would cost around R$350,000 to buy, depending on the proximity to the beach.
It is also possible to find houses, such as this example, which includes four bedrooms, three parking spaces and a small garden with a pool. It is on the rental market for R$3,800 per month, while the buying cost would be approximately R$800,000.
Overall, for those seeking a comfortable, safe and family-friendly bairro, Barra is hard to beat. It also a great place for those who enjoy having one foot in the city, and one in the countryside. With room to grow, and major Olympic developments in the pipeline, the future also looks healthy for the Barra housing market. However, without a car, getting around this large neighborhood is difficult, and even with one the traffic problems in and out of Rio itself can prove a major drawback.