By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The news that three people had been arrested for public urination at a pre-Carnival bloco in Copacabana last Friday was met with mixed feelings by Rio residents. On the one hand it showed that the city is taking action to deal with general public disorder that goes along with the city’s “Street Carnival” blocos events in recent years.
On the other, it threatens to temper one of Rio’s most iconic activities, which draws tourism and offers a truly democratic alternative to the high priced Carnival at the Sambódromo.
Last year’s Carnival season saw 777 people detained for public urination and Rio city council received numerous complaints about the lack of toilet facilities available to party-goers.
Residents also complained about excessive noise, traffic disruptions and littering. And with Zona Sul (South Zone) playing host to 145 of the total 425 blocos authorized for this year, communities are divided in their attitude towards the massive street parties.
“After the blocos there is always a lot of garbage and the smell of pee on the streets,” says Tiago Verdini, from Flamengo.
Guilherme Almeida, a doctor living in Jardim Botânico, agrees, “There is a complete absence of structure to deal with waste and toilet facilities, which is why there is so much litter and filth everywhere after it all ends.”
The authorities have responded to complaints from last year by increasing the number of toilet facilities and traffic guards by around 25 percent, decreasing the size and noise limits allowed for sound vehicles, and reducing the overall number of blocos licensed to parade in Zona Sul from 173 in 2011 to 145 this year.
Esmeralda Sauma Galvão, from Humaitá, welcomes the changes, “I’m all for reducing, and maybe even eliminating, blocos in residential areas,” she says.
“I wouldn’t mind the blocos if the chaos wasn’t so chaotic!” she explains, “The traffic gets totally blocked off – nothing comes in or out – and people still need ambulances and fire trucks.”
In response to the reduction, Sam Wold, an American teacher in Rio working at The American School said: “I do not think it will make much of a difference. It seems like there [are still] three or four blocos in each neighborhood every single day.”
“I have more fun at the blocos pre-Carnival that are less crowded and have more of a local feel,” he explains, and admits for the actual week of Carnival this year he intends to leave the city.
Lagoa resident, Carmen Antão Paiva, is concerned that reducing the number of blocos will mean more people will crowd into the ones that remain, increasing health and safety risks and compounding the problems.
Marcelo Castello Branco is a music executive living in Leblon, whose neighbourhood will see the biggest reduction in the number of blocos this year, (down to thirteen from twenty in 2011). For him, the solution is about striking the right balance.
“It’s all about tons of people having fun … in an organized and respectful way … and minimizing the damage they cause,” he says.
Just along the beach in Ipanema, 63 year-old Rosa Maria Araújo is preparing herself for the remaining twenty blocos still to come in her local area this year.
“I love having blocos in my neighborhood,” she says, “Carnival is the only time of year when life is all about joy and having fun… And when you can put on a costume and become a pirate or a king!” she adds.