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This World Cup is as much about the future of Brazil’s cities as it is about football

Recife’s stadium was meant to be the centrepiece of ‘World Cup City’. Only the stadium and a few restaurants and petrol stations have been built, says Hattie Hartman

‘Copa para ricos, remoção para pobres’. World Cup for the rich, removal for the poor. This is the graffiti around the corner from where I’m staying in Olinda, a World Heritage-designated colonial city in north-eastern Brazil. Olinda, famous for its annual street carnival, is adjacent to Recife, one of the 12 Brazilian cities hosting World Cup matches.

As I write, the Brazil team is still in the running and football fever is in the air. Brazilian flags and yellow T-shirts are everywhere. Yet most people I’ve talked to are nervous about Brazil’s prospects off the pitch. Moreover, anger about excessive spending on the seven new stadia and the five upgraded to meet Fifa requirements means that celebratory gatherings to watch the games are subdued, by Brazilian standards.

I attended my first match - Italy v Costa Rica - last Friday. Designed by São Paulo architect Fernandes / Arquitetos Associados (also responsible for the refurbishment of Rio’s Maracanã stadium), Recife’s Arena Pernambuco, is located 12 miles from the city centre in the municipality of São Lourenço. The stadium was meant to be the centrepiece of an ambitious project called World Cup City, a 240ha area touted as Brazil’s first ‘smart city’. Only the stadium and a few restaurants and petrol stations have been built.

Public transport to the stadium is patchy, due to incomplete surface metro and bus connections, so our group opted to travel by taxi, setting out three hours ahead of kick-off. The journey started well as we exited Recife on a minor two-lane road lined with car repair shops and other small businesses. At each traffic light, people selling bottled water, sodas, T-shirts, and clip-on Brazilian flags weaved among the cars.

Progressively the traffic worsened and a whole economy emerged around us, with people selling seasonal fruits and resourceful youngsters hawking bundles of phone chargers. As the congestion brought us to a standstill 45 minutes before kick-off, an informal motorcycle taxi service began to overtake us, dodging the traffic with passengers sporting Italia and Costa Rica T-shirts. My nephew couldn’t resist hailing one (later sharing his journey with us via iPhone video).

What is normally a 30-minute ride took three hours. Once at the stadium, security checks ran smoothly and we reached our seats 15 minutes after kick-off. A screen in the corner of the stadium informed us there was a 40,285-strong crowd in the 42,800-capacity stadium.

In central Recife, World Cup frustration has fed into a heated Occupy movement at the Estelita Quay, where a waterfront development of twelve 16 to 40-storey towers is proposed on derelict railway land. Last weekend a rally to protest against the project attracted a crowd of 7,000. Evicted from the site five days after the opening of the World Cup by police using rubber bullets, the occupiers have relocated beneath a nearby viaduct. The slogan printed on their T-shirts - ‘Não vende a cidade’ (‘Don’t sell the city’) is revealing. While the costly stadium projects have failed to deliver the promised infrastructure, they have sparked a public engagement with urban issues which may yet have a lasting impact on Brazilian cities.

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