Sunday, December 12, 2010

Introduction to Macaé

As some of you may know, I'm now teaching at NUPEM at UFRJ's advanced campus in Macaé, so I'll be writing about this new Brazilian boomtown more in the future. Here's a brief introduction.

Macaé's a bit of an odd bird: a once-sleepy beach town which mostly made its money through ranching and fishing, it's now the primary support port for Brazil's booming off-shore petroleum industry. The city went from under 100,000 inhabitants in 1990 to over 250,000 today, with a regional estimate of 500,000. Actually, however, we don't even have the slightest clue how many people are in Macaé. Uncounted hordes have followed the oil boom and are squatting in hastily erected shanty towns around the region.

To give you an idea of what has happened to the city, here's two pictures of the main beach, a Praia de Imbetiba, before and after the arrival of PETROBRAS:

Macaé is a classic case of Brazil's traditional boom and bust economy in the making, so I'll be chronicling alot about it in upcoming months.  Working here is a bit like working in Manaus during the late 19th century rubber boom probably was. On the one hand, there's unmatched poverty and urban confusion brought on by mass in-migration and consequent growth without attendant urban planning. On the other hand, money often almost literally rains from the heavens. Not a month goes by, for example, but a new builiding springs up from nothing in the off-shore pole where our university is located. These constructions are usually built in that soulless, post-modern big-box style one associates with U.S. suburban developments. Consequently, the best in-a-nutshell description for Macaé is an American highway beltline shopping strip surrounded by a Haitian shanty town.

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