Nova Friburgo

Travel with me to a city in Brazil. A city that might as well represent hundreds of other cities elsewhere in the world. A city with an interesting history. But also a city that encounters real problems. I had the pleasure to be there again the last week of May 2014. Let me tell you more about it so that maybe you can help me and the people there to make Nova Friburgo a better and even more attractive city compared to what it already is today.

Friburgo is what the locals call it. The nova comes from the fact that most of the first immigrants in the beginning of the nineteenth century came from Switzerland. The area is in the mountains, some 150 kilometres away from Rio de Janeiro. But with its elevation starting at 835 meters above sea level it is considerably cooler there in summer compared to what it is in Rio. And in winter it is even more attractive: it can get cold there and it’s possible to sit next to an open fire!
The earliest settlers mainly practiced agriculture. Some of that is still there. Huge farms and also a cheese factory and a real cachaca plant producing some of the best cachaca in Brazil. The first settlers came from the canton of Fribourg in Switzerland. After Brazilian independence other immigrants came among them Germans, Italians, Portuguese and even Syrians. During the 20th century Nova Friburgo acquired a modest industrial basis with some metallurgic industry but mainly with textile mills.

Brazil floods foto BBCWe can not talk about Nova Friburgo if we don’t mention what happened in January 2011. A disaster that turned out to be the biggest natural disaster in Brazil in modern times struck the city. Because of landslides and floods, caused by heavy rains, almost 1000 people died or went missing. Streets were filled with mud, whole neighbourhoods were destroyed. It takes quite a time to get things recovered and even today the damage is clearly visible.
One of the initiatives after the 2011 disaster was to have a yearly event on new economic impulses. This is why I went to Nova Friburgo for the second time in a row this year to attend the “3º  Seminário Serrano de Economia Criativa”. In my next post I will tell you more about it.

So I went to Nova Friburgo. Had been there a year ago. And now I went back.
In the aftermath of the 2011 disaster there were some new initiatives taken. One of them was a foundation called ISEC: “Instituto Serrano de Economia Criativa”. The man behind it is Raymundo Ribeiro, a clever pensioned man who has seen a lot of the world and now wants to invest his energy in a better future for the city where he lives.
ISEC is organising a yearly seminar on the creative economy. But generally speaking one could say, the objective of the seminar is to define a new future for this city.

The reason that a seminar like this interests me a lot is because there are many other cities like Nova Friburgo. All unique and all comparable. It’s the smaller city on a reasonable distance of a big metropole. And many of these smaller cities suffer. Even though cities are growing and more people live in cities than ever before the metropole has a much stronger attraction. These smaller cities often lost their economic background. Their talented young people move away to the metropole. The ones that can not move stay behind. Their education is just not good enough.
But on the other hand there is much to like about these kind of cities: one can use all the qualities that the metropole has to offer without having to live there. These smaller cities can offer more comfort, more quality of life, less crime and a much stronger social cohesion. All of this is the case with Nova Friburgo. Where the big question is: what makes us unique and attractive compared to Rio the Janeiro?

Last year we discussed these questions during a two day seminar. There was enough time around the meetings to meet the other speakers and to explore a bit of the city. I saw the devastation of the mud streams next to the quality of life that Nova Friburgo has on offer. The fantastic food in the restaurants, the perfect cachacha, the nice temperatures. But also the fragmentation because of the infrastructure and the laid back atmosphere.

So, the basic ingredients are there. The metropole that gives the connection to the rest of the world is only a few hours away. Nature is abundant, quality of life can be found everywhere. The city is a place for emancipation so the educational system has to be good and the city needs to have higher education, preferably universities. The next factor is that there have to be places of opportunity, like derelict factories, places where it is possible to start new initiatives. And the third element of importance is to be attractive enough for a reasonable amount of visitors. Good hotels, sports activities, museums, something to do or see or to explore. These three elements together in my opinion can offer the right mix for a bright future.

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