Brazil undergoing 'urban renaissance' for Olympics, World Cup

Traffic rumbles over an elevated highway that cuts off the waterfront from Art Deco government offices. Many of the old buildings in the port area are abandoned and others are marred by graffiti and shattered windows.

Fast forward six years to 2016, when Rio de Janeiro is to host the Olympic Games:

The elevated highway is gone. The Museum of Tomorrow, designed by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, stretches out to sea along the Praca Maua pier. Historic buildings have been renovated. And a variety of shops, restaurants and cultural sites at the downtown port welcome Olympics fans.

Today, a banner at the site optimistically proclaims: "A new city is being born." As Brazil prepares to host the Olympics and the 2014 World Cup, nothing short of an urban renaissance will do.

A lot is at stake. Brazil hasn't hosted a World Cup since 1950, and this will be the first time a South American city has hosted an Olympics. It will be Brazil's moment in the sun — an opportunity to show the world that this so-called emerging economy has come of age.

About 60 percent of the sports venues are already completed because Brazil hosted the 2007 Pan American Games and -- with an eye toward capturing the big prize -- built those facilities to Olympics specs.

But billions of dollars of sports-driven projects from port renovation and airport overhauls to the construction of major highways, transit systems, stadiums and an Olympic Village complete with a beach are planned. Besides accommodating the influx of fans, athletes and officials, the goal is to leave a lasting legacy for Brazilians.

Many of the Olympics-related projects are designed to fix problems that have festered in Rio for decades: massive traffic snarls, the derelict port area and poor connections between the four areas of the sprawling city that will be Olympic venues.

But the double dose of the World Cup and the Olympic Games has provided the incentive -- and money -- to get them done.

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