Brics and mortar

Brics and mortarVenezuelan bankers would be wise to heed Hugo Chávez’s warning on Thursday that they lend more to the housing sector. As they will be keenly aware, their combative president has not exactly shied away from disciplining unruly banks in the past.

But there is another, perhaps more fundamental barrier to Chávez’s rather ambitious target set earlier this year to build some 350,000 homes by presidential elections due in December 2012: a shortage of building materials. Read more

Brics and mortarAfter suffering one of the most destructive housing market bubbles in recent world history, you might not imagine that Ireland would be the first port of call for those seeking advice on how to develop their property sector.

But, at a seminar funded by the Irish government’s aid organisation in Hanoi on Thursday, Irish officials argued that precisely because of their country’s painful experiences, they have some useful lessons to share with Vietnam, which is facing its own overheating property market. Read more

If the signs of Indonesia’s rise aren’t yet obvious, consider this: office space in central Jakarta is witnessing record demand.  Banks, insurers, oil companies and advertising agencies took up 243,000 square meters of floor space in the first half of 2011 and and are forecast to rent 350,000 sqm by the year-end.

“All of a sudden, demand jumped very high in the office and industrial sectors,” said Anton Sitorus, chief researcher for Jones Lang LaSalle in Indonesia. “It’s going to be the highest year ever, even higher than the 1995-1997 period.” Read more

Brics and mortarIf proof were needed that China’s people are more obsessed with property than perhaps anywhere else in the world, a new ruling from its supreme court on Saturday underlines this. The Supreme People’s Court issued a new interpretation of the country’s marriage laws that aims to overturn the weight would-be spouses place on whether their partner has property or not.

The court ruled that if a couple divorced, the wife would not get a share of the apartment if it had been bought by the husband’s parents. Read more

Brics and mortarOne of the big mysteries of traveling in Brazil is wondering whether you’ll be able to use your computer, hairdryer or shaver when you arrive.

Depending on where you go, the voltage can be 100V or 127V or 220V and there are at least 12 different kind of plugs and sockets. (And that’s not including the baffling reluctance of airports, restaurants and hotel rooms to put sockets in their walls.) Read more

Brics and mortarMuscovites have learned to expect the worst from summer: fires, coups, defaults. This year, however, the city has been in for a treat for a different kind: a massive overhaul of Moscow’s sidewalks.

Moscow authorities have began replacing the asphalt pavement with bricks on Moscow’s biggest drags in an effort to cut down, they say, on the harmful emissions the asphalt releases in the summer and also the frequency at which the sidewalks need to be replaced. For Moscow pedestrians, however, the reconstruction presents a daily dilemma: is it better to trudge through endless piles of dirt and sandpits, or risk your life among the cars on a whizzing six-lane highway? Read more

Brics and mortarThe connection between Wall Street and the Taj Mahal may be not be obvious but it is real enough for India’s hoteliers.

The country’s lively tourist trade – used to coping with crises ranging from floods to terrorism – is now bracing itself for a slow down following the recent global markets shockRead more

Brics and mortarIf you’re ever driving through Rio de Janeiro, try not to stop. It’s not the robberies or the occasional police shootouts that should put you off though; it’s the cost of parking. Rio is now the most expensive place to park your car in Latin America, according to a new study by property consultancy Colliers International. The median daily rate is now at $19.22 while São Paulo is in second place with $17.02, up a whopping 21 per cent since last year. Read more

Brics and mortarThe developers of what will be the Cuban Revolution’s first private golf and residential complex are claiming a hole in one.

Sceptics have long questioned the Cuban government’s reluctance to grant full property rights to foreigners who invest in real estate. But all these doubts have been quashed, said Chris Nicholas, managing director of Ottawa-based Standing Feather International, which is due to sign on a golf and residential development in eastern Cuba with the Cuban state company Palmares. Read more

Brics and mortarIf the 2014 Olympics in Sochi is a big pie, then Olympstroy’s piece just got a little bigger. According to a new report released by the Regional Development Ministry this week, the state corporation’s budget for designing and building the Games facilities has more than doubled from 143.6bn roubles ($4.9bn) to 304bn roubles.

Dmitry Kozak, the government official in charge of Sochi, was quick to assure reporters yesterday that the change in figures was simply due to a redistribution of resources within the federal budget. Yet the murky numbers raise further questions about the transparency of the Sochi preparations, and Russia’s other big infrastructure projects, such as the 2018 World CupRead more

Brics and mortarDubai’s Muslims may be reconsidering the merits of high-rise living after top-floor residents of the word’s tallest building were told they had to fast longer during the holy month of Ramadan.

Occupants of the 160-storey Burj Khalifa have been told they must to fast for up to three minutes longer than these at ground level because they can see the sun for longer from their otherwise privileged vantage points. Read more

Brics and mortarRio de Janeiro, the picturesque Brazilian city and host for the 2014 World Cup finals and the Olympics two years later, has long had a reputation for violence.

About 1 in every 24 people were victim of some kind of crime last year in Rio state, and despite recent improvements, many wealthy families still bulletproof the windows of their homes for fear of getting caught in crossfire between nearby favelas.

But it looks like there may be another danger awaiting unsuspecting tourists: manholes. Over 60 manholes have erupted since last year, according to calculations by local media, after underground gas explosions caused the heavy metal covers to come flying off and sent flames high into air. Read more

Brics and mortarA swimming pool in a back garden makes its owners cool. Literally and metaphorically. The former during a hot summer, the latter in Czech Republic.

For Czechs, a pool is a question of socioeconomic status. And as the Czech middle class has grown since the Velvet revolution, so has the number of residential swimming pools. Today, Czechs are among Europe’s leaders in terms of private pools per head, trailing only France and Spain. Read more

Brics and mortarFrom fake eggs to baby milk on steroids, Chinese consumers are sadly accustomed to fearing the foods they eat. But up to now, using the loo or the bathtub has been fairly safe (though washing hair with tainted shampoo was always an option).

But now it seems that even abluting could be dangerous in China: Chinese newspapers reported on Monday that 90 per cent of homes in Shanghai have toilets, tubs or even kitchen counters that could make residents ill from excess radiation. Read more

Brics and mortarBeyondbrics kicks off the second of our mid-year specials with brics and mortar. We’ll be looking at everything from toxic counter tops in China, exploding manholes in Brazil, and missing bricks on the side walks of Moscow, to why Muslims are reconsidering the high-rise life.

Andrew Downie starts the series with his piece on a program to introduce recycling into Rio de Janiero’s infamous favelas below the break.

 Read more