Future of Cities: Brazil – An evolving national approach to cities

Authors: Greg Clark, Chair of JLL Cities Research Center, with Emily Moir

In this series of blogs and the essay, The Future of Cities: what is the global agenda?, we explore the future of cities. This week we review the Brazilian government’s approach to planning their cities’ futures, and how this approach has evolved in recent years.

For much of the 20th century, successive Brazilian governments adopted policies discouraging urbanisation, because of its perceived social costs. But in 1988, the passing of the Federal Constitution reshaped thinking around the governance of Brazil’s cities. The new constitution formally recognized, for the first time, the principles of autonomy for municipal governments, the social function of housing, and democratization. It also recognized the need to combat land speculation and upgrade informal settlements. In doing so, the FC provided the first constitutional framework for the development of land and urban management, and from the 1990s its principles began to shape Brazil’s urban policy and planning. Urban master plans, environmental laws and land regularisation laws started to be signed at the local level.

The 1990s also saw the creation of the National Forum of Urban Reform (NFUR), a pressure group which campaigned vigorously for a federal law and government department to regulate urban policy, and for a national fund for social housing. It achieved breakthroughs on all of these goals, most notably in 2001 when the constitutional principles of urban policy were enacted in the City Statute.

The 2001 City Statute broke from Brazilian tradition by requiring that the rights of property owners must be balanced against social needs and citizens’ ‘right to the city’. All cities with more than 20,000 inhabitants were given five years to submit urban master plans,[i] and moreover, the legislation armed municipalities with legal and fiscal tools to empower these plans. Taxation, transfer duties, construction, sub-division and utilisation orders could for the first time be used to shape planning. Private and voluntary sector partnerships were welcomed to participate in planning and urban operations under a more transparent legislative framework.  The progress that the City Statute set in motion in empowering cities, and encouraging them to think about their futures, set the standard in Latin America and across other developing economies.[ii]


Brazil began to move towards a more focused national urban policy under President Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration. In 2003, a Ministry for Cities (MoC) was established, largely as a result of campaigning by the NFUR, and a 2007 growth plan, Plano de Aceleração do Crescimento (PAC), increased investment into urban logistics, energy, social services and housing. This cycle of investment continues, and has had a clear impact in reducing poverty in the larger cities and extending government service provisions. It has also raised ambitions among Brazil’s medium size growing cities to avoid the problems experienced by its larger counterparts and become more sustainable and competitive.

Brazils’ major challenges for the future are, first, to ensure that its largest cities maintain and improve service standards as their infrastructure footprints and densities continue to grow. There are also concerns to ensure that congestion is tackled and connectivity investments match economic agglomeration demand, and to overcome financial and regulatory constraints to close the housing deficit.  Last year Dilma Rousseff, the current President of Brazil, indicated that Brazil has moved towards adopting the paradigm of considering its cities as systems, or integrated networks, when planning for their future:

“We are now looking at cities systemically. When we talk about urban reform, we are referring to three things:  Urban mobility – mass public transportation – sanitation and housing. These three things are the structure of urban life in any city in the world.”[iii]


[i] Cities Alliance and Ministério das Cidades (2010). The City Statute of Brazil, A Commentary. Accessed 2014 Apr 2.
[ii] Wilson Center (2009). Democracy and The City: Assessing Urban Policy in Brazil. Accessed 2014 Apr 2.
[iii] Ministério das Cidades (2014b). ‘Ministro Aguinaldo Ribeiro diz que os investimentos em mobilidade urbana retomaram o planejamento urbano’. Feb 20. Accessed 2014 Apr 2.

About the Author

Greg Clark has spent more than two decades putting his passion for cities to good use, by advising and mentoring global cities, firms and institutions. He has worked with over 100 cities around the world and holds senior advisory roles at international bodies including the OECD, Brookings Institution, ULI, and the Future Cities Catapult. A prolific author, Greg has published ten books to date on cities and investment practices, with three more in the pipeline for 2016-17. And as Chairman of The Business of Cities research and intelligence group, Greg leads a small high calibre team that advises and reports on global trends and changes in cities. In his academic life Greg is Hon Prof of City Leadership at UCL and co-chairman of the UCL City Leadership initiative, Visiting Professor at Strathclyde University, and Global Fellow at LSE Cities. He has received international awards for his work from cities as far afield as Barcelona, Brisbane, London, and Toronto and in 2016, Greg was honoured by HM Queen Elizabeth II with a CBE for his services to city and regional economic development. Meanwhile, outside of the day jobs, Greg is an avid tennis player, wine enthusiast, and lifelong follower of Arsenal FC.

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