Lessons in Governance from Urban Brazil
On Tuesday, June 17, the Brazil Institute and the Comparative Urban Studies Project co-hosted a conference to examine "Lessons in Governance from Urban Brazil." Ivani Vassoler, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at State University of New York, Fredonia, discussed the major themes of her recent publication, Urban Brazil: Visions, Afflictions, and Governance Lessons. Tim Campbell, Chairman of the Urban Age Institute, and Eduardo Rojas, Principal Housing and Urban Development Specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank, commented on Vassoler's research and reflected more broadly on the conditions for effective governance in Latin America.
Ivani Vassoler described the process of urbanization in Curitiba, noting that Brazil is now one of the most urbanized countries in the Latin America, with 81 percent of its population residing in metropolitan areas. Brazil's urbanization began in the 1960s with industrialization and agricultural modernization driving migrants to the cities. Curitaba, the capitol of an agriculture state, was hit hard by rural exodus. An influx of rural workers prompted city leaders to establish the Instituto de Pesquisa e Planejamento Urbano de Curitiba (IPPUC), an agency charged with developing a vision for controlled urbanization. Vassoler detailed three model programs that have driven Curitiba's success: public transportation, parks, and recycling. Curitaba's bus system is one of the best in the world; the government has designated 26 urban parks since 1965; and, it has introduced policies to encourage widespread and advanced recycling. Vassoler concluded that the common thread among these reforms was strong governance that combined the technical and social aspects of urban planning. For instance, the parks were not only designed to absorb flood waters, but also had recreational and environmental benefits. These programs attracted more residents and foreign investment, providing further funds for the city government. Vassoler's view is that Curitiba became a model city through not only innovative leadership, but also the commitment of subsequent city administrations to sustain reforms.
Tim Campbell focused on the necessary components of smart cities: public entrepreneurs; political continuity and consensus building; planning; and knowledge. With cities on the rise globally and national boundaries receding (there are now 1,000 cities with a population between 500,000 and 5 million), Campbell emphasized the importance of knowledge, competitiveness, longevity and innovation in effective planning. He said that city leaders learn best from one another. Campbell cited Seattle's learning missions that bring teams of city business leaders and government officials to cities around the world to promote the region, broker business deals and learn from other success stories. These trips foster a sense of community and help sustain valuable relationships among influential city leaders while at the same time exposing the participants to innovative ideas.
"Urban transformation requires consensus among stakeholders," said Eduardo Rojas noting that popular support was an important component of success in Curitiba. As Curitiba's citizens have seen the benefits of a strong urban infrastructure, they have created a voice for themselves in the affairs of the city. This voice has pressured politicians into further action. Rojas believes that perhaps the region's greatest challenge will be to acquire an enlightened planning process, and in doing so, give metro residents a voice.
Addressing Curitiba's weaknesses, Rojas noted that the city's agencies lack effective coordination, ultimately affecting their efficiency. Additionally, it is becoming prohibitively expensive to live in the city, so the poor are being forced to the outskirts where access to resources is limited.
Curitiba's metropolitan area is rapidly growing and now encompasses 26 municipalities. Rojas said that the quality, quantity and efficiency of and access to services provided are indicative of the quality of metropolitan governance. Creating successful metropolitan governance requires compromise and agreement among stakeholders in managing resources.