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State and urban space in Brazil: from modernist planning to democratic interventions.


In the last half century, the Brazilian state consolidated and then destroyed a modernist model for the production of urban space.  According to this model, best crystallized in the construction of Brasília, the state produces urban space through centralized master plans that are conceived as instruments of social change and economic development.  The role of government is both to articulate these plans and to create the means for their realization.  During the last two decades, however, a constellation of forces – including main elements of the state, business and industry, popular social movements, political parties, and non-governmental organizations – rejected this centralized conception of state intervention.  In its place, they substituted a notion of planning in which the state does not produce space directly, but rather acts as a manager of localized and often private interests in the cityscape.  Moreover, whereas the modernist model entails a concept of total design, by which planners impose solutions, like demi-gods, the new model considers that plans should both be based on and foster the exercise of citizenship.  The new model of planning is an explicit expression of the democratization process that has been transforming Brazilian society and its ways of conceiving of citizenship since the 1970s.  Nevertheless, this new model has also been associated with the requirements of neoliberal policies and some of its instruments have been used by some municipal administrations to produce the contrary of their original intent, namely, the privatization of public space, spatial segregation, social inequality, and private real estate gain.  This paper focuses on plans formulated under both models in Brazil to analyze the interconnections between the production of urban space, public and private initiative in planning, democratization, and neoliberalism.

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