The problems faced by Brazilian cities today trace their roots to patterns of urbanization that are decades old. Growth has been marked by urban sprawl, priority for personal vehicles, socio-spatial segregation, and physical separation between jobs, housing, and opportunities. As a result, residents of Brazilian cities often must contend with long commutes, unsafe street crossings, and a lack of social integration. Today, the rise of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) has started to address these concerns, and an increasing awareness of good growth concepts is reshaping Brazilian cities, returning them to a human scale.
Starting in the 1950s, a series of political, economic, and cultural factors led Brazilian cities to start being planned for the convenience of cars. Rising personal incomes and the expansion of the local auto industry made personal vehicles more accessible to Brazilian residents. As a result, the concerns of people, such as engaging public spaces and calm streets, became less important in urban planning, replaced by the creation of more and more parking and streets designed to ease driving patterns. This effect spread, appearing not just in the allocation of urban space, but in legal codes defining land use and development, and in building designs.
By the 1990s, it became clear that this model for the city was socially, economically, and environmentally unstable. “We arrived at the beginning of the 21st Century with about 82% of the [Brazilian] population living in cities,” says Iuri Moura, ITDP Brazil Urban Development Manager. “Today, these cities are largely marked by the lack of integration between transport policies, use, and occupation.” Around this time, members of academia, local government, and civil society came to discuss alternatives, and the concept of Transport-oriented Development emerged.
Transit-oriented Development describes a more sustainable urban mobility, promoting more compact land use, with mixed uses, density, and proximity to transport. Through TOD, travel distances can be shortened or eliminated, and trips by foot, bike, or public transit made more comfortable and accessible. ITDP’s eight principles are shaped by Transit-Oriented Development, and the TOD Standard provides a tool for practitioners to better understand the principles and evaluate projects.
“We cannot forget that by 2030, we expect 90% of Brazil’s population to live in cities,” says ITDP Brazil Active Transportation and Demand Management Manager, Danielle Hoppe. “We need to think about how to design our cities to absorb this population growth and maintain a high quality of life.”
Today, Brazilian cities are incorporating TOD concepts into city planning. São Paulo’s newest Strategic Master Plan incorporates many sustainable urban development principles, including becoming the first megacity in the developing world to eliminate parking minimums citywide. From increasing density to affordable housing requirements, the new Master Plan includes many measures that will make São Paulo a better place to live and work. Rio de Janeiro’s new BRT corridors, built over the past several years, have brought dense housing areas previously underserved by transit into the network. Between 2010 and 2015, Rio has brought access to rapid transit to some 650,000 residents. Many other cities across the country are taking similar cues, and reevaluating their growth model as they develop urban Mobility Plans.
With renewed focus on improving urban growth patterns, Brazilian cities are fixing the problems of the past and preparing for a stronger future. ITDP and our partners are working closely with government agencies to develop tools to help place low income housing projects in dense, mixed, transit rich areas. With a diverse set of tools, Brazilian cities are turning the corner and entering a new era of smart urban growth.