New São Paulo Master Plan Promotes Sustainable Growth, Eliminates Parking Minimums Citywide

The new Sao Paulo Master Plan will lead to better streets for pedestrians. Credit: Flickr user Emerson Alecrim, CC.

Charting a strong course for the city’s future, on June 30 the São Paulo City Council overwhelmingly approved a new Strategic Master Plan. The Plan, which directs the city’s growth for the next 16 years, 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. Though the regulations themselves are fairly technical, if the city is able to successfully implement the principles, the results will be clear for residents: less traffic, safer streets, and stronger communities.

Among the biggest victories in the new Master Plan is the elimination of parking minimums citywide, making São Paulo the first megacity in the developing world to take this important step toward reducing traffic. In their place, the Plan calls for a new parking maximum along transit corridors, allowing only one space per residential unit before charging for adding extra spaces. Parking minimums, which require developers to build a designated amount of parking to serve housing and commercial uses, increase costs and unnecessarily incentivize the use of personal vehicles. By reducing parking around transit corridors, São Paulo will start reducing traffic, improving street life, and encouraging the use of public transit. Though parking minimums have long fallen out of favor in many American and European cities, São Paulo is leading the way for cities in developing countries to pass major parking reform, making the city more transit and pedestrian friendly.

The new Master Plan also includes significant transit oriented development and affordable housing elements, reforms which help address the significant inequality issues in Brazilian society. Along mass transit corridors, including the São Paulo Metro and the city’s major bus corridors, the Master Plan increases building density, widens sidewalks, and promotes mixed-use developments. In addition, the Plan calls for 10% of housing in these areas to be reserved for affordable housing, a good start toward addressing the needs of low income communities and bringing public housing policy in line with sustainable urban mobility principles. These moves will allow Paulistas of all economic backgrounds to work and shop locally and have easier access to public transit, promoting sustainable and equitable transportation.

ITDP has played an important role in promoting these concepts among lawmakers and planners in Brazil. Through a wide range of initiatives in the most important cities in Brazil, ITDP staff has been working to emphasize the importance of strong TOD principles in shaping a vibrant, connected cities.

While the passage of the new Master Plan is encouraging, now action is needed. It remains to be seen how the city will implement the sustainable growth plan moving forward. Nonetheless, in approving a long term plan, São Paulo sets its sights on building a sustainable city, and gives advocates something to cheer about.

A version of this article is available in Portuguese.
Header image credit: Emerson Alecrim