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A city for all

Project creates kit to help the population to understand and to handle urban legislation

PAULO VON POSERIt is up to the population to take care of the city, to help to plan it, to choose the way it should go. But it becomes difficult to take any initiative in this hotchpotch of terms, such as “urban operation in consortium”, “right to preemption”, “onerous concession of a building right”, or “compulsory building”. Even the concept of a Master Plan, so much commented on nowadays, is incomprehensible to the majority of people. To help to make urban language, complicated even to those who are in contact with it, democratic and accessible to the community, the Pontifical Catholic University of Campinas (PUCCamp), in partnership with the Polis Institute (Institute for Studies, Formation and Advisory Services in Social Policies), has created a City Kit. It even includes an RPG (role playing game), which simulates the conflicts of interests in cities.

Funded under the FAPESP’s Public Policies Program, the project was born of a survey by Polis, a non-governmental organization (NGO) and PUCCamp, which was seeking to draw up a program to qualify people to deal with urban legislation. The project’s target public covers city hall technicians, members of housing movements, neighborhood associations, the real estate market, legal workers, urbanists and university students, among others”, says Paula Santoro, an architect and urbanist with Polis.

In 2001, the City Statute was approved by the National Congress, and urban regulations went into the order of the day. “The municipalities always had a need for knowing the laws and understand what they serve for, but, with the approval of the statute, the project took a new direction and won new support and partnerships, such as the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Federal Savings and Caixa Econômica Federal (CEF- The biggest bank in Brazil and owned by the state), which helped to make the production of the kit feasible, with several products that were not originally foreseen”, says Professor Raquel Rolnik, who coordinates the project.

With the federal law, the participation of the public is obligatory in several processes for drawing up, implementing and revising urban laws. With the statute now in force, more than a qualification program, the project of Polis and PUCCamp has turned into an instrument for popularization. The City Statute sets the guidelines for the country’s urban policy, at the federal, state and municipal levels, and creates a new conception of territorial planning. Present in it are a series of principles about concepts of a city and urban management, and a number of instruments to further these principles.

The innovations in the law lie in several fields, says architect Paula Santoro. It has instruments capable of inducing the forms of use and occupation of the land; instead of simply setting rules, it delegates to the municipalities the definition of what it means to comply with the social function of the city and of property, and it lays down a new management strategy that incorporates the idea of the citizen participating directly in the decision-taking processes on the fate of the city and of partnerships for urban development. It is easier to get to know all these novelties by drawing up a Master Plan, which should summon the population to think out a better city for all. “The idea is for us to arrive at a city in which everybody fits”, Raquel Rolnik explains.

A Master Plan, as taught by the urbanists from Polis, is a law that defines “the city that we want”. To get there, a definition is necessary on three points: the destination of the investments; the regulations, that is, all the laws and rules that determine zoning and the parceling of land, among others; and management, which means how the community is going to organize itself. Under the rules of the statutes, every town with over 20,000 inhabitants, or which is part of a metropolitan or tourist region, and also those that have major works that are capable of putting the environment at risk or changing the region too much, will be obliged to draw up their Master Plan, within a maximum time limit of five years.

The majority of cities in São Paulo already have their own. In 1997, this same group of architects did a survey on the impact of the application of new urban instruments in cities from the state of São Paulo. That is, they wanted to know who had and who did not have a Steering Plan. They discovered that 80% of the towns had some sort of regulation, such as a Law on the Parceling of Land and a Code of Works. And 65% of them had a Steering Plan. “The problem is not the lack of a plan, but what plan”, says Raquel. In the first stage of the project for qualifying agents, partnerships were entered into with three cities in the state – Limeira, Guarulhos and Caraguatatuba – to draw up and develop communication instruments. The choice of municipalities was made for their closeness to the institutions involved and for being representative of the different urban situations present in the state of Sao Paulo.

Once the cities were chosen, the group set off to identify the people who were involved with legislation in these municipalities. Communication officers, video producers, advertisers, and even a creator of games, amongst others, were consulted to discuss which communication product ought to be developed, for what public, and at what moment. The consultancies modified the communication instruments, and the whole of the earlier project was changed. In conjunction with the authors of the project, these professionals helped to draw up a guide to the City Statute, a video, a distance course in CD-ROM, a game, a Bank of Experiences and sketches from the radio. “We came to understand how no communication medium works on its own”, is the analysis of urbanist Renato Cymbalista, also from the Polis Institute.

Simulating negotiations
The City Statute Game, on the lines of an RPG, simulates a negotiating table involving various players from a given locality. There are three “almost imaginary” cities, based on true stories, but with fictitious information and characters. To work in these cities, each participant takes on a role. The players have to use the urban instruments provided for in the City Statute to negotiate and to solve the issues.

One of the objectives of the game is to exercise otherness. Different agents from the community swap roles, understand better how and why the other thinks in a given way, and learn to negotiate. The other important point is that discussing the conflicts on the basis of the statute, they become familiar with the federal law. The researchers have already presented the RPG on several occasions and to different publics. The results have been excellent, they report. The players incorporate the personages and speak with an accent. “I have already seen even representatives from housing movements suffer to play the role of a businessman, for example”, explains Paula Santoro.

The City Game should be the last instrument of the City Kit to be used. It also serves as an evaluator, for the monitors to observe if the statute has been absorbed. The first of the kit’s communication instruments to be used should be the video, which has an emotional impact, without any didactic pretensions, and is used to attract the interest of the public. The CD with radio sketches is a support for the implementation of the Master Plan, but it deals with generic issues. The primer uses a popular language, dealing with the statute using problems of the city. There is also the Bank of Experiences, with urban policy initiatives that are now being taken by some municipalities.

The kit is free and is being requested by cities from all over the country. It is only supplied to legal entities (universities, NGOs, city halls, schools, neighborhood associations, popular movements). At the moment, the group of urbanists is concentrating on making the material known and on carrying out workshops for multipliers of the content all over Brazil. They have also created a website (, under construction) that will contain all of the material and will be a meeting place for swapping experiences.

The project
Qualification Program for Public and Social Agents to Formulate Local Policies for Urban Regulation (nº 98/14180-9); Modality Public Policies Program; Partner institution Polis Institute; Coordinator Raquel Rolnik – PUCCamp; Investment R$ 146,444.78