Is big infrastructure compatible with equitable approaches to urban transformation? Based on two case studies of urban infrastructure and service provision policies in Brazil, this seminar will explore the difficulty in “scaling up” urban interventions in ways that benefit the interests of the poor. In the case of Porto Alegre, the iconic Participatory Budget experiment was effective at giving poor neighborhoods control over planning decisions, as long as those decisions remained focused on small scale projects. In Belo Horizonte, housing and favela programs based on the ideals of the urban reform movement also had difficulty competing with large scale urban infrastructure projects that benefited car transportation and sports events. The presentation will examine how politics and money – and political dynamics at higher territorial levels – can affect efforts to promote equitable and sustainable urban transformation and will consider ways that communities and citizen respond to the problems that arise.
Rebecca Abers is associate professor of political science at the University of Brasília. She has a doctoral degree in Urban and Regional Planning from UCLA. For nearly three decades, she has been studying urban and environmental problems in Brazil, with a focus on the political construction of participatory policy institutions and on how social movements influence political change. She is the author of Inventing Local Democracy: Grassroots Politics in Brazil (Lynne Rienner, 2000), a study of the Participatory Budget Experiment in Porto Alegre, and co-author of Practical Authority: Agency and Institutional Change in Brazilian Water Politics (Oxford, 2013).