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Diadema: Consolidating Innovative Alternatives of Municipal Management

Keyword: Community Participation & Urban Governance


The experience of municipal management in Diadema can only be understood when analysed within its legal-institutional and political context. The Brazilian municipalities, while already enjoying a considerable amount of autonomy, gained even more autonomy with the new constitution of 1988 and, complementary, new responsibilities (for example, the municipalities have the autonomy to implement their own land use laws, which are approved by a local parliament and can implement sectorial policies on land, housing and urban services). In addition to this, the constitution introduced new concepts like the social function of property which, although not defined in a sufficiently clear way, allows for the implementation of new urban instruments by the municipality, linking the land use to social welfare.

Diadema has proven to know how to use this "autonomy" in order to increase the democratic content of city management and to increase the access of citizens to the results of this management. The elaboration of a new Master Plan for urban development, the municipal control of health and sanitation services, the environmental preservation policies and the policy on financing the city are all examples of this.

The other context is related with the political program of the actual administration in Diadema and with the political continuity. The strong political compromise of the party that have administrated Diadema since 13 years, among others in terms of fighting against social exclusion, increasing the democratic content of local management, stimulating community participation and income redistribution, has set the tone of this local government.


Diadema came to exist in 1960 when it emancipated itself from the municipality of Sao Bernardo do Campo. Its location gained importance with the expansion of Sao Paulo in the direction of S.Bernardo/Santos. Like the majority of the Brazilian cities, the economy and poverty grew hand in hand: periods with the highest rates or urbanisation and of industrial growth were at the same time the ones with the highest growth figures in terms of slum areas, illegal subdivisions and environmental degradation.

Diadema is located in the Greater S o Paulo region, has about 316.000 inhabitants, and 30,7 sq. km. 23% of its territorial is considered environmental protection area, near to the so called lake Billings. It is an exclusively urban municipality with a high population density, i.e. the second highest density of the state and the third highest in Brazil.

The land use is characterised by a mix of industries and precarious low and middle class housing. Some 25% of the total population is living in slums (favelas, either upgraded or without intervention), which occupy 3,5% of the municipality. The industrial sector is predominant and responsible for absorbing 67% of the total employment in the municipality.

    Urban Policy

Urban policies are being rethought as an important element en increasing the democratic content of the process of getting access to land, urban services and a better environment. The urban policy that is being developed by the municipality of Diadema is not limited to spatial planning only, but explicitly incorporates views on urban questions like the access to land and urban services. It is guided by the principle of participation of all the agents in the management of public policies. It considers both the legal and the existing illegal city. Planning is interpreted as a process of negotiation and interaction of all the agents which produce the city.

    Revision of the urban legislation

The Master Plan was approved in 1994, substituting the one of 1973 which was restricted to questions of physical planning and which was by that time already outdated, considering the conditions of accelerated growth occurring at that time.
While establishing its priorities in managing the available resources, the plan considers explicitly the scarcity and the high price of vacant land and the diversity of interest of the various agents in the city. In order to formulate the plan, more than 100 meetings were organised, involving community movements, business organisations and unions.

The Master Plan turned out to be a reflection of the municipal policies oriented at restoring the quality of life of its inhabitants, establishing guidelines in the sectors of housing, environment, land use, infrastructure, transport and food, among others.

One of these guidelines, considering the necessity to design programs that attend the need of the big majority that lives in precarious housing, was for example to implement the so called special zones for low income areas, one type destined for vacant areas and the other in areas already occupied by slums. The implication is that in these zones only low income housing con be implemented, thereby reducing the price of this type of land.

The use of areas in these special zones can be done through more flexible norms, aiming at the regularisation of already occupied land and the optimisation of the available infrastructure. The municipality is stimulating partnerships with the private sector and the community, realising the access of those groups that settled themselves in the city, almost often in marginal conditions in relation to the real estate market.

The environment received special attention with the proposal of actions and normative instruments for the development of an environmental policy which guarantees the preservation and recuperation of an almost completely constructed environment in which the co-existence between various activities is creating multiple conflicts and where there is a big scarcity of green areas.
Diadema, although an highly urban municipality, has green areas of a significant quality which are predominantly in private hands. The Master Plan denominates them Environmental Preservation Areas. This implies that they are to fulfill social functions like the supply of sufficient amenities and the stabilisation of the micro-climate and the soil. In this way, the quality of life for the inhabitants is maintained.

In these Preservation Areas only those activities can be allowed which are compatible which the environmental preservation. Occupation requires a detailed study, through a so called Special Analysis mentioned by law, aimed at adapting a particular project to the characteristics of the surrounding environment.
Mechanisms to stimulate the partnerships between land owners and the municipalities were also created. In addition, it is expected that there will be a possibility to obtain property tax reduction or Transferable Development Rights for the owners affected by preservation. In other words, the latter will be able to use their lost development rights in other parts of the city for other real estate developments.

These measures have proven to be effective to preserve the few remaining areas of environmental interest, the latter being vital for the city. The instruments mentioned were aimed at sustainable interventions using incentives for the owners, avoiding simple and costly appropriation.

    Housing Policy

In 1983, a housing policy was started which recognised the existence of slum areas. This policy proposed the upgrading of these areas, giving the guarantee to land access and community participation. From 1989 to 1992, there were interventions in 92 slum areas, representing more than 50% of the areas existing at that time. The interventions were aimed at the access to infrastructure and urban services, concentrating on the implementation of basic infrastructure, pavement and drainage.

The interventions in the initial periods were more concentrated on maintaining the maximum number of families and on upgrading the areas. Thus, instead of concluding the upgrading in concentrated areas, it was opted for a gradual approach in many years. Spreading resources meant attending more families and situations of emergencies.

Over the years, since the land became increasingly expensive, the occupation in the slums densified, many environmental risk areas continued to be occupied and many families, excluded as they were by the formal real estate market, came to life in precarious rental housing units (the so called "cortiços"). In order to be able to proceed with the upgrading activities, it is necessary to investment considerable amounts in land, public works or even the relocation of families living in environmental risk areas. Practically all of the financial resources allocated to the housing sector came from municipal budgetary sources, not depending on any higher sphere of government.

Both the ways interventions can be done and the amount of resources that go to the housing sector are being augmented. Thus, regulatory instruments for the real estate market that facilitate the access of low income groups to this market are being created.

The actual administration is concluding the upgrading of 73 slum areas, doing interventions in 38% of the existing area, attending thereby 52% of the slum population and 12% of the total population of the municipality. Under construction are two new housing complexes which will attend families relocated from upgraded slums and the "Rental Housing Movement", involving in total 2.182 families.
The regularisation of the tenureship is another line of action of this administration. Some 5.838 slum families already attained the land tenure, involving some 37% of the total population living in slums.

The public works and the improvements related with the above interventions are realised directly by the municipality, either through the contracting of construction firms, through mutual self help groups, through a combination of construction firms, municipal management and mutual self help groups or finally through outright self management by the community itself. The ultimate mix of implementation that will be chosen is related with the complexity of the works to be implemented and with the level of organisation of the community.

    Environmental Policy

The type of urban development in Diadema, like all over the world, has resulted in environmental damage, like flooding, erosion, diseases and pollution. The corrective measures that are required are many and some of them have been started by the municipal government through upgrading programs, plantation of trees, separate collection of solid waste, implementation of areas for leisure, recuperation of degraded areas and environmental education.

In order for an environmental policy to be defined in collaboration with the community, so as to safeguard its actual implementation, the Municipal Advisory Council for the Environment was established en June 1993. It is a advisory and deliberative body with representation of the principal organised segments of the city. This discussion forum allows that environmental questions are debated in order to aim at collective solutions.

In addition, there is a so called Municipal Fund for the Environment, directed at giving financial support to the environmental programs. Its main revenues stem from the results of dispositions and penalties.

The proposed guidelines for the various environmental control measures follow the philosophy of the sustainable development concept and can be characterised by the key words orientation, partnerships and integration.

The main city wealth available, the own water supply, is in a very deteriorated state as regards to human consumption. In order to revert this condition, the local government has looked for partnerships with the private sector to realise a monitoring system of the water flows and, with the collected data, to implement a plan for the recovery of the water quality.

One of the most difficult questions to be resolved is the solid waste disposal problem. The city produces daily some 200 ton of domestic solid waste. Not having enough area for the final disposal, Diadema is obliged to send it to other municipalities at high costs. Diadema has sought and found multiple and integrated solutions, like the implementation of a transfer station and the recycling plant.

The municipal environmental policy of Diadema is integrated with the principles of Agenda 21, by taking the principles of sustainable development as a model. By the characteristics of the municipality, the social issue is treated as a priority and the process of transformation is oriented towards the improvement of the quality of life of the city's inhabitants.

    Socio Economic Development

The actual administration is starting a process of opening up the discussion about the local socio economic development. Business entities and unions, research institutes and the interested community are all participating in this debate on al equal basis. The process is aimed at stimulating the local economic development, giving incentives to job creation and improving the quality of the existing jobs. In addition, bottlenecks on local economic development and potentials are to be highlighted by this process.

Through this discussion, Diadema plans to elaborate a Local Economic Development Plan for the city. As one of the first steps, the administration realised an economic census in the municipality of Diadema through which all the industrial, commercial and service units, both formal and informal, were registered.


  • 14.000 families attended with the program of urbanization of favelas since 1983;
  • 166 favelas urbanized since 1983 (in total there are 192 favelas in Diadema).


    Economic Viability of Social Programs

Over the past few year, the municipality has proven to be able to increase the rhythm of investment in sectors like education, health, housing and basic sanitation. This has all the more been al accomplishment since these expenditures have predominantly been financed by its own budgetary resources. The municipality's own finances have improved over time for basically two reasons. The first is an increase in the property tax. In addition, the economic base of the city has steadily improved, especially thanks to the more flexible approval for informal enterprise and the continuing influx of new enterprises to the city.

    The Democratisation of City Management

Already a lot is known about the chaotic situation of the majority of the Brazilian cities and the cities in Latin America. Its poverty, related with the lack of income and employment, basic sanitation, health and decent housing conditions, is growing; just like the rates of environmental degradation and of deterioration of the quality of life of the population.
One of the suggested alternatives to confront this "chaos" has been to look for a "Sustainable Development". A lot of experiences has been arrived at by various governments, non governmental organisations and community groups, trying to combat poverty and to recover the environmental quality. But few of these experiences have met the challenges, have set in motion a process of transformation and have shown to be replicable. To understand why, it is necessary to know the historical and excluding process of urban and economic development in this country and to admit that to meet this type of challenge it will be necessary to implement structural economic and political changes.

Despite of knowing the limitations of a local government in dealing with the above mentioned questions, the municipal administration of the city of Diadema has assumed its political responsibility in this matter, promoting integrated municipal sectoral policies and fighting social exclusion and environmental degradation. A new way of city management, a strong political compromise and the political continuity all helped to realise the consolidation of policies and programs oriented towards the improvement of the quality of life of its inhabitants.
In this scenario, in which the structural questions matter, where the municipal scope is limited, where the availability of resources is limited and where the purchasing power of people is low, the real sustainability that can be reached is by the mutual effort of government and community aimed at the "democratisation of the access to the city" (like urban services, transport and land) and at recovering the environment, either or not constructed.

The municipal administration of Diadema is not only implementing urban services and public works, but is principally working on a participate style of management in which all the inhabitants can express their points of view on the allocation of resources, on the ranking of priority investments and on the sectoral policies. The democratisation is optimising the public investments, attending the majority of the population.


    Pref.Diadema/Habitação Desen.Urbano
    Rua Almirante Barroso 111
    Sao Paulo


    Prefeitura Municipal de Diadema, Habitação Desenvolvimento Urbano
    Pref. Diadema/Secr. Habitação Desen. Urb.
    Rua Almirante Barroso, 111
    Sao Paulo


    Hereda, Jorge
    Rua Almirante Barroso 111
    Sao Paulo

    Negrelos, Eulalia
    Rua Almirante Barroso, 111
    Sao Paulo

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