The top-down governance of metropolitan regions in Brazil



Brazil, metropolitan governance, metropolitan regions, urban agglomerations, metropolitan planning




The paper will explore how metropolitan regions are planned and governed in Brazil. To that effect, it will explain how metropolitan regions are created in the country, and under which premises. It will discuss their governance mechanisms and planning instruments, such as the Integrated Urban Development Plan, public service agreements and public functions of common interest. The methodology draws on the analysis of federal laws and Brazilian legal doctrine, and review of the specialized literature from urban law, urbanism, and planning.

According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), a metropolis is a city that exerts a very high level of influence and attraction over other cities. The 15 metropolises occupy the top of IBGE's urban hierarchy (2020). In Brazilian law, nonetheless, the metropolis as defined by the IBGE has no particular legal status. On the contrary, it has the same status as other cities: a municipality. Since the 1988 Constitution, municipalities are autonomous entities in Brazil. Above the local level, the other autonomous entities are the 26 states and the Federal District, and the federal government.

Between cities and states, but with a different status, we have metropolitan regions (MR). The first law about MRs dates from 1973, through which the federal government created 8 of them. However, since the 1988 Constitution, this competence was attributed to states. In total, there are 76 metropolitan regions in Brazil (Blanco Junior, 2021). In 2015, the Metropolis Statute was enacted, stating that, besides metropolitan regions, states can create urban agglomerations, of which there are 5 in the country (Blanco Junior, 2021; Marrara and Rosim, 2021). Importantly, despite its name, the Statute governs metropolitan regions, not metropolises.

We hypothesize that metropolitan regions have a weak status in the Brazilian legal framework. With no legal autonomy, they are creatures of states, as Gerald Frug (1984) would put it. MRs depend upon states' planning instruments, such as macrozoning plans, which have been considered vague and innocuous (Compans, 2015, p. 19). In practice, public action in MRs takes place mostly through voluntary agreements signed among cities for public service provision. We further claim that the top-down model of creation of metropolitan regions has consolidated, similarly, a top-down model of governance, with little permeability to the demands of cities and their citizenry. As such, the most significant instrument through which cities take part in metropolitan governance is the contract, whereas the planning function is controlled by the state that created the metropolitan region.


Blanco Junior, C. (2021) ‘Regiões metropolitanas no Brasil: avanços e desafios no planejamento e na governança de um território de desigualdades pós-estatuto da metrópole’, in M. A. Costa, L. Lui and S. T. Rebello (Orgs) Governança Metropolitana na América Latina: um panorama das experiências contemporâneas sob uma mirada comparativa. Rio de Janeiro: IPEA, pp. 51-76.

Compans, R. (2015) ‘Metropolitan ungovernability’. Revista Brasileira de Estudos Urbanos e Regionais (RBEUR) 17.2 (2015): 11-14.

Frug, G. E. (1984) ‘The city as a legal concept’, in L Rodwin et al. (eds) Cities of the Mind: Images and Themes of the City in the Social Sciences. Boston, MA: Springer US, pp. 233-290.

IBGE (2020) Regiões de influência das cidades – REGIC. Rio de Janeiro, IBGE. 187p.

Marrara, T. and Rosim, D. Z. (2021) ‘Artigo 2º’, in T. Marrara (Org.) Estatuto da Metrópole: Lei nº 13.089/2015 comentada. Ribeirão Preto: FDRP-USP, pp. 31-43.