Academic journal article Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management

Legacies and Challenges of Urban and Regional Planning in Brazil and the United States

Academic journal article Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management

Legacies and Challenges of Urban and Regional Planning in Brazil and the United States

Article excerpt


The twentieth century witnessed spatial transformations in Brazil and in the United States. The late ingress of Brazil in capitalism (Mello, 1984) and relationships set up between domestic and foreign capitals (Tavares and Serra, 1971; Cardoso and Faletto, 1969) determined the pattern of economic growth, distribution of wealth and the shape of regions and cities. Not only did the United States' privileged position in postwar economy increase investments but it also added millions of consumers in the domestic market. Despite the differences between Brazil and the United States some common elements can be identified: both countries experienced industrial decentralization, which changed the subnational economic balance; both countries have adopted urbanization patterns that reinforce social inequalities; and both of them have faced the post-1970s economic chances by using similar tools in spite of their different development conditions.

The article describes the differences and similarities between Brazil and the United States as they relate to the effectiveness of urban and regional development policies to reduce spatial inequalities. This work is based on the idea that the capitalism dynamic produces inequalities as set out by different schools of economists, from the Marxists (Lenin and Trotsky, 1959), to the authors who studied the Latin American experience (Hirschman, 1958, Myrdal 1957; Prebisch, 1949; Furtado, 1961), until the institutionalists (North, 1955). There is no doubt that the government intervention can reduce social disparities, as well as provide support and stability for economic growth.

The paper is organized in three parts. The first part describes the process of industrial decentralization in the major regions of Brazil and the United States, and the second discusses the urban expansion in both countries. As a conclusion, the final part presents some challenges faced by both countries.


The decentralization of the early industrialized areas in the Midwest and Northeast of the US began during WWII, although the process intensified in postwar period. In the 1950s the Northeast experienced a dramatic reduction of industrial jobs unlike the Southern states, which attracted population and investments starting from the 1960s. In the 1980s new industrial restructuring hit the East North Central areas (Markusen, 1985). The Northern industrial decentralization has divergent explanations. According to mainstream economists the convergence of production costs pushed the industrial plants to the Southern while non-orthodox authors believe that the displacement is a result of capitalism changes.

The convergence thesis is based on the idea of free movement of capital and labor, as argued by neoclassical economists. According to this mainstream approach, the low prices of land and wages appealed to companies under pressure from trade unions. Furthermore, friendly environmental regulation attracted industrial plants to the South, creating growth that reduced the income gap between the North and the South. In contrast, Perry and Watkins (1977) believe that the convergence thesis suggests a simply reproduction of production organization from the North to the South which is inconsistent with the changes in both domestic and international market. About the low wages argument they showed that 90% of total jobs created between 1940 and 1960 in the Southern factories had wages above national average. Low-wage jobs were only 40% of total employment in the Southern industries in 1960.

The United States economic growth in the postwar period was led by the expansion of agriculture, defense expenses and extractive industries (especially oil and gas), in addition to urbanization related activities, such as real estate and construction. All these segments shifted to the South. Perry and Watkins (1977) believe that the Northern cities failed to adjust to the changes in capitalism in that time. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.