Home Institution

Boston University

Publication Date

Fall 2015

Program Name

Brazil: Social Justice and Sustainable Development


his paper examines the relationships between informal settlements, the natural environment, and state policy through a study of Vila Velha, a neighborhood located on the periphery of the northeastern metropolis of Fortaleza, Brazil. Vila Velha poses a unique challenge in local governmental efforts to implement sustainable urban policies: its expansion into the margins of the local Ceará River, where human settlements are illegal, prevents the community from receiving government services such as potable water or waste management. While the local government has created plans to remove these inhabitants from the area, no tangible action has been taken in the approximately ten years that this community has existed. This research project uses eight formal interviews with Vila Velha’s inhabitants, NGO employees, and government officials, as well as a week of participant observation in Vila Velha, to examine Vila Velha’s past and present along with the underlying rationales of both local inhabitants and government officials. It finds that, while federal Brazilian legislation has founded itself in inclusive, sustainable urban policies, local governments must take the initiative in implementing these policies through consistent communication with all of their constituents, and cannot use environmental policy to justify a lack of attention paid to its citizens. This paper concludes that, in the case of informal settlements such as what currently exists in Vila Velha, local governments must make use of long-term policies to remove citizens from environmentally risky areas, as well as faster actions that will decrease environmental harm in the short-term. In order to experience development that is sustainable both socially and ecologically, these policy changes must be paired with systemic changes in how the local government applies urban development policy and how it interacts with its citizens.


Latin American Studies | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Social Policy | Social Welfare | Urban Studies and Planning