By Brian Mier, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs’ Brazil Unit
Erminia Maricato is one of Brazil’s most renowned urban planners. In addition to having published 11 books and contributed nearly 40 book chapters, her lectures, often in public forums and protests, regularly draw large crowds of young people. But she is not merely an academic. Maricato was a key player in four of the most important moments in the last 30 years of Brazilian urban reform.
Maricato was an actor in the movement that created and ratified, through popular petition, articles 182 and 183 of the 1988 Brazilian constitution These articles declare that the social function of property overrides the profit motive and set guidelines for radical urban reform. From 1989-1992, she served as São Paulo’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development within one of the most progressive big-city governments of all time, working alongside Education Secretary Paulo Freire. In this position, Maricato helped create innovative policies that provided technical support for urban social movements to appropriate abandoned buildings and vacant land and convert the properties to self-managed social housing in accordance with the constitution—policies that were later replicated in hundreds of cities across Brazil. She was active in helping create and ratify the landmark Statute of the City in 2001, which creates guidelines for adherence to constitutional articles 182 and 183 and mandates that every city with a population over 20,000 has to facilitate a regular participatory development plan with full budget transparency. From 2003 to 2005, while serving under former Porto Alegre Mayor Olivio Dutra in the Federal Ministry of Cities, Maricato acted as the technical coordinator of President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva’s national urban development policy.
In March of this year, a progressive coalition of labor unions, social movements, student groups, and academic and professional associations called the Frente Brasil Popular brought over one million people onto the streets in scores of cities across Brazil, protesting illegitimate president Michel Temer’s neoliberal pension and labor reforms. These protests were billed by their coordinators as warmups for a national strike that will begin on April 28. At 70 years old, Maricato is coordinating participatory processes to develop the Frente Brasil Popular‘s urban strategy, something she says is for the mid to long term, as “we have some tough times ahead of us.”
I interviewed Maricato in her home in São Paulo’s Pinheiros neighborhood on April 7, 2017.