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Using greenways to reclaim nature in Brazilian cities

Key Message

For a relatively small amount of money, green corridors can reconnect the parts of a city. They can be attached to streams, rivers, or shores to provide soft edges and restore flood plains, intensify topographic features, rivers and ridges and offer an absorbent surface for rainwater. They function as pathways for people to travel under their own exertion, not as ancillaries to an avenue of cars.


Frischenbruder, M.T.M., & Pellegrino, P. (2006). Using greenways to reclaim nature in Brazilian cities. Landscape and Urban Planning, 76(1-4), 67-78.


This paper presents eight recent case studies of greenways proposed or implemented in Brazil ranging in scale from a statewide plan to landscape design for a specific site and also describes the strategies used in each example to preserve, restore and create green spaces. Each case study is analyzed according to its capacity to contribute to a more sustainable urban environment and to foster a more livable and significant landscape. This “blue” and “green” infrastructure is happening as a consequence of changes in the criteria used by public administration and private agents which previously saw each open creek, wetland or forest patch in the middle of or adjacent to an urban area as an empty space and a potential building or road construction site. This more environmentally concerned approach to planning and design, previously shared only by some visionaries in universities and other research centers, is gaining momentum. It is becoming visible across the whole spectrum of Brazilian cities and regions and is becoming part of the agendas of local communities and public administration.

These case studies were chosen from a survey undertaken by the authors among planners, designers and researchers in universities, in public and non-governmental bodies and in the private sector, involved in the planning and designing of greenways. Greenways are linear open spaces that could perform ecological and social functions such as maintaining biological diversity, protecting water resources and promoting recreational and social cohesion, all by providing the crucial connectivity among green urban areas and other remnant vegetation patches across a landscape (Hellmund and Smith, 1993; Forman, 1997).

Following an inclusive definition of greenways as proposed by Ahern (1995), those linear elements in the landscape form networks planned, designed and managed for multiple purposes and their key attributes are:
1. Their linear configuration which offer advantages over other landscape elements in terms of movement and transport.
2. They realize a synergy based on the linkages across special scales.

The case studies presented here were analyzed in terms of:
1. expansion and enhancement of public and open spaces based on their use as diverse mixed-use magnets for tourism, education and recreation, with residential, commercial and neighborhood amenities;
2. being part of a comprehensive transportation plan with expanded regional and local connections, linking neighborhoods and improving paths for pedestrian use;
3. promoting sustainability and excellence in design, with environmentally sensitive development

The subject of this study is to look at research, planning and design projects in Brazil that have assessed open spaces for potential greenways, both in urban and in regional surroundings. To achieve this goal we first defined what should be considered a greenway and how the related data could be accessed. This work involved developing a survey questionnaire.

The main topics of the questionnaire were organized so as to identify:
1. The location and geographical dimension of the study areas.
2. The biomes, in which the cases are inserted.
3. The surrounding land use and the environmental quality and the health of the ecosystems involved.
4. Their contribution to legal instruments and other law enforcement used by plans and public programs.
5. The ecological functions and their role as natural regenerative systems.
6. The social functions and interactions with surrounding communities (social-environmental sustainability).
7. Implementation and management conflicts were also examined.


Eight cases presented above are all located in the original Atlantic Forest Biome in southeastern Brazil and represent the recent movement in Brazil concerning the application of legal instruments for the creation and implementation of greenways in urban or rural landscapes. These legal instruments are mostly concern federal laws that protect native vegetation (Brasil, 1996) as well as water resources protection laws applied to watersheds under either federal or state jurisdiction. Finally there are the local master plans, which should be designed to regulate land use. Characteristic of this humid tropical region is high rainfall and dense drainage networks amid a rugged terrain that have been the main constraints for urban development. This makes greenways the natural nonstructural option to resolve this hydrological and soil stability problem. And not surprisingly all cases here presented are related to the search for a viable solution for floodwaters, soil conservation and preventing loss of bio-diversity in the cities.

The three cases of greenways at the regional scale show that the main concern of these projects is the creation of connectivity between the remnants of natural patches of vegetation in order to achieve ecological sustainability. But what can be seen as the most crucial aspect at this scale is to create guidelines that can provide parameters for specific projects at the local scales.

The cases at the landscape scale allow the application of landscape ecology principles because they focus on heterogeneous land mosaics. This is a critical spatial scale for land use issues and the efficient configuration of an open space system. The principles of landscape ecology provide a conceptual framework against which one can evaluate, plan and manage any greenway, given that a landscape manifests an ecological unity throughout its area (Forman, 1997).

As demonstrated in the present discussion, the planning and designing of greenways in Brazil is on the verge of becoming one of the most important tools for planning and public policies aimed at achieving a better quality of life for urban dwellers through the various functions carried out by these open spaces. Greenways have allowed us to think of the landscape in a much more active way, as a living agent capable of changing the surrounding conditions. Our role as planners and designers therefore is to design landscapes that can thrive in and improve those conditions.

Their implications are dramatic: for a relatively small amount of money, these green corridors can reconnect the parts of a city. They can weave themselves through a city, spreading them democratically to reach all areas. They can be attached to streams, rivers, or shores to provide soft edges and restore flood plains, intensify topographic features, rivers and ridges and offer an absorbent surface for rainwater. They function as pathways for people to travel under their own exertion, not as ancillaries to an avenue of cars. However, for greenways to achieve their full potential in our cities some tasks must first be undertaken: first, the production of scientific information and its application as a planning and design tool; second, the training of planners and designers at the private and public levels able to make plans and designs that are ecologically sound and to evaluate them using the previously mentioned tools; and finally, the sharing of information with all sectors of society concerning the consequences and various alternatives implicit in each case.

Following this review, it becomes clearer that connecting everyone involved in greenway projects is fundamental. Another concern is consulting public opinion on the values and advantages of the green open spaces in their neighborhoods. We have been able to assess the feasibility of creating greenways in Brazil for the purposes of this paper, but broadening public discussion remains a task for a network of researchers and professionals involved in planning and design in Brazil.

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| © 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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