Course:CONS200/2020/The socio-ecological benefits of urban green spaces in Brazil

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Map of Brazil with highlighted regions including the North Region, Northeast Region, Southeast Region, South Region and Central West Region.

Human Geography


Located in South America, Brazil is home to a diverse population of about 213.5 million people.[1] In 2018, the urbanization level was estimated to be 87%, compared to 36% in 1950.[2] The urban population is expected to increase to more than 90% in 2050.[2]


The regionalization of Brazil by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) has produced five distinct macro-regions based on natural, cultural, economic, social, and political similarities: the North Region, Northeast Region, Southeast Region, South Region and Central West Region.[3] The Southeast region, containing the states Rio de Janeiro (17 million) and São Paulo (46 million), has the largest population (89 million), followed by the Northeast (57 million) and South (30 million).[4] The Southeast region has a huge influence on GDP; in 2018, it accounted for 53.1% of GDP, with São Paulo contributing 31.6% to GDP, Rio de Janeiro 10.8%, and Minas Gerais 8.8%.[5] The South contributed 17.1%, the Central west 9.9%, North 5.5%, and Northeast 14.3%.[5] The Southeast region has a large share of GDP due to it being the most industrialized and technologically advanced.[6] That being said, other regions play important roles in several sectors including agricultural production. [6] The South is known for its agricultural development, contributing more than 33% to national agricultural production in 2003.[6]

Example of an urban green space: Kardinal-von-Galen Park, Germany.

What is an urban green space?

The definition of an urban green space will vary between disciplines and different parts of the world, as well as the terms associated with an urban greenspace.[7] Some studies may define green spaces in relation to vegetation, range, explicit examples of what is considered ‘green space’, ecosystem services, or land use.[7] To clear any confusion, researchers are recommended to provide a meaningful definition that will both qualify and quantify the term in relation to their study.[7]

In this wiki page, the following broad definition will be used to describe urban green spaces in Brazil:  green spaces located within the limits of urban communities, characterized by open, unsealed vegetated land in the form of city parks and gardens, nature strips, gardens, and other forms of social and ecological interactions.[8]

Socio-ecological value

Both the definition and qualities of urban greenspaces influence the perceived and obtained values from urban greenspaces in the social-ecological context.[8] This is known as the social-ecological value, and it is defined as “the recognized worth, usefulness or importance of a green space resulting from the interaction between inherent social and ecological qualities possessed by the greenspace."[8]

Sumaúma State Park, which is considered an urban green space, is located in Manaus city in the state of Amazonas, Brazil.

Socio-ecological context in Brazil

Post-Agenda 21, in 2008, the Brazilian Research Network on climate change was established to support the critical need for high quality scientific information public policies[9] to rationalize decisions impacting water, food and energy. However, due to the increasing urbanization level and the effects from climate change which can aggravate environmental and social imbalances, urban green spaces are in danger.[9][10]

Government intervention

Brazil has adopted the Agenda 21, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Statement of principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests in 1992 and recognizes that the lack of greenspaces is an aggravating factor and intensify urban heat island[11] and may aggravate environmental and social imbalance in cities.[10] Agenda 21, introduced in 1996, remains a strategic planning document in terms of sustainability.[12] Major cities in Brazil are will equipped conduct management of green spaces[12] with Federal, state and municipal instruments which govern the territory and are either directly or indirectly associated with the creation and/or protection of green areas. [12]  In 1988 Brazilian Federal Constitution showed a concern with the environment and its management by strengthening the role of the municipalities.[12] However, despite strengthening of laws at the Federal, state and municipal level areas under protection are still subject subdivision and construction whether or not compliant with urban planning legislation and being out of compliance with environmental legislation.[12] The other governmental intervention is similar to the payment for ecosystem services approach, municipality provides fiscal incentives for property covered on tree vegetation, described as permanent or perpetuated.[12]  Another economic instrument used in São Paulo is the creation of public green spaces based on an environmental compensation processes allowing the expropriation of areas to set up a parks and green spaces in compensation for infrastructure development.[12]  Those governments interventions demonstrate many level of government interventions to promote and maintain green spaces throughout urban areas.

Ecological strategies

Environmental planning of green areas in metropils is structured into plans, programs and projects.  The Master plan contains green area policies defining objectives, directives and strategic actions to ensure the expansion of the Municipality’s Green Area System and its appropriate maintenance.  Objectives related to the preservation of all vegetation’s formations in order to guarantee a genetic bank with scientific exploration potential for projects to recover degraded areas and expand natural green area has been partially attained.[12]

Social benefits

People practicing Tai Chi in a park in Hong Kong SAR

Urban green spaces can offer a range of benefits that improve the wellbeing of local communities in addition to aesthetic qualities and the beautification of cities.[13] Green spaces offer a space for individual and group activities including playing sports, running and cycling, as well as  having the opportunity to connect with nature and to relax.[14] However, the availability and quality of green spaces is influenced by several factors including income.[14] In São Paulo, parks are unevenly distributed, with extreme areas of the city having neighbourhoods with barely any parks and poor urban infrastructure.[14] Richer neighbourhoods have nicer parks, and street trees and squares are concentrated in these areas.[14]

Social interactions

Brazil is a culturally rich country.[15] Families can be differentiated based on their social and ethnic background, which in turn influences family structure and values.[15] In general, families are often large and close-family relationships are important.[15] Green spaces allow families to congregate and socialize with non-family members.[14] In São Paulo, groups (families, friends) visit the park for various types of social interactions such as exercising or playing sports together.[14] Children can play with their parents, and may also play with other children through sports.[14] For young people, green spaces can improve social cohesion and sense of community.[16]


Physical and mental health benefits derived from green spaces are a result of the many activities available to individuals and groups.[17]

Mental health

A systematic review found that green spaces generally improve mental health in low and middle-income countries.[18] In Auckland City, New Zealand, close proximity to usable green spaces and a greater percentage of green space within an urban neighborhood were associated with decreased anxiety/mood disorder treatment numbers.[19] Similar findings from the city of Rio de Janeiro found an inverse relationship between the presence of common mental health disorders (CMD), which are associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression, and access to green areas.[20] Particularly, the relationship was more significant in lower-income groups.[20] An additional benefit is stress reduction, which may in turn reduce blood pressure.[21] [22][23]

Physical health

Urban green spaces have been associated with fewer medical conditions.[24][25] In Toronto, Canada, a large urban population center, fewer self-reported cardio-metabolic conditions were observed with higher street tree density compared to people living in areas with lower street tree density.[24] In addition, health perception can be improved by increasing the number of trees per city block.[24] Trees can play such an important role in physical health and health perception that one study estimated that planting "11 more trees in a city block, on average, decreases cardio-metabolic conditions in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $20,000 and moving to a neighborhood with $20,000 higher median income or being 1.4 years younger." [24] Specifically to Brazil, the odd ratio for hypertension diagnosis of São Paulo residents decreased with the number and close proximity to parks.[25] 63% of people that did not live within 1 km of a green space were tied with higher rates of hypertension diagnosis.[25] Similarly to the study in Toronto, more street trees have a “beneficial impact on the diagnosis of hypertension”.[25] Children also experience positive impacts on health-related quality of life when green spaces are accessible and frequently visited.[26]

Ecological Benefits


According to the definition of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the ecological benefit, "In the context of environmental policy and management, [...] applies specifically to net improvements in social welfare that result from changes in the quantity or quality of ecosystem goods and services attributable to policy or environmental decisions."[27] The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) similarly defines the ecological benefit as "The contribution to social welfare of ecosystem goods and services."[27]

Ecosystem Services and Goods

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment defines ecosystem services as the "benefits people obtain from ecosystems."[28] Benefits include provisioning services, regulating services, cultural services, and supporting services.[28] Ecosystem goods include "food and genetic resources"[28] from biodiversity.


The ecological benefits derived from green spaces will depend on the spatial structure of ecosystems.[29] Complex human-dominated landscapes can negatively influence the functioning of local ecosystems by degrading natural habitats, and disrupting or modifying regulating and supporting services.[30] With properly managed urban green spaces that may or may not enhance ecological connectivity, improved ecological benefits can be experienced.[29][31] The following ecological benefits derived from urban greening will be further discussed: air quality and air pollution regulation, amelioration of disturbance or microclimate extremes, and flood prevention.[32] These ecological benefits can ensure that communities save money and minimize infrastructural damage.[32]

Air Quality and Pollution Regulation in Brazil
The smog that hangs over São Paulo for periods of time

Green infrastructure is one of the means to alleviate urban pollution. Green infrastructure can refer to trees, parks or bushes,[33] or even a sustainable urban drainage system.[34] The interaction of these infrastructure with air pollutants can have an impact on human health.[35] São Paulo is one of the largest cities in the world[36], with about 8 million cars, which means one car to each 1.5 citizens.[29] Residents of Sao Paulo are exposed to an environment with an average annual concentration of 21.7μg/m3 of PM2.5. [37] Such pollution is mainly caused by the huge number of vehicles in the city.[38] The size and structure of urban green spaces are important for the concentration and diffusion of air pollution. Studies have shown that trees reduce air pollution, and can effectively filter the air.[39][40][41][42][43] Biomonitoring methods have been used to control air quality.[44] An observational study conducted in Sao Paulo used ANCOVA models to collect the concentration of chemical substances in bark exposed to the air, and the relationship between green space and air quality can be inferred. Studies have shown that the concentration of chemical substances in trees located near major roads has increased by 200% to 350%, but the concentration of chemical substances in tree bark located near green areas has decreased by 30% to 50%.[45]

Noise, Air quality and Pollution and Urban Green Spaces

Creating more well designed urban green spaces will buffer noise, or at least the negative perception of non-natural city noises.[46] The vegetation from the green spaces will impede noise propagation by absorption and diffraction.[47]  Tree photosynthesis in urban green space can offset CO2 emitted by combustions engines but not to any consequential levels considering urban green spaces are limited in space.[48] It is paradoxal that trees are contributing to air pollution by releasing hydrocarbons and reducing the opportunity for dispersal of low level ozone.  Careful design and planting configuration with regards to airflows, shade, and the maintenance of the urban green space need to be carefully considerate to generate the benefits to air quality.[49]

Amelioration of Disturbance or Microclimate Extremes in Brazil

Urban heat Islands can increase temperature by up to 12 degrees Celsius compared to non-urban areas.  This can exacerbate heat stress in city dwellers [32] Trees can provide shade and reduce the demand for air conditioning during heat waves [50] and the inclusion of water bodies in the green areas may enhance cooling effects (1) and the effects exists up to 1 km from the park boundary.[51]

Flood Prevention in Brazil

Flooding is an environmental problem related to the lack of vegetation and green infrastructures, and over the years, the lives and properties of many people have been greatly threatened by flooding.[52] A country should pay more attention to the control of water resources in densely populated metropolitan areas. The implementation of ecosystem services can be achieved through good ecological (or green) infrastructures and their maintenance.[53] In Brazil, the Curitiba Metropolitan Area established large urban parks for flood management. Curitiba is on the Upper Iguacu River Basin[54], due to the poor congenital conditions of this city, historically has flooded often, coupled with the rapid development of urban population and impermeable pavements, has increased the risk of flooding.[54] In 1996, Curitiba Metropolitan Area started building large metropolitan parks around the main river and flood plain, with flood management as the goal. The construction of the park includes artificial channels that can increase the flow of the river, constructed wetlands that can control local water quality, and artificial lakes that can prevent flooding, and a flood warning system has also been developed.[54]

Flood Prevention and Green Spaces

Furthermore, green space may help to reduce the risk of flooding in periods of heavy rainfall by increasing water retention and infiltration, and reducing runoff. [51] Cities such as Curitiba, several green spaces originated as flood mitigation projects. Green spaces comprised vegetation and man-made lake interspersed within the city area serve as retention ponds for flood mitigation purposes.[55]

Case Study: Curibita, Brazil

In the city of Curibita, Brazil, internationally recognized as a model for urban planning and well known for implementing policies that facilitated historic preservation and environmental conservation through the use of urban tools, the relationship between income cohort and proximity to green spaces was analyzed to determine whether the distribution of green spaces within cities was equitable and if it improved overtime.[55][56][57] The results indicate that green spaces are not equally distributed between income cohort and neighborhoods.[55] Despite international recognition and urban planning tools, residents from mostly working-class neighborhoods have no parks within walking distance.[55] Such neighborhoods would highly benefit from parks in close proximity to their homes because they generally cannot afford private facilities for recreational activities.[55]

Management Options for Enhancing Urban Green Spaces

Effective green space management requires various instruments to improve green areas for users.[12] Economic instruments alone, including payment for ecosystem services, to support effective green space management, are found to be fragile.[12] Better management to enhacing urban green spaces includes strengthening the economic aspect, through incentives and subsidies, for private landowners and business people to conserve existing green areas. [12] The addition of recreational opportunities in environmental sensitive areas from constant threats presented by illegal occupations is a passive and indirect, but effective way of enforcing environmental and land use law. [55]


Urban green spaces in Brazil will become an important factor for improving human quality of life given the expected urbanization level of more than 90% in 2050.[2][46] Urban ecosystem services provided by green spaces are linked to mental and physical health benefits such as reduced common mental health disorders (CMD).[20][46][18] Health benefits are particularly impactful for "economically deprived communities including children, pregnant woman and senior citizens."[46] With proper implementation and management, green spaces can nurture local communities by assisting with air pollution control and flood regulation, and provide a safe area for individuals and families to enjoy.[46][28]


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