The purpose of this project was to observe some practices related to youth participation in land governance and reflect about how young people occupy and access land in the city of São Paulo. To also understand what youth participation mean in this context, and what role young people play (or should play) in governance.

1- How youth-friendly are the participation processes established for democratic management of cities?

2- What are the barriers and opportunities for promoting youth participation in land governance?

3- What tools can strengthen the engagement of young people in decision-making processes in Sao Paulo

During the research, we realize that the term “land governance” is still not widely used among the different sectors we talked, and that there is also no consensus on its understanding. Land governance requires a reflection on how we relate to society and how we seek solutions to the places where we live. In this sense, the findings of this action research were quite exciting.

Below, we describe the reflections generated by the three questions that guided the project.

1- How youth-friendly are the participation processes established for democratic management of cities?

As noted in the research, the City Statute is the federal law that guides the urban development policy in Brazil, establishing different guidelines to ensure the “right to a sustainable city”. This includes public participation, without favoring specific groups, in decision-making processes in relation to urban planning –called “democratic management of the city.” However, although it is a major breakthrough in the Brazilian legal system, it is part of a process that is still under construction, especially in regards to methodologies and strategies for public sector involvement in a constant dialogue with the population.

In regards to the legal aspects observed in the research, it was interesting to realize that while “youth and urban development” may not be understood as a topic directly linked to land governance –both among those dealing with urban development and those engaged in youth affairs –, the Brazilian law allows the Statute to be combined with other laws enabling a fruitful initial interpretation of the case. While the City Statute brings the principle of sustainability and democratic management, the Youth Statute reinforces the theme of participation, stating that the youth participation in the formulation of public policies and the expansion of intergenerational dialogue are fundamental for the development of country. The Youth Statute presents a proposal for a clearer participatory structure, while touching directly on issues related to urban dynamics, such as territory, mobility and again sustainability –central to the connection “governance – youth – territory”.

Moreover, in the participatory democracy model of the Brazilian Constitution, written in 1988, it is foreseen two types of democracy: semi-direct and indirect. The indirect democracy is exercised through political representatives who act as prosecutors of the population. They are responsible for decision-making and formulation of public policies (vote and be voted). The semi-direct democracy includes instruments such as the referendum, plebiscite, popular initiative and the popular action; debates, hearings, etc., which seeks to ensure that the laws are designed for society at all levels.

Thus, it was also important to confirm through analyzes and discussions, that the improvement of the participatory context does not depend solely on one or more laws, but on its actual application and how they are implemented or not. It is necessary undoubtedly to provide opportunities for people to be part of decision-making, but simple opening channels for participation does not guarantee quality of participation. Therefore, in addition to understanding if the political systems are participatory or not, it is necessary to also understand how the participation and engagement of people is.

For this reason, there is still a lot to be done in relation to actions involving awareness raising about “what participation is” and “how can participation be done” –both aiming at the population as well as the government–, as well as ensuring the effectiveness of the instruments created for the democratic management of cities. It is important to expand the potential development of youth skills by encouraging political education. This can happen in several ways, from training courses and practices, to empowering civil society for youth to organize themselves and challenge those areas of formal participation. These are essential premises so that we can create more consistent and friendly participation processes.

Another aspect identified throughout the research, which is presented as consensus, is the fact that information about governments should be accessible and understandable to all citizens and that the government needs to be aware of emerging social practices and dialogue with them. Regarding this aspect, the city of São Paulo has had interesting developments, such as the creation of the Municipal Youth Coordination and its liaising with organizations and movements led by young people; the construction of the last Municipal Master Plan, which paved the way for popular participation through public consultations in all areas of the city, and the establishment of an initial fund of 1.5 million dollars created by the city in partnership with three departments –human rights, culture and services– to promote the participation of young people in public spaces using the technology, which held public hearings to agree with the population the best way to organize the criteria of the notice with the best involve youth in the process order .

Finally, on the theory side, to help reflection on how to make participatory processes more youth-friendly, there is a model that divides the propensity to participate in four perspectives (VAZ, 2013):

1)    Material and symbolic resources: resources available for each individual would be decisive for its participation;

2)    Associations and identity formation: the individual’s interaction networks “call” for participation as part of the constitution of its own identity;

3)    Rational Preferences: participation is driven by rationality and information and the search for benefits and welfare;

4)    Embarrassment and institutional design: the participation is strongly linked to existing opportunities in terms of rules and institutions, which can boost or curb participation.

From these inputs, one has to reflect, plan, make it happen and learn in practice. This is the first step to promote the territory as social integration space. The contrary, fell in empty talks of the importance of participation – which is essential, but that alone does not guarantee that we move forward in this direction.

2- What are the barriers and opportunities for promoting youth participation in land governance?

The research showed that the occupation of public spaces is understood as an essential part to identity formation and expression of youth. Forms of occupations of the cities, protests and other informal initiatives of occupation of public spaces show a clear yearning for power re-distribution, created by the need to extend the forms of participation.

In this sense, youth can be seen as a driving element for the right to the city, since, from their desires, they can influence the restructuring of public policies. This was the case, for instance, with the creation of the Coordination for the Right to the City, body established by the Municipal Human Rights and Citizenship Secretary of São Paulo.

Therefore, to talk about land governance is also to talk about “power” – guaranteed to the people by the Constitution –and how we deal with it. This reflection is important because, as we have seen, in order to effectively guarantee “power to people”, it is essential to increase the exchange between people and the public sectors as well as the possibilities for participation. This is especially important when it comes to youth, a group that presents and requires new participatory models and practices.

One of the points questioned by youth in relation to the spaces of formal participation, for example, is the fact that these spaces are organized based around rules, formalities, resources and conferred powers, which often hinders or even inhibits youth expression. At the same time, it is often pointed out the fact that access to information is not facilitated and that there is no monitoring and feedback, which are especially important to ensure the mobilization and commitment of civil society.

In light of the “Days of June” in Brazil, it seems that the need and desire for a new pattern of governance have been reinforced. This does not mean, however, that there should be an end to formal participation. On the one hand, the existence of participatory institutions does not guarantee that there is participation, on the other, the existence of these institutions is a prerequisite for democracy and good land governance.

In this sense, Avritzer (2008) argues that the success of participatory processes is not related to the institutional design, but the way institutional design, civil society organization and political will is articulated to implement participatory design. While the processes of informal participation are often transforming and creating new ways to reflect, influence and intervene.

It is clear, then, that urban governance is characterized by a constant process of construction, which involves different aspirations, wishes and demands –and popular participation one of its dimensions. And that this process must be thought out with a strong focus on the people. The management of cities is extended beyond the government and becomes a collaborative space between all sectors. That is why the right to the city is also presented as the right to citizenship, which means, the right of citizens to participate in deciding their own destinies.

The research also enable us to identify that, in general, young people have difficulties to access the various aspects related to land, in particular, housing. The experience of Sao Paulo shows that access to land is influenced not only by more objective factors such as legalization and urbanization process, but also by others, not always noticed and taken into account, such as inequalities (class, gender etc.) and racial prejudice.

For this reason, the perspective of the right to the city is an interesting approach to land governance, as it demonstrates the interdependence of issues and policies. For example, to access leisure facilities, young people need good public transportation, their stay in public spaces also has to do with security, and so on.

Based on this, we highlight the following opportunities and barriers to youth participation in land governance.


  • Development of participatory policies and methodologies in collaboration with young people –”with” and “for” youth;
  • Rethink the territory of city, beyond their social and political context. Both the government and the social movements have been working through a territorial approach;
  • Diversify the tools and forms of participation. An example that has worked in some territories is to have a youth representative in the community (liaison) that bridges the gap between the needs of youth and the city administration;
  • Use Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to promote participation;
  • Use new languages to generate content such as music and art.


  • Time, because of work, study, maternity, among others;
  • Lack of access to information, lack of knowledge about the channels, forms and possibilities of participation;
  • Language used –formal and technical language;
  • Perception of lack of effectiveness and feedback from the governmental organizations;
  • Generational Prejudice –opinion not legitimate;
  • Racial prejudice and gender;
  • Disbelief regarding the effectiveness of participation.

3- What tools can strengthen the engagement of young people in decision-making processes in São Paulo?

To answer this question it is necessary, first, to list a few important principles for defining the tools. Tools that strengthen engagement must:

  • To consider youth as a key stakeholder;
  • Provide conditions for self-development and promote intergenerational dialogue;
  • Develop skills for decision-making and solving complex problems;
  • Encourage the participation in projects related to the community where they live;
  • Encourage participation in political education and awareness processes and provide conditions for taking part on negotiations and advocacy processes;
  • Encourage the establishment of alliances and coalitions and the participation in boards of different movements, government agencies, private institutions, civil society, informal initiatives, etc.

These principles only reinforce that there is a need to invest in raising awareness about participation as the fundamental basis to support engagement, as well as providing the conditions for the development of these youth in society. Recognize local and informal initiatives in which young people act and connect them with existing formal decision-making processes is another fundamental point. This can open a dialogue and build other bridges with current political systems, expanding the possibilities of participation.

Some of the tools presented in the research show ways of how these assumptions can be incorporated. From the consultations led by the government, we highlight the DiálogosSP done specifically for youth, the use of graffiti as a means of expression of the demands and wishes of young people and the Urban Management portal, which, despite not having made specific consultations with young people, has used user friendly language and ICTs throughout the process. On the side of the proposals developed by the civil society, My Sampa, the Augusta Park Movement and the different networks led by young people –some that were strengthened or created after the “Days of June” show the power of collaborative methodologies and the use of different languages. Finally, the methodologies applied in the case studies we examined expose the potential of empowerment and practical action of young people.

The participation thermometer, pilot project developed in partnership with young people from Campo Limpo (suburb of Sao Paulo), in few meetings, identified and classified the areas of participation (public and private) within the territory, sharing with local civil society some observations and insights on the role of the young people in land governance. While the OASIS methodology, allowed young people to participate directly on the planning and transformation of the public spaces where they live [1].

Final Thoughts

Considering the whole scenario presented by this project, we believe –and hope– that with the growing understanding of the importance of including youth in urban development and in political processes, the “bottom-up” participation processes could continue increasing in terms of social mobilization and in the promotion of active participation in the solutions for our cities.

Cities, like Sao Paulo, are able to develop other methods that best meet youth aspirations in regards to participation. And as we move forward, it is important to continue questioning: Are we trapped on mental models from the past? What are the emerging models and new political participation practices in the XXI century? What the constant demonstrations and protests around the world tell us about the current political systems? Where can we expand our perceptions of the different forms of participation and act in more synergy with the needs and desires of young people –linking new technologies and the possibility of direct intervention? These and other reflections help us understand and act on this complex context which is filled with potential.

Young people want to be able to act in the micro-level – in their neighborhoods, areas, cities –but also want to engage and exchange experiences with other global initiatives. Youth want to be connected. Want more transparency, but not just want that. Want to collaborate to develop new ideas. Youth want to be heard. They want to establish a dialogue, but also are seeking ways to best go about it. Dialogue with the different is a challenge to which all of us need to open up. There is room for more fruitful results if we learn to promote and foster the opportunities generated by collective intelligence.

We are just beginning and this conversation gives rise to other dialogues with which we hope to contribute and thus undertake new journey of discovery!


[1] Other initiatives that promote youth participation have been mapped during the research and can be found in our “initiatives map”. To learn more visit: