General concepts

What do we understand by access to land, territory, good governance and participation?

To think about democratic management and the right to the city it is important to understand some concepts that underlie these terms and which are associated with their practice. They are: access to land, territory, good governance and participation.

Access to land

Box 0Traditionally the access to land is linked to access to the “soil”, “ground”, or the fact of having a property. However, a new vision, globally disseminated by GLTN and UN-Habitat, has been increasingly adopted.

This view consists in thinking access and right to land wholly. In other words, access to land is not only access to land “itself”, but also to its resources and infrastructure, such as housing, food, transportation, recreation and economy.

Therefore, the reasons for lack of access to land are complex and come from a set of situations, not just issues of land regularization or property cost.

When it comes to the urban environment this is generational bias in the following areas – gender inequality, racial inequality, patterns of urbanization and geographical distribution, power relations, and other.

Box 0 v2


To address the issue of land access from the perspective of cities it is necessary to address it along with the concept of territory.

That because “territory” is understood as the “place” where the State exercises its sovereignty; the space where the Constitution and the laws of that State shall apply.[1] In other words, “it is the space to which it is circumscribed validity as state law” (DALLARI, 2013, p. 87).

It is in this space –in the territory– that the cities organize the infrastructure, goods and public services offered for the population. It is also in this space that social relationships are developed, both between individuals and between public and private organizations.

Therefore, two dimensions are attributed to territory: its materiality and the feelings it provokes (HAESBAERT, 2004).

Although the first dimension is the most widespread, we understand that we need to give special relevance to the second, because it is in the process of the appropriation of space –the right to create cities that meet our needs directly– that many consider to be the right to the city[2]. It is about the creation of affective bonds and meanings with space and the care with the collective.

It is from this perspective that also comes the definition of land / territory of indigenous people, since “for the Indians, land is a collective good, destined to produce to meet the needs of all members of society. Everyone has the right to use the resources of the environment through hunting, fishing, gathering, and agriculture. Although the work product can be individual, existing obligations between individuals ensure to all the usufruct of all resources.” (MUSEU DO ÍNDIO, 2014).

Thus, our proposal is to see the territory of the city as a collective good, where the diversity of people and relationships need to be valued and the rights of all the guaranteed.

With this understanding, we begin to appropriate the territory in our daily lives, in claiming our rights and in our participation in the democratic management of the city.

Good Governance

Governance is a concept that has taken on different meanings over time. According to experts in administration and regional development,

Fig1“Resorting to different conceptions of governance, based on benchmarks authors, some expressions are recurrent. Without the worry of hierarchy, stand out definitions which refer to: (1) a new way of governing and policymaking as a process of making decision relatively horizontal, which includes a plurality of public, semi-public and private stakeholders, different from the old hierarchical model, no longer sustained by the domination or the legitimate violence, but by the negotiation and cooperation based on certain principles submitted to consensus; (2) a complex decision making process that anticipates and exceeds the government, as a new model of collective regulation, based on the interaction of a network of public, associative, commercial and community stakeholders; (3) a complex set of institutions and stakeholders, public and non-public, acting in an interactive process (STOKER, 1998).” (CANÇADO; TAVARES; DALLABRIDA, 2013, p. 328)

In Brazil, the Sustainable Cities Programme defines governance as a process that “involves how the territory is organized politically and the participation of civil society.” (PROGRAMA CIDADES SUSTENTÁVEIS, 2013).

When it comes to land governance, the GLTN articulates with such conceptions placing it as a concept that “concerns the rules, processes and structures through which decisions are made about access to and use of land, the manner in which the decisions are implemented and enforced, and the way that competing interests in land are managed.” (UN-Habitat 2010, p.14,).

Therefore, land governance includes not only government and institutions provided by law, but also institutions and customary structures and informal agents, be them community based, religious, or other, according to the context. It includes all formal and informal practices that rule the access to land and power relations. The power structure of a society is, among other things, reflected in land governance. At the same time, governance can express the distribution of power in society.

Who benefits from the current legal, institutional and policy framework for land? How does this framework interact with formal authorities and informal systems? What are the incentive structures for land use? And what are the constraints? Who has what influence on the way that decisions about land use are made? How are the decisions enforced? What recourse exists for managing demands? (ONU-Habitat, 2010). It is due to reflections like these that it is important to think about how “good governance” occurs, since there are many ways of constituting political, social and power relations.

In view of the UN good governance, within governments, “promotes equality, participation, pluralism, transparency, accountability and the rule of law in an effective, efficient and longstanding way.” (Ban Ki-Moon, 2009).

Regarding land, UN-Habitat has demonstrated that when land governance is effective, equitable access to land and security of tenure can contribute to the improvement of social, economic and environmental conditions. It can ensure that the benefits arising out of land and natural resources are managed responsibly and equitably distributed. The land administration can be simplified and made more accessible and efficient (UN-Habitat, 2010).

On the other hand, weak governance, whether in formal land administration or in customary tenure arrangements, affects in particularly poor women and men and grassroots communities and may leave them marginalized. Often their land rights are not protected and, in many cities, they live in constant fear of eviction, today commonly justified by “development.” Weak governance may also mean that land is not used properly to create wealth for the benefit of the entire society or country (UN-Habitat, 2010).


Although the definitions of good governance differ in some aspects, most of them bring an element in common: participation as a structural axis of good governance.

Participation is a concept that varies and depends on historical, social and political contexts. Derivations such as community participation, popular participation, political participation, social participation, civic participation etc; evolved into a complex network of “forms of participation”. Therefore today they range from the conquest of rights and execution of the powers given to the population to action and consciousness of citizens.

Thus, participation is part of social (including cultural and economic), political and legal fields, varying in at least three perspectives: 1) the way it is organized; 2) the way is related to the State and 3) the way the law requires the government its implementation or not (AVRITZER, 2008).

We considered in this project, therefore, the word participation in its broadest meaning: influence on public policy; community action; or activism; movements and protests; exercise and definition of rights; social control; (re) construction of democracy, and so on. This is because if we do not consider the whole, we see with limitations the participatory process.

Because of that, it was observed processes we divided in to categories: formal participation (provided by law and/or promoted by the government) and informal participation (not performed or promoted by the government).

[1] Paulo Bonavides in his book “Ciência Política” would affirm that this vision belongs to the theory of territory-object where the territory “becomes a thing, but from the point of view of the public right”. (BONAVIDES, 2008, p. 108).

[2] “Right to the city means the right of all of us to create cities that meet human necessities, our necessities.” David Harvey – Declaration originally given on: