Catalyzing Investment in Urban Sustainability
U.S.-Brazil Joint Initiative on
Urban Sustainability


Special Districts and Areas of Interest

Policy Overview

In communities in the U.S., Brazil, and elsewhere, local governments are searching for ways to create vibrant communities that attract jobs, foster economic development, and are attractive places for people to live, work, and play. Increasingly, these governments are seeking more cost-effective strategies to install or maintain infrastructure, protect natural resources and the environment, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In Brazil, federal law (City Statute 10,257/2001) permits the designation of certain areas as "special districts," which allows for different or more flexible zoning codes. In some cases, these districts are geographically defined and shift administrative and financial responsibility to an independent agency that is chosen or created locally. Such a shift can involve delegating responsibility for all services or responsibility for only a certain service. Many special districts provide only one service, but others govern an area that contains a particular economic enterprise, such as a port or airport. Implementing zoning changes is often a key characteristic of special districts, as these changes alter access to or ability to provide services.

How to Apply this Policy

In Brazil and in the United States, special districts and areas have a public foundation and accountability. Generally, a state or municipality has laws governing the types of powers a special district may acquire, and special districts may occur entirely within a city or county or may include several regions that share a common resource, such as a river or power source. These types of districts may be established by legislation, by the court, or by referendum depending on city, county, state, or country. In the U.S., special districts often form municipal corporations, such as business improvement districts, which derive funding from special taxing authority. These entities may also have the authority to issue bonds to raise funds.

Contact Information
Rio de Janeiro State Secretariat of Environment (SEA) 
Sub-Secretariat of Green Economy

The designation of an Area (or Zone) of Special Social Interest (AEIS or ZEIS) allows cities in Brazil to re-zone and create targeted services for a specific, legally defined geographical area. The AEIS served as the cornerstone of the new zoning policy for the Porto Maravilha project and enabled the issue of special financing based on changes in allowed usage. This instrument is also used to facilitate re-zoning of irregular and informal settlements, or "favelas." Because these areas were not originally zoned for urban uses, they do not have basic city services; the AEIS gives the City an opportunity to legalize and formalize existing communities.