In 2017, Geraldo Julio, the mayor of Recife, Brazil, heard scientific evidence that ensuring children from birth to age six years got a better start in life resulted in long-term benefits such as improved health, more-effective learning, less likelihood of criminal involvement, and increased employability. Julio, a technically-oriented leader in his second and final term, saw investment in early childhood development as an innovative strategy for addressing chronic crime and economic inequality in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods. To enable parents and young children to move more safely and more quickly to locations where they could find efficiently clustered resources would require the city to align efforts in several city departments, including parks, public works, health, and education. Julio set up a management team and a steering committee to guide that work and won passage of legislation that authorized him to devote municipal resources and grant funding from private groups to the new strategy. The city engaged an existing public–private urban planning partnership to launch and manage pilot projects in two poor but contrasting neighborhoods: one where homes clung to steep, slide-prone hillsides and another where many residents lived in stilt houses on flood-prone riverbanks. It collaborated with a community peace center that could reach target neighborhoods effectively. Further, the mayor’s teams helped municipal departments start projects that would support the new agenda. In mid 2019, nearly two years after the program began, the pilot projects yielded key lessons about how to improve access to services for families with young children.
Bill Steiden drafted this case study with the help of Sam Dearden based on interviews conducted in Recife, Brazil, in March and May 2019. Case published June 2019. The Bernard van Leer Foundation sponsored this case study, which is part of a series, to support learning in the early stages of its Urban95 program. Savvas Verdis and Philipp Rodeof the London School of Economics served as independent reviewers.