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The role of buffer zones in Rio de Janeiro urban landscape protection

Mônica Bahia Schlee (Prefeitura da Cidade do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development

ISSN: 2044-1266

Article publication date: 18 September 2017

Issue publication date: 15 November 2017




The purpose of this paper is to analyze and discuss the application of buffer zones as an urban landscape heritage management tool, using Rio de Janeiro as the main case study, in order to inform urban regulation around the sites inscribed as World Heritage Cultural Landscape and disclose its relevance to link urban planning, cultural heritage management and sustainable development.


The methodological approach encompasses: conceptual framework – contextualization of heritage protection theory, focusing on landscape protection and buffer zones; discussion: cross-national comparative overview of buffer zones conceptual framework on the international heritage protection policy; historical background and spatial analysis, through GIS mapping, of local heritage protection policy, tracing its evolution through time; examination of prospects and challenges of this management tool, including strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, based on previous international, local experiences on natural and cultural heritage protection; and gathering of strategies for the implementation of buffer zones in local landscape management.


Core heritage sites and their buffer zones are integrated elements and act together to protect landscape significance and dynamic integrity (DI). In Rio de Janeiro, beyond the function of a caution zone, other important functions of landscape heritage buffer zones are to guarantee spatial and social connections of the protected sites, as well as the visual relationship between them and other significant urban landscape features. Strategies for the implementation of buffer zones in local landscape management should address the articulation of landscape protection governance; the conservation of visual, functional and structural identity quality and legibility and the monitoring of DI.

Research limitations/implications

The methodology approach adopted in this study may also benefit from and foster further investigations, which could include the elaboration of a landscape management plan and an impact assessment inventory, refining the scale of study to the level of local watersheds, and a deeper examination of the popular cultural imprints within the World Heritage property buffer zone.

Practical implications

Strategies to the implementation of the Carioca Landscapes buffer zone include a gradation of protection and control of impacts according to the distance of the core sites (in the form of rings or layers). The buffer zone should help to preserve the character, significance, and DI of the protected sites and guarantee their spatial and social connections, as well as the visual and functional relationship between them and between other significant landscape features of the city. All those management strategies should be founded on the elaboration of a broad urban landscape management plan with the local society involvement.

Social implications

In Rio de Janeiro’s specific case, bridging the vision of culture and nature as opposite poles and, transcending the social segregation through community involvement should certainly be among the main guiding principles to the application of buffer zones for supporting landscape sustainability. Therefore, the establishment of regulation criteria and parameters within the limits of the buffer zone must acknowledge that the (urban) landscape should carefully articulate the different social agent visions and local urban contexts.


The main contribution of this paper is to gather different visions of the role of buffer zones and disclose possibilities of conciliation between theory and practice concerning landscape protection, arguing for gathering natural and cultural heritage policies into the urban planning processes. Harnessed together, the suggested buffer zone implementation strategies may provide a proactive approach to Rio’s urban landscape protection and contribute to foster landscape sustainability and resilience. Although based on a specific case study, the adopted methodological approach may be transferable, with some adjustments, to other World Heritage properties, especially those located in urban areas under development pressures.



The author thanks Michael Turner, Isabelle Cury, the Editors Ana Pereira Roders and Mario Santana, and the anonymous reviewers for the invaluable suggestions, the Instituto Nacional do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico – IPHAN and the Instituto Municipal de Urbanismo Pereira Passos, the Subsecretaria de Meio Ambiente and the Instituto Patrimônio da Humanidade for the access to maps and data bases.


Schlee, M.B. (2017), "The role of buffer zones in Rio de Janeiro urban landscape protection", Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, Vol. 7 No. 4, pp. 381-406.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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