This essay explores the reasons for the reduced negative effects of the 2008 global financial crisis on Brazil and its cities by applying an analysis that connects these urban effects with the national dynamics. Despite substantial variation within the country, reduced impact can be credited to the response to the crisis by the current Lula administration and to features of the country’s urbanization process. First, universal redistributive social programmes, together with an enlarged domestic market, better insertion in the global economy, prudential regulation and a stable fiscal situation, have put the country in a comfortable position to react to the crisis by adopting countercyclical policies. Second, given the advanced urbanization in Brazil, social and active macroeconomic policies have produced decisive and specific effects on the urban fabric. Recent processes of inland urbanization have created new areas of regional and urban dynamics, thus the impact of the crisis on cities has not only been mild, affecting the most industrialized and internationally oriented metropolises hardest, but has also become an opportunity for strengthening urban areas through active macroeconomic and social policies and helping foster a more decentralized national urban network, thereby leading to stronger links between social inclusion and territorial cohesion.