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Eastern zone of São Paulo faces the new millennium

Research traces origins and destiny of a region of São Paulo

The architect and urbanist Raquel Rolnik, a professor and coordinator of the master’s course in urbanism at the Pontifical Catholic University (PUC) of Campinas, has just concluded ‘Urban Restructuring in the São Paulo Metropolis: Analysis of Territories in Transition’. The result of 10 months of research, the work makes a profound analysis of the transformations that have occurred in the eastern zone of São Paulo, towards the end of the century, and traces the new economic and urban profile of the region. Sponsored by Fapesp, the work is essential for consultation by anyone concerned with the urban territorial rearrangement in São Paulo.

With research  assistance from FAPESP – R$ 40,000 for the purchase of the necessary equipment, including computers, software and scanners –, a budget of R$ 30,000 from Sesc Belenzinho ( Cultural Center maintained by the Commerce Association) and the Arte Cidade project, and in partnership with Instituto Polis (a non-governmental organization that works on urban and municipal policies), Raquel coordinated a team of five, with students from PUC Campinas and post-graduate students from the College of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU) of the University of São Paulo, from March 1999 to January this year.

“We observed the signs of economic and commercial transformation and labor forms, in São Paulo’s passage from industrialization to outsourced services, and we wanted to see the impact of these changes in places that were occupied by industries”, says Raquel. “We centered on the eastern zone to work on a smaller scale, and because it is there that the principal changes are happening.”

In over 200 pages, documented with tables, maps and aerial photographs, Raquel mapped the region, based on observation of the industries, commerce, and real estate market.  “We mapped this new space, we did thematic charts like a sort of atlas of the eastern zone.”  Raquel and her team used the records of Senai on the industrial structure of São Paulo, from 1968 to 1993, and the records of property launches in the municipality of São Paulo, from 1985 to 1999, from the files of Embraesp (The Brazilian Corporation for Patrimony Studies).

“For each theme that we focused, we used a database; then, we overlaid the spreadsheets and crossed the information, to see what had remained and what no longer exists in the region.”  In the final stage, Raquel also used the results of the Paep, the Survey of São Paulo Economic Activity, made by the Seade Foundation (State data Analysis Foundation). The urbanist thereby traced the new profile of that territory, made up of the set of districts located to the east of the historic center and the axis of the Tamanduateí.

The final result was a surprise. “We had a shock, because the conclusion is very different from what we imagined at the outset: not only has industry continued to exist, it has grown, although it has modified itself”, she notes.  “What changed was its occupation of territory, previously located alongside the railways, and now spread all over the city.”

Another change to be seen in this territory is that the big industries have given way to small and medium industrial concerns.  “Previously, they employed as many as 500 workers, and today they do not use a workforce of more than 100 persons”.  According to Raquel, this is not due to the new machines and to vanguard technology, but rather to outsourcing, which today dominates the city’s economy.  “The companies are providers of services to industry.”

Historical profile
In the introduction to her work, the urbanist turns to history to locate the formation of the previous profile of the eastern suburbs. She recalls that at the end of the 19th century, the golden age of coffee, the city enjoyed its first industrial growth, based mainly on the textile and food industries.  “Occupying the meadows where the railways used to pass, São Paulo’s great working class region was established: its eastern – southeastern zone”, writes Raquel.  The first of the 114 maps that the urbanist presents shows the city in 1877.  It shows that, while the historic hill – or the old downtown – was already occupied and laid out with streets, the meadows of the Tamanduateí, prone to flooding, to the east, continued deserted.

“As the city grows, and the competition for the urban ground increases, the segregation of space begins, and at this point the story of the occupation of the meadow lands begins.”   In parallel with the rails of the trams and the trains, on the horizontal plane, brick warehouses begin to appear, villas and tenements, workshops and shops, peopled by thousands of workers who were arriving in the city, occupying it intensively and quickly.

On the other side, the hills to the south and west, dry and airy, were sought by the upper classes, for residential use.  This is how, first of all, Campos Elíseos, and then Higienópolis, Paulista and the Jardins arose. “The city, strongly divided between the rich and qualified high ground and the poor and unhealthy lowlands, is one of the dominating traits by which one could describe São Paulo in the 19th century”, Raquel continues.

“The barrier represented by the railways – the Santos/Jundiaí, alongside the Tamanduateí meadow, and the Central do Brasil, alongside the meadow of the Tietê – and by the industries (which by the 30s had occupied the whole territory of the railway region, in search of a location favored from the point of view of sending away the merchandise), with a few possibilities for traversing it, was the wall that clearly divided the city’s territory”.  On the basis of the maps that she shows to document the evolution of the occupation of the city, Raquel concludes that the public authorities act historically in the direction of reinforcing the barrier and the differences.

The dominant identity of the eastern region was made up in the wake of industrialization and workers’ housing, consolidated into what the urbanist calls the “Eastern Position”.  “This is the position of the railway and proletarian industrial meadows, the housing estates, the lowlands and their relation with the areas of consumption and high quality housing on the other side of the city.” And, as well, in accordance with her, the position of merely functional investments – and not urbanistic – arriving long after the places had been populated.  “It is the continuous struggle for space in life and citizenship on the part of those who make the region their home”.

The changes that have taken place in the city have traced the new profile of the eastern zone, now portrayed by Raquel. “It is where the industrial transformation is felt most strongly, with the disappearance of employment, of working class identity, and with the disintegration of the very urban space that previously had been structured by industry”, she writes. And it is, she says, where the random growth of spots of economic dynamism and the power of consumption can be seen, prompting the concentration of commerce in the shopping centers and hypermarkets, and the verticalization of property in the region. “The verticalization of the outskirts, with the advent of new two-bedroom apartment buildings , and even four-bedroom high income apartments in districts like Tatuapé, Mooca and Vila Prudente, is a strong residential phenomenon”, she says.

Raquel also observes that the term “de-industrialization” is not applicable to the current stage of the capital city’s industrial park. “The concentration of companies with the potential for innovation, the exportation of the less dynamic factories, and the great dispersion of the small and mini industries over the city indicates that there is a widespread process of industrial reconversion.”  In other words, today’s industries in the eastern zone have abolished the chimneys and heavy machinery, and have been replaced by others, leaner. “There has been a radical change in industry, and industrial employment has disappeared”, she says.

Future organization
The urban structure that comes up from this point is characterized by having available capital that behaves in a less directed manner than in the past. “This does not mean that a better or more homogeneous city is being produced, as even mega-investments in regions that are incompletely urbanized have no repercussion at all in bringing an improvement to their surroundings; their way of insertion has been that of cutting up and fragmenting the surrounding tissue, and, above all, of not establishing any relationship with it”, writes Raquel.

The urbanist concludes that a public intervention in the sense of directing the spirit of the eastern zone is essential. “For the time being, the whole urban growth of the region takes its lead from the market.  Its future will depend on the urban policy adopted in the city of São Paulo, where the market calls the tune, and intervention by the public authorities is scarce”.

Despite the detailed work that the urbanist has carried out to analyze the east side, for her, her research is just a “surface” picture of the new reality in the region. She is therefore planning a new project, to carry out a detailed study of the current profile of its industries.

According to the observations that the urbanist has made on the data from the Paep survey used in her work, high technology companies predominate in São Paulo today. “It is the software industry, programs that produce quality and computerized management that have a big impact and save labor.”

The contents of ‘Urban Restructuring in the São Paulo Metropolis: Analysis of Territories in Transition’ may also be found in a CD for consultation, later distribution, and possible sale.

Raquel used the same method in another research sponsored by FAPESP, in 1997, on the impact of the application of urbanistic instruments in cities of the State of São Paulo with more than 20,000 inhabitants.  At a time of municipal elections, the document can be extremely important for a serious project for government.

• Raquel Rolnik is an architect graduated from the FAU, the School of Architecture and Urbanism, of USP.  She took a doctorate in Urban History at the University of New York.  She was municipal planning director (1989 to 1992). She is a coordinator for the master’s degree in Urbanism at PUC in Campinas.
Project: Urban Restructuring in the São Paulo Metropolis: Analysis of Territories in Transition
Investment: R$ 40,000