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Rearrangements in the Metropolis

Population figures show that communities on the periphery of Greater São Paulo have become more heterogeneous, with middle and lower classes living closer to each other while the elites still occupy the more exclusive zones

In downtown São Paulo, a building occupied by the homeless (at rear), close to a Metro stop, is reflected on the windows of a recently-renovated building: the city has changed less than anticipated and in a different way

Léo RamosIn downtown São Paulo, a building occupied by the homeless (at rear), close to a Metro stop, is reflected on the windows of a recently-renovated building: the city has changed less than anticipated and in a different wayLéo Ramos

Something has happened in the 21st century to the patterns of residential segregation in Metropolitan São Paulo that was not anticipated at the end of the last century. Residents of the metropolis are still highly segregated, but the pattern has not followed the expected trend toward polarization of spaces and social structure. While the areas inhabited by the elites have become more exclusive than ever, the rest of the city has undergone a change that has made it more heterogeneous. “The hypothesis of social polarization, expressed in famous metaphors such as ‘a divided city,’ is still alive, but did not prove true in São Paulo, says Eduardo Marques, a professor in the Political Science Department at the USP School of Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences (FFLCH-USP) and researcher at the Center for Metropolitan Studies (CEM), one of the Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDC) supported by FAPESP. “The dynamics of the social structure did in fact point to the occupational polarization of the 1990s, but that trend was completely reversed in the decade of the 2000s. Compared with forecasts, the metropolis has changed less, and in a different way.”

The picture painted by the research confirms a diagnosis that emerged during the 1990s and associated the major urban trends with transformations that have taken place in capitalism since the 1970s, such as the formation of a social group of the super-rich and the creation of protected compounds that would become home to the captains of business. However, the effects of the de-industrialization that began during the period—said to be the curtailment of intermediate activities in the scale of production, in particular the Ford model of industrial mass production—were not fully confirmed by the study of the changes that occurred in São Paulo in the last few decades.

The presence of industry has diminished in relative terms in favor of retail trade and services—a sector that generated 800,000 jobs during the 2000s in Greater São Paulo—but not because of the dwindling of industrial activity, as in other countries, but rather because factories have decamped to other regions, such as the macro-metropolises of Campinas and São José dos Campos. Furthermore, the effect of continued Ford-style mass production has been that its workers (skilled manual labor) have achieved the status as the most numerous social class in the metropolis according to the 2000 Census, although “in a decline associated with the growth of the professional class and the middle strata.” The impact on the map of social segregation is important: the classes that have grown proportionately the fastest tended to disperse during the first decade of this century, while those that declined in number (the wealthiest class) increased their exclusivity.

Marques arrived at these conclusions through a study that used census data from 1991, 2000, and 2011. An article on the subject, entitled “Social structure and segregation in São Paulo: Transformations during the decade of the 2000s,” was published in December 2014 in the journal Dados by the Institute of Social and Political Studies (Iesp) at Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) and will make up of the chapters of a forthcoming book São Paulo 2010: Espaços, heterogeneidades e desigualdades na metrópole (São Paulo 2010: Spaces, Heterogeneities and Inequalities in the Metropolis), scheduled to be released by Editora Unesp in May 2015.

With respect to the distribution of housing in the metropolis, the study detects both a pattern of social avoidance confirmed by the index of dissimilarity and the Moran’s I Index value (measures of residential segregation) and a proportional distribution of classes in the metropolitan region. “It’s not simply a group that isolates itself, although the elites really are the most segregated groups; rather it is a characteristic of the very structure of segregation,” says Marques. “The data suggest, rather eloquently, that the greater the social distance between classes, the greater the degree of segregation, suggesting a pattern of avoidance in the residential choices made by groups who can pay higher prices for the land.” This conclusion is consistent with anthropological and sociological studies that deal with subjects such as the use of public spaces in cities, gated communities, and the rise of shopping centers.

Houses in Paraisópolis, with buildings in Morumbi in the background: enclaves of manual workers in the territory of the elite

Léo RamosHouses in Paraisópolis, with buildings in Morumbi in the background: enclaves of manual workers in the territory of the eliteLéo Ramos

Besides being very intense, segregation is also strongly hierarchical, as evidenced by the data measured by the index of dissimilarity. “The degree of differentiation is arranged perfectly by class,” says Marques. That progression causes the dissimilarity to be minor between any one group and its contiguous groups, but much greater for groups that are distant from them in the structure. Another significant deduction found in a chapter by Danilo França in the upcoming book is that segregation is not only socioeconomic, but also ethnic-racial, the latter superimposed on the former, in much the same way as when one considers social classes and skin color simultaneously, a combined hierarchy appears.

This is an apparently paradoxical phenomenon, and one of the factors behind the increasing heterogenization of the outskirts of the city that has already been studied in literature as “physical proximity and social distance.” It is what occurred, for example, as a consequence of the increased popularity, in peripheral zones, of gated communities—which were themselves already heterogeneous because they served the people in the variable income strata found between those at the top and those in the middle class. In Greater São Paulo, this phenomenon had a tremendous impact on peripheral areas such as the municipalities of Barueri, Cotia, and Santana de Parnaíba.

On the scale of dissimilarity indices, spatial distributions of the middle class more closely resemble those of the lower classes, thus reinforcing the finding of a mixed fabric in Greater São Paulo, except for the intense segregation of the classes at the top of the structure. In the overall comparison, the elites exhibit the highest indices of segregation and the middle classes exhibit the lowest.

That is evidence of the limitations of the social polarization hypothesis: the local effects of global processes are not always the same. “In Brazil, after the restructuring of the 1990s, the current century has brought the return of employment, growth in the formal labor force, and the improvement of wages,” says Marques. “That, added to changes in the patterns of demographic growth and the government’s investment in infrastructure, accompanied by a better distribution of construction activity, contributed to the heterogenization of the periphery.” The researcher observes that the period he studied predated the launching of the federal program My House, My Life that has produced approximately 130,000 housing units in Metropolitan São Paulo since 2009.

As a statistical parameter, Marques used the EGP (Erikson, Goldthorpe and Portocarrero) classification, adapted to circumstances in Brazil. This is a method of grouping occupational categories in order to observe “milder, more continuous and durable” fluctuations than those based solely on education or income, for example. Another advantage of the EGP classification is that it provides common ground for international discussions. One of the activities of the CEM is carried out by a group that does comparative research on international patterns of public policies and governance in São Paulo, Paris, London, Mexico City, and Milan. Officially, the CEM has principal offices at two sites: one at FFLCH-USP and the other at the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (Cebrap).

In the foreground, the skeleton of a building in Vila Leopoldina in the west zone of São Paulo. In the background, new buildings that rose during the real estate boom of the early years of this century

Léo RamosIn the foreground, the skeleton of a building in Vila Leopoldina in the west zone of São Paulo. In the background, new buildings that rose during the real estate boom of the early years of this centuryLéo Ramos

Using that classification, what the author classifies as mixed middle/low class spaces, characteristic of the heterogeneity observed in the peripheral regions are, on average, home to 71.6% of the population belonging to the classes of manual laborers (both skilled and unskilled), low-level manual laborers performing routine tasks, plus technical and supervisory personnel. Relative incomes in those areas fall between middle and low. This population featured a high percentage (40%) of blacks and browns (pretos and pardos) who lived predominately in houses (only 9% lived in apartments). Infrastructure conditions were close to the average for the metropolis (sometimes even better, depending on the indicator).

In the geographical configuration of Greater São Paulo as revealed by the 2010 census, the mixed-middle-low class spaces are situated in the peripheral regions, “although with spatial discontinuities and a substantial presence of mixed-middle class spaces, especially in the eastern zone (Zona Leste) of the city of São Paulo.” The historical center of the city presents itself as a space that is predominately mixed-middle class, which demonstrates how the region has changed since the 2000 census due to an influx of lower-income people. The spot on the map of the expanded city center that is occupied by the elite is situated southwest of the historical downtown—it includes such neighborhoods as Higienópolis, Pinheiros, Jardins, and Morumbi. Between 2000 and 2010, that area came to include regions located in the direction of São Paulo’s industrial area known as the “ABC,” owing to the expansion of Morumbi and Vila Leopoldina, areas that have experienced a construction boom in the new century.

That southwestern region, however, contains two enclaves of manual laborers situated in the midst of the territory of the elite. They are the only two large slums (favelas) located within the limits of the expanded center—namely, Paraisópolis to the west and the Heliópolis-São Jóão Clímaco complex to the southeast. In a sharply contrasting development, the regions of Tatuapé and Santana are now also occupied by the elite. Both are rather small and lie to the east and north of the territory where the elite are concentrated. And the centers of Guarulhos and Mogi das Cruzes, to the northeast and east, respectively, are now home to the upper middle class. There has been an influx of lower classes in areas not far from downtown Guarulhos.

Marques’s study is part of a more comprehensive and more lengthy research project under way at the CEM. The book scheduled to come out in May 2015 complements São Paulo: Segregação, pobreza, e desigualdade (São Paulo: Segregation, Poverty, and Inequality), edited by Marques and economist Haroldo Torres and published in 2005 by Senac. Based on 2000 census data, that volume, like the future one, consists of coordinated chapters on subjects like population growth, segregation, and access to public policies. Additional material has now been included to discuss aspects associated with the labor market, race, and urban mobility.

CEM – Center for Metropolitan Studies (No 13-07616-7); Grant Mechanism: Research, Innovation and Dissemination Centers (RIDC); Principal Investigator: Marta Arretche USP School of Philosophy, Literature and Human Sciences (FFLCH-USP); Investment: R$7,124,108.20 (for the entire project) (FAPESP).

Scientific Article
MARQUES, E. Estrutura social e segregação em São Paulo: transformações na década de 2000. DADOS-Revista de Ciências Sociais. V. 57, No. 3, pp. 675-710. 2014.