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Urban Planning

Vocation for greatness and for problems

Rapidly adopted globalization in São Paulo has degraded the city’s urban and social characteristics

LÉO RAMOSA busy avenue in São Paulo: result of the city’s enormous, unplanned growthLÉO RAMOS

In the 1920s, Oswald de Andrade ironically described São Paulo’s vocation as “the natives’ enthusiasm for a ‘civilizing’ imperialism,” thus predicting that such enthusiasm would be the source of the city`s greatness and its problems. “In the 1990s, São Paulo was already the country’s economic hub and, as such, reacted faster than other regions in the country to accept and adapt to globalization,” says Sueli Schiffer, full professor at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning of the University of (FAU-USP). “On one hand, this condition resulted in a growing concentration of highly advanced technological and specialized activities, the benefits of which were massive investments in infrastructure in given areas and the emergence of a highly skilled work force,” she says. “But this rapid acceptance of globalization drove the relocation of the low-income population to the outskirts, thus increasing social segregation. In addition, the lack of jobs for the unskilled population, informal employment, violence and the number of slums also increased,” adds the researcher, who coordinated the research study Projetos urbanos e desenvolvimento local: financiamento e gestão [Urban projects and local development: financing and management].

The study is a continuation of the thematic project São Paulo: globalização da economia e estrutura urbana [São Paulo: globalization of the economy and urban structure], conducted by Sueli with the support of FAPESP (1998). During the globalization process, the researcher conducted a pioneering analysis of how Brazil was doing in terms of the relation between the new economic structure it had adopted and spatial organization. “In an unequal economy, spatial structure is affected and becomes unequal. Income increased in a concentrated manner in the city. At the same time, however, part of the city’s low-income population was driven to the outskirts, with no appropriate housing structure. This, in turn, resulted in a forced re-definition of urban priorities, in ever-increasing urban infrastructure problems, especially transportation and environment, the outcome of which is a situation of abject poverty and growing inequality, which generate significant urban violence,” she points out. The “natives’ enthusiasm” ultimately generated splendor and decadence.

“Urban planning in the 1950s and 1960s took place in an environment of enormous growth and significant migratory flows,  comprised of low-income populations migrating from rural regions. The lack of any kind of infra structure – even such basic utilities as water, electric power, sanitation, and public transportation – was the most pressing challenge for urban planning and management,” Sueli explains.

According to the researcher, control of production and spatial changes have always been the mechanisms employed by the country’s elite to ensure its internal dominance. The elite created segregated areas, some of which had all the urban amenities provided by the state, while other areas had no housing or public service structure. “This has been part of São Paulo’s urban setting since the nineteenth century, but globalization has taken all of this to much higher levels,” says Sueli. “The space was not organized on the basis of official planning to improve the life of the population. Urban space became a miscellany of modern business developments mixed with old housing, thus generating a confusing transportation flow and the general appearance of a ‘forced arrangement’ in spite of the high cost of the work involved in this endeavor,” she adds.

LÉO RAMOSShantytown in the neighborhood of Real Parque contrasts with the progress of the city and reveals the city’s lack of sufficient infrastructureLÉO RAMOS

These events occurred because of São Paulo’s desire to be one of the so-called “global cities,” although the status of São Paulo is less important than that of global cities in developed countries. “These leading cities in peripheral countries, such as the cities of São Paulo, Singapore, or Hong Kong, achieve subordinate roles in this chain of international accumulation, the locus in which foreign capital is internalized in national territories. As these cities serve to concentrate economic activities for the global economy, they are disconnected from the reality of the domestic economy,” she says. It is no wonder that by 1997, 96.9% of the private foreign banks and 67.5% of the international companies were established in São Paulo, while 19% of the city’s population was living in slums and 16% was unemployed. “Since then, the objective of the government’s infrastructure plan was to have a minimally organized urban space to support production in line with the globalized pattern of Brazilian society,” Sueli adds. Even the tax incentives offered to attract foreign capital are so generous that they drain most of the city’s budget, which has been adversely affected for decades.

“The growth of  ‘global cities’ in peripheral countries has increased spatial segregation and pre-existing social exclusion because of the demand for a skilled labor force to deal with ‘global’ requirements. The drop in employment opportunities in the industrial sector has not been offset by new job opportunities in the service sector,” says the researcher. In a spatial context in which there is only room for ‘the best’, the ‘unskilled’ are ‘invited’ to move away from the city and to live in increasingly distant areas, either due to increasingly expensive housing or to the new required professional profile, geared only to holding positions requiring “fewer qualifications.” The researcher points out that the pre-conditions for the execution of possible urban projects in Brazil, especially in São Paulo, as well as the factors that drive the development of urban projects common to other countries, do not herald the possibility of urban planning in the short term in our country.

“Increasing social inclusion requires stronger state intervention, but the neoliberal philosophy of globalization does not preach this type of activity. For many years, the benefits achieved by the city were offset by social ills resulting from globalization’s collateral effects. Growing unemployment, poverty, informal jobs and violence have been increasingly transformed into the visible effects of new urban arrangements.” To flee from this reality, the elite has sought refuge in specific regions of the city. New business areas have sprung up and promoted the dispersion of the urban make-up. “This had already happened in the past, but in a different manner, such as the shift from the old downtown area to Paulista Avenue. Other such areas were later created, such as the neighborhoods around the Faria Lima, Carlos Berrini and Nova Faria Lima Avenues, where the focus is on dynamic, international activities. Each new area has involved heavy municipal investment, as these regions needed communication services, infrastructure and transportation, and new access ways, such as tunnels and avenues. These interventions affected the traditional urban arrangement. The interventions were executed very quickly, with no planning focused on the collective good. Whatever planning there was benefitted specific areas,” she says. Few resources were left to invest in housing and services for the lower income population.

léo ramosSão Paulo’s east side is an example of the forced migration to the city’s outskirtsléo ramos

“Globalization has resulted in forced migration to city outskirts, in more people living in the same household, slums, invasion of the lands surrounding water sources, such as the edge of the Billings Reservoir, a dramatic degradation of the quality of life, and insufficient infrastructure,” she analyzes. What is the current situation? “At first glance, São Paulo’s Metropolitan Region seems to have improved. Migration to São Paulo has come to a standstill, to such an extent that São Paulo is growing at a slower pace than the rest of the country. The proportion of poorer and less educated people in the local job market is declining. From 2003 to 2007, the growth of formal jobs went up by 4.5% a year and in 2012, for the first time, more than 50% of the labor force has a formal employment contract,” states sociologist Álvaro Comim, from the Center for Studies on the Metropolis (CEM). “The city has improved in terms of sophisticated services and the demand for skilled labor suggests that São Paulo is a “middle class” city. But the inflexion of inequality has a price: the poorer people, who do not fit these requirements, continue to be driven away from the city because the city cannot fit them in and does not want them,” he adds.

The global city has closed its gates to unskilled workers. “Traditional industries that employed unskilled labor are moving inland and now the city only has technology-intensive industries. We are exporting urban problems such as slums, dire poverty, etc. A few decades from now we will view São Paulo as an international city, but the city’s outskirts will be degraded,” says the researcher. “The rich are also segregating themselves within the city. With the exception of a few private areas where the rich can indulge in some kind of activity, São Paulo has become an unknown, violent place with which the elite has no connection and to which it has no commitment,” Sueli points out. In spite of the skyscrapers that could be part of any American or European city, São Paulo, which has become so globalized, it is placing its position at risk, precisely because of its enthusiasm to embrace the new configuration of the global economy to the detriment of the improvements demanded by the population.

“We have to wait for transformations in Brazilian society to occur to reverse these factors so that a more inclusive and equal spatial organization arises, in which urban renovation projects focused on obsolete or degraded areas play a role in urban restructuring and are compatible with the social and economic changes resulting from these transformations,” says the researcher.