City to Watch: São Paulo

A glimpse at São Paulo economic growth, population increase and housing challenges.

Os Gemeos piece

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As the B in BRIC, Brazil is one of the world’s most-watched emerging economies. In the next year, attention will only swell more as South America’s largest country hosts the the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. While events for the international sporting events will be concentrated in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s larger capital and financial center of São Paulo will also host games — and see much of the related business done in ever-mushrooming downtown skyscrapers.

Here’s a rundown of the action in São Paulo, host this week to the New Cities Summit organized by our friends at New Cities Foundation.

Growth and Inequity

São Paulo is a vibrant example of a city’s ability to attract residents and progress economically as it struggles to address inequality. From 1990 to 2012, Sao Paulo’s metropolitan population increased by 33 percent, reaching 20 million. Gross Domestic Project (GDP) also increased by 32 percent, accounting for 10 percent of Brazil’s GDP. A recent ranking of global start-up cities placed the city at 21, its 20 start-ups earning it a ranking just below Seattle and above Istanbul, Vancouver and Moscow.

São Paulo has the 6th largest number of billionaires in global cities. However most of the population deals with the daily issues of overpopulation, inefficient transportation, and limited housing options.

A view of São Paulo


Despite the economic growth in São Paulo, many Brazilians still can’t afford formal housing and are left living in favelas or shantytowns, according to a housing guide by the Cities Alliance in 2009. From the 1970’s to 2007, the population of people living in favelas rose from 14,504 to 360,000. While the government built 220,000 public housing units, many people resorted to building their own makeshift structures. In recent years, there’s been an increase in employment opportunities, yet people are not earning enough to purchase property or pay rent regularly. Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem-Teto consists of people fighting for the right to dwell in the city’s abandoned properties.

Casa Paulista is taking steps to create more affordable housing. The public-private initiative is led by the state of São Paulo to reconstruct São Paulo’s center. 20,000 housing units will be built for residents of different incomes, including many people that otherwise would not be able to own property.

Favelas in São Paulo

Public Safety

São Paulo is an notoriously unsafe city. In 2012, over 4,100 people were killed in the state, with most of the crime concentrated in more impoverished areas, according to the LA Times. However, as Greg Scruggs reported for us earlier this year, crime is prevalent among the wealthy as well. In fact, express kidnappings where someone enters a car and forces the driver to withdraw money, are common crimes committed by middle and upper class youth in all sections of the city.

Traffic in São Paulo


Despite the city’s challenges, São Paulo is a thriving cultural center. Recently, the city has seen an upswing in the number of art galleries open to the public, the New York Times reported in 2012.,

São Paulo’s art is not confined to galleries. Rather it has become part of the fabric of the city, with street art constantly changing and on display for the public. Famous street artists Os Gemeos, twins from São Paulo, have decorated buildings throughout the city with lively colors and characters, inspiring other artists locally and internationally to take their cities’ beautification into their own hands.

Organizations like Color+City promote the spread of street art by connecting artists with vacant spaces.

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Tags: economic developmentbrazilsao paulo

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