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são paulo - a tale of two cities

Chapter 5. The Potential of Policy to Bridge the Urban Divide


rogressive urban policy has the power to effectively address urban poverty, inequality and other social dysfunctions. The need for distributive justice and effective urban policy in São Paulo is more urgent today than ever. São Paulo is the richest, largest city in Brazil, yet more than 70 per cent of its housing is irregular or informal and a full one-third of its population is poor. Efforts to narrow the urban divide in the city are driven not just by moral imperatives to create a more just society, but also by issues of security and economics. As UN-HABITAT has demonstrated with global data in its recent State of the World’s Cities Reports, a more equal society and economic growth are by no means mutually exclusive, but are actually mutually advantageous. At the same time, the growth of extreme inequalities carries high risks of social unrest, insecurity and potential disorder, as evident in São Paulo’s favelas.

Brazil has already done much to improve its social conditions, making important progress since the resurgence of democracy in the country following two decades of military authority. The advances and benefits of social changes described in Chapter 4 of this publication, and those outlined in the 2007 Federal Monitoring Report on the Millennium Development Goals, have been underpinned by progressive policies in a wide range of sectors. There is much evidence to indicate that São Paulo is still in the early stages of implementing its social policy, balancing the desire for a more distributive, egalitarian and inclusive city against the need to maintain its economic prowess as an emerging global city. Evidence also indicates that policies already put in place to support this process are unlikely to be reversed, but instead will be strengthened in the future. Upgraded, urbanized favelas will not be destroyed under any new political regime. People living on previously non-regularised land will not be stripped of their new titles, and universalized health care and education are in São Paulo to stay. As such, a ratcheting-up of policy may be observed where, notwithstanding setbacks and conflict with opposing economic and political interests, the social agenda is increasing in strength and breadth, despite its struggle for space in the economic environment of Image: Marcelo Min Fotogarrafa Agency

advanced capitalism. This chapter discusses the development of selected policies in Brazil and São Paulo and their impact on transforming the urban environment, and in particular the urban equation for the poor. It highlights general policies that affect housing and human settlements in the city and that have implications for decreasing the urban inequalities detailed throughout this publication. The last two decades have seen an intense process of economic and urban restructuring in São Paulo and other Brazilian municipalities, showing evidence of improving governance, ‘involving ... public sector innovation, decentralization and mobilization of nongovernmental stakeholders’.188 According to Jeroen Klink, director of the Institute of Science, Technology and Society of the São Paulo Federal University, ‘the challenges to systematically reduce socio-spatial exclusion, organize fragmented and speculative land use markets [and] confront environmental degradation… remain impressive’. Writing in 2008, Klink concluded that, ‘In effect, it seems the decentralizations and democratizations of the 1990s were only the first steps in what can be considered to be a collective learning process that has only just started’.

Policy background A distinctive feature of Brazilian political administration is the extent to which the federal system decentralizes authority and independence to states, metropolitan regions and municipalities. The level of autonomy and decentralization afforded municipalities was expanded by the Constitution of 1988. Since then, municipalities have been responsible for developing most of their own health-care, education and housing policies. São Paulo, therefore, raises its own taxes but also receives budget funds from the state and federal governments for urban management and investment. The municipal revenue base is made up of federal and state money, in addition to revenue from the core taxes of urban buildings and territory property (IPTU) and the service tax (ISS). The political implications of Brazilian federalism at the municipal level are that together,


Profile for UN-Habitat

Sao Paulo; A tale of two cities  

UN-HABITAT’s new Cities and Citizens series examines urban inequality in the developing world through in-depth analysis of intracity data de...

Sao Paulo; A tale of two cities  

UN-HABITAT’s new Cities and Citizens series examines urban inequality in the developing world through in-depth analysis of intracity data de...

Profile for unhabitat