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Hundreds of illegal and precarious favelas in São Paulo jostle for space in between formal and informal housing settlements Image: Andersson Barbosa

cities & citizens series - bridging the urban divide

tions at the higher and lower ends of the income scale are more likely to increase than decrease, São Paulo’s growth appears to be different. Instead, and in the midst of massive inequalities, the middle class is on the rise and income inequalities (measured by the Gini coefficient) are falling. The social changes in Brazil and São Paulo are nuanced and complex. Since the start of the 21st century, the country’s urban poor have received more federal and municipal support, greater educational opportunities and better access to bank credit, transport, recreation and sport. They have more consumable goods and greater access to water and sanitation, health care and electronic communications. Informal settlements are becoming formalized and land titling is gaining pace, while specific urban policies protect the right of low-income people to remain in the city and not be shoved aside by market demand for land or urban planning schemes intent on upgrading poor areas. This is a book of cautious optimism. It suggests that despite the colossal disparities, there is evidence of a new drum beat setting a new rhythm of hope. This book suggests that many of the policy changes, and particularly those closely associated to the new national constitution, will be unlikely to reverse. The overwhelming question remains, however, whether structural changes are taking place that will be powerful enough to forge a more inclusive and more equal São Paulo for the future. Critics may characterise slum upgrading, new housing policies and pro-poor

subsidies as tampering with an otherwise powerfully laissez-faire economic model that has entrenched elite interests and biases and reproduced inequalities. Some critics, polemic as they are, say that any concessions for the poor, however well-intended and sophisticated, can only be ‘crumbs falling off the rich men’s banquet table.’ In response to these criticisms others argue that these changes are the start of a longer, more equitable transformation where wealth trickles through the social economy reducing inequality.

...despite the colossal disparities, there is evidence of a new drum beat setting a new rhythm of hope. In Lewis Carroll’s fantasy novella, Through the Looking-Glass, the character of the Red Queen makes the oft-quoted observation, ‘It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place’. The so-called ‘Red Queen hypothesis’ has often been used to refer to the constant evolutionary ‘arms race’ among competing species, but it may be used here to raise a serious question for São Paulo and the struggle among the different social classes: even if the context of the city begins to look different, will the core social relations remain unchanged? Without a fundamental change in the economics of the city (and Brazil as a whole), without structures and laws that concretize distributive justice, there is a chance that despite all of the government’s efforts to implement pro-poor social policy, urbanize

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
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