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Children burn rubbish in a street fire outside their shacks along the Marginal Pinheiros under the Bridge of Ceagesp. Image: Marcelo Min Fotogarrafa Agency

cities & citizens series - bridging the urban divide

Weaving through wealthy districts of walls and security guards, one finds large villas alongside closed condominiums and ambitious new all-inclusive compounds that offer designer shopping, restaurants, recreational facilities and parks within their confines. Favelas are sometimes adjacent to such areas of wealth and luxury, revealing shocking contrasts in the comfort and lifestyles of rich and poor. Where the proximity of new deluxe accommodation to favelas or tenement cortiços becomes more frequent, the contrasts that have created the stereotype of Brazilian inequality appear increasingly acute. The stereotype seems compelling: the indifferent rich luxuriate while the vulnerable poor continue living in extremis, hopeless and exploited. But the reality is more sophisticated, more interesting and more optimistic. Brazil and São Paulo are undergoing a process of dynamic change

...the poorest favelas and periphery districts (and adjacent municipalities) reveal consistently high growth rates. that has been dramatically affecting and shaping the lives of the urban poor. The São Paulo of the 1970s and 1980s is quite different from the city today. In a context of changing demographics and changing opportunities, the policy instruments, protections and social provisions for the poor have significantly improved. The rising middle class in the midst of these changes challenges the traditional bipolar analysis of the past.

The rest of this section explores specific changes in recent years that have directly affected the lives of the urban poor, as well as the nature of social exclusion in a city often described as a city of walls, of social segregation and of unacceptable wealth disparities.

The poor vote with their feet Although the presentation of the extremes in São Paulo is emblematic of the social divide, the reality is more complex and nuanced. Poor migrants from northern Brazil, in particular, continue to move to São Paulo expecting a better life than they could ever create in their places of origin — a better life that friends and relatives have testified to over the years. While population growth rates in wealthier central areas of São Paulo decline, or even show negative levels, the poorest favelas and periphery districts (and adjacent municipalities) reveal consistently high growth rates. The city’s development, built on migration, continues to expand demographically and spatially, because those who live in São Paulo inherently understand what the statistics illustrate: significant improvements in the lives of the poor have taken place recently, making the city even more attractive to migrants.7 The data also illustrates that in critical areas of basic needs and services, the gap between the wealthy and the poor has been reduced, despite continued high income disparities that have also been declining in recent years. Here, the SEADE/UN-HABITAT data is used in conjunction with other data sources to identify recent changes and to define outstanding gaps, deprivations and inequalities.

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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