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são paulo - a tale of two cities

Chapter 2: Urbanising São Paulo From village to divided megacity


he rapid urbanization of São Paulo is part and parcel of the wider urbanization of Brazil and Latin America, and is the subject of much recent research. The historical demographic and economic changes are critical to the region’s development but are covered in this section in so far as, among other factors, they shaped the resulting social segregation and exclusion, or inclusion, of different groups. The following brief outline of the historic roots of these changes and trends provides background information for a more detailed elaboration of the current urban profile of São Paulo. Established as a Jesuit mission village in 1554, São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga soon became a base for early explorers, slavers and prospectors — the bandeirantes, who were pushing into the interior seeking wealth. São Paulo benefited from the early gold boom in the neighbouring state of Minas Gerais, as well as early sugar plantations established in the region. It became an official city in 1711. Coffee was introduced in 1727 in Belém do Pará, and approximately 100 years later became a critical part of the economies of São Paulo and Brazil, enabled as it was by slave labour. Success in coffee production attracted São Paulo’s first major wave of mostly poor European immigrants, beginning in the mid1800s. When slavery in Brazil was abolished in 1888, the competition for work increased and successive waves of immigrants swelled São Paulo’s population and its increasingly diverse work force. Attracting foreign immigrants was an official policy and vigorously encouraged. Any history of the early years of São Paulo illustrates already virulent elitism, racism and exploitation practiced by the original Portuguese settlers. One of the main reasons that Brazil promoted immigration from Europe and Asia was to ‘bleach the race’ (the ‘embranqueamento’ strategy), which the elite feared would become overwhelmingly black after slavery ended. White workers were given preference over freed blacks in the plantations and new industries. Statistics of race in Brazil are considered imprecise, and they are based today on self-declaration. Miscegenation of blacks, whites and indig-

Image: Marcelo Min Fotogarrafa Agency

enous peoples started very early; the state of São Paulo is among the Brazilian states with the lowest proportion of blacks. The census adopts the category ‘negros’, which includes blacks and ‘pardos’ (people of mixed race). According to São Paulo’s SEADE’s findings, 30.3 per cent of the 10 million people living in São Paulo declared themselves as blacks or ‘pardos’ in 2000. By the late 1890s, foreigners alone (non-Portuguese or African) made up 55 per cent of São Paulo’s citizens. The coffee boom and new industrial developments resulted in São Paulo becoming the richest city and state in Brazil as it entered the 20th century. As international coffee prices declined over time, São Paulo diversified to sugar cane and manufacturing products for the domestic market, particularly during the Second World War. Coffee prices were always volatile, but the whole system that protected São Paulo’s financial interests and its ‘old republic’ political system collapsed when coffee prices plummeted following the financial crash of 1929. The crash made way for the ‘estado Novo’ (new state) controlled by President Getúlio Vargas, who pushed national interests rather than regional ones. President Vargas saw industrialization as the key to the development of the country. From the beginning of the 20th century, manufacturing became a vital part of São Paulo’s economy, first based on goods that were too heavy or of too little value to be imported, including food and beverage items. After 1930, heavy manufacturing grew as an industrial sector, and São Paulo became the epicenter of manufacturing growth in the country. São Paulo benefited considerably from the nationwide promotion of Brazilian industries in the 1950s — in particular, the rapid and successful development of the automobile industry. Its business prowess and commercial power also grew enormously during the first half of the century. Sugar cane was planted in the 18th century, in regions near São Paulo, such as Itu and Campinas. In the 19th century, coffee replaced sugar cane, since it offered higher returns. But in the 1970s, after the global oil crisis, the Brazilian government established an official programme for promoting ethanol-fueled cars. At that time, many coffee plantations


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