Latin America

The Urbanization of Sao Paulo, Brazil

The Urbanization of Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sao Paulo is the third largest city in the world and features crowded boulevards and massive skyscrapers. But how did it get to that point?

Urbanization of Latin America began in the latter part of the twentieth century, and it is no better evidenced than in this Brazilian city. While other areas were following the European model for urbanism, Sao Paulo specifically prescribed to the American model – building upward. The megacity boasts a population of 18 million people and is a city of immigrants that built it neighborhood by neighborhood. Today, the city is over 3,000 square miles big and stretches more than 50 miles end to end.

The first immigrants to arrive were Portuguese explorers and Jesuit missionaries who settled in the region in the mid-1500s. As the “founding” members of the area, these people established Brazil’s language and religion. Later, between 1880 and the 1950s, over 5 million Italians migrated to Sao Paulo (as they did to other locations across Latin America) in search of work and because of a booming coffee industry.

Among these were poor agriculturalists, small business owners, and craft workers that established the Italian enclave “Bexiga” on the outskirts of the city. Following the abolishment of slavery in Brazil in 1888, freed slaves moved into the city and were attracted to the inexpensive Brexiga where an Italian-African culture now exists.

Beginning in the early 1900s, but accelerating after World War II, Japanese also started immigrating to Brazil looking for new opportunities. They created their own neighborhood in Sao Paulo as well – “Liberdade” – which hosts the largest number of Japanese people and their descendants outside of Japan.

Additionally, between 1955 and 1980, more than 5 million immigrants looking for better lives arrived at the city from the poorer northern states of Brazil. There wasn’t much space in the city at this point, so these immigrants erected a number of self-built structures on the periphery of Sao Paulo. Finally, while birth rates continue to increase the population, immigration has finally slowed.

Until next time –


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