National Geographic : 2002 Nov
.0o PalBai World's Third Largest City A hundred years ago Sao Paulo was home to some 265,000 people; today there are 18 million, nearly half of whom weren't born there. Although the peak growth years are past, when the con struction boom of the seventies drew people from all over Brazil, economists still call it the "locomotive of Brazil." Not only do her people, the Paulistanos, produce-from banking to auto- motive to petrochemical products-they are the largest consumer market of all Latin America. "But there is always the feeling that Sao Paulo is not Brazil," said Luciana "Luli" Arta cho Penna, a young graphic artist, at dinner one night. "It's very ugly; it's very expensive." It's true that the world thinks of Brazil as Rio de Janeiro, the alluring city of beaches and babes 250 miles to the northeast. Sao Paulo is a gray infinity of concrete, steel, and corrugated tin speckled with countless small red-dirt soc cer fields. It stretches across vast undulating hills-20 percent of the entire city is now com posed of favelas, or slums-with wild clusters of skyscrapers that seem to shoot up at random. There are some pockets of neighborhoods with distinguishable personality-the elegant Jardins area, the Beverly Hills of Sao Paulo, or Vila Madalena, a good candidate for a Brazil ian Greenwich Village, and some others-but mainly Sao Paulo seemed to be just more streets and buildings than I could even imag ine. In the rich neighborhoods the houses are hidden behind fortress-like walls, and the streets are empty. The favelas are either banished far out on the fringes, or huddled literally in the shadow of expensive high-rise apartments. Still, Paulistanos stubbornly defend their urban behemoth. "We don't really believe it's so ugly," Luli admitted, "but it's very diffi cult to speak about Sao Paulo, why we love it. I couldn't live anywhere else."