São Paulo South Americas MEGACITY


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The dramatic cliffs and endless beaches of Rio de Janeiro makes it the city that probably first comes to mind when you think of Brazil. São Paulo, the largest metropolis in the southern hemisphere, is the true economic engine of the world's sixth most populous country. In 1554, Catholic missionaries with the help of indigenous workers built a small village perched 750 metres above sea level and 70 kilometres from the Atlantic coast. It was the only inland settlement in the country, a jumping-off point four expeditions of conquerors, slave traders, and gold hunters. In the 1800s, Brazil became the world's leading coffee producer but the farmers in Rio overcultivated their soil, giving São Paolo an opening to become the country's agricultural hub. As one of the few inland towns, it was closer than Rio to the plantations spread throughout the interior and it was directly linked by rail to the port of Santos making it the ideal junction for shipments of goods on their way to the coast for export. In 1888, Brazil's businesses adapted to another significant change when emperor Dom Pedro II, regarded by many as the greatest brazilian to ever live, convinced his people to abolish slavery. With their captive labor force suddenly free, farmers and industrialists turned to immigrants from abroad. Today as a result, São Paulo has the largest population of Italian descendants of any city on the planet including Rome, the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, and of course significant numbers of Portuguese and Spanish. Many of these newcomers were skilled factory workers whose knowledge helped São Paulo emerge as a manufacturing capital during the Industrial Revolution and World War II. Over a period of less than 30 years, the city's population exploded from 250,000 to 1 million. Steady growth continued through the century passing Rio in 1960. Today, the population of the megalopolis known as Sampa is over 20 million. In many ways, It is a thriving global city with the largest stock exchange in Latin America. A vibrant culture with over 100 museums and dynamic performing arts spaces and beautiful parks. As part of football craze, Brazil proudly hosted matches during the 2014 World Cup, and is making significant investments in the next generation with 850,000 students enrolled in higher education courses. Unfortunately though, São Paulo's rapid development has also taken a heavy toll, with four core problems rising above the rest. The city's only major bodies of water are the Tietê and Pinheiros Rivers. As the population grew, the government plagued by inefficiency and corruption, struggled to meet demand for basic infrastructure. Without enough wastewater treatment plants, sewage from millions of people flowed directly into the rivers. Toxic waste from industrial facilities was dumped without limit. When new highways were built, the city laid them on the only continuous stretches of land left, the riverbanks and then hid stretches of them behind walls. But even if you can't always see the rivers, their stench doesn't go away. When the Tietê is at its most choked, it is a biological dead zone as far away as Barra Bonita, 260 kilometers downstream. It wasn't always this way. The rivers used to be gathering points for recreation, distant memories that are motivating current rehabilitation efforts which include projects to treat 100% of all waste water before it enters Tietê, putting an end to all illegal dumping, and teaching people how to care for their rivers and streams. The second major challenge is that 10% of Paulistanos live in high-density makeshift neighborhoods called favelas. While the building's are typically low quality, most favelas are vibrant working-class communities. Some settlements however, are little more than squatter shacks without access to electricity, sewage, and running water. To give these people a better place to live while improving the overall quality of housing throughout Sao Paulo, . The city has spent billions of dollars on a variety of programs. One experiment allows low-income residents to purchase new government built apartments for affordable monthly payments of less than $100. It's a win-win. Ownership helps people become more financially stable while incentivizing them to maintain these spaces. "This was my dream. I think it's almost as wonderful as having a new baby" "It's all I expected it to be" "It's not furnished yet the way I want it, but I dearly love this apartment." The downside is that the government has been building many of these projects far from the city center. They need a two-hour commute to work, and there are no local parks for her son to safely play with his friends. Lack of access to services, plagues all of Sau Paulo because of how it developed. The best jobs are where the transportation network is concentrated in the city center. And since that's also the most expensive place to live, Lower income people are pushed farther and farther out and have to spend more mone,y energy, and time getting around. The municipal government understands it must improve this situation, and has unveiled an ambitious new master plan to better integrate lower-income areas with parks, transportation hubs, and jobs. Like much of the world, Brazil has a growing gap between its wealthiest citizens and everyone else. The top 1% of Sao Paulo city residents owns 45 percent of the property. The master plan addresses this by mandating that private property owners who underutilized valuable city space, need to either meet scheduled deadlines for putting that space to better use, or pay a progressively costly urban property tax. The plan has been praised internationally, But the real challenge will be overcoming the powers that be to make sure it is carried out. This brings us to Sao Paulo third major problem, citywide traffic jams that steal tens of millions of productive minutes every day. In the last decade the population increased 11% but the number of cars grew 113%, ten times as fast. Congestion is so bad, that wealthy Paulistanos are flocking to the air and the city now has the world's largest helicopter fleet. The ability of the wealthy and powerful to avoid their city's problems by literally flying over them has contributed to a sense of complacency among the leaders of Brazilian society. Like many other nations, it is now reckoning with the damage caused by politicians who put personal greed over the best interests of the people. An example of this, is a shiny new high-speed rail line connecting Sao Paulo and Rio that the federal government promised to build in its winning bids for both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. But two years after the flame left Rio, the rail project hasn't even broken ground. Paulistanos are fed up. Hundreds of thousands protested to demand solutions to the mobility crisis, forcing local officials to listen to people and integrate their best ideas into the master plan. Like how best to expand the number of roads and metro lines, increase express bus routes, build networks of dedicated bike lanes, and concentrate housing near public transport hubs to maximize employment opportunities. Sao Paulo's most distressing challenge reached a critical point four years ago. When the region suffered the worst drought in its recorded history as just half the rain fell from the previous driest year. Without water to wash dishes, high-end restaurants served guests on plastic plates and cafes couldn't brew coffee. As panic set in fighting erupted in the hardest hit neighborhoods, and emergency water delivery trucks were robbed. As the city's main reservoir dropped below five percent, less than three weeks supply, The military feared the water control center could be overtaken by an angry mob. One service engineer remembered those terrifying days. We knew that when people don't have water they go crazy. We imagined what they would be like here with 21 million people. In the end, a storm arrived just in time to avoid catastrophe. Since then, other sources throughout the region have been tapped to give Sao Paulo a bit more supply when the next apocalyptic drought arrives. But some experts are warning that even more extreme dry spells loom on the horizon. The vast South American jungle has traditionally served as a biotic pump. Circulating water down from the tropics through rivers in the sky that converge over southeastern Brazil, delivering reliable rains year in and year out. But decades of logging and agriculture have gutted hundreds of millions of acres of dense mature trees, and every second, another two acres disappear. With less plants and soil catching and absorbing rainfall, there is less moisture evaporating as clouds into the air stream and ultimately less rain falling on Sao Paulo. The lifeblood of this megalopolis has been the three or four Convergence rainfalls that have arrived like clockwork every year to fill the region's reservoirs. But as the frequency of these vents becomes less reliable, so do the future prospects of the entire city. The remarkable fact is that 20% of the world's water is stored in Brazil, but the vast majority of it falls far to the north. With its rivers currently too polluted to drink from and development continuing to spread inland, there are limited options for bolstering its water supply by building costly dams or acquiring new sources through long canals. In the end, the people of Sao Paulo just like the rest of us are learning the fundamental lesson of the 21st century. To survive and thrive, our cities must embrace the most sustainable methods of development. The good news is that with a clever master plan and citizens dedicated to taking action Sao Paulo is hard at work on the long-term solutions to deliver a better life for millions of people. For TDC, I'm Bryce plank. Thanks for watching.