24 June 2014 | News Comments

Column: Life ain't fair in Sao Paulo

By Glenn Mason in Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo is a city of contrasts. A city of haves and have-nots. Extreme wealth and crippling poverty. First World meets Third World. The best of times, the worst of times.

The biggest city in the southern hemisphere is the financial and commercial heart of Brazil and its growing economy.

Rio de Janeiro’s favelas might be more famous, Salvador’s more central to the city, but Sao Paulo has some of the most expansive in the country.

It was also the site of some of the most violent anti-World Cup protests in the past 18 months.

Brazil’s middle class has expanded with the economy. The Secretariat of Strategic Affairs claims that around 40 million Brazilians joined the middle class in the last ten years.

It said if the Brazilian middle class was a country, it would be the 12th most populated in the world with 100 million people.

The gleaming new Mercedes and Range Rovers cruising around the streets just off the Avenida Paulista are clear signs of this new wealth.

The big commercial US chains have followed and sit among the skyscraper hotels, fine restaurants and gated apartment blocks.

There are always gaps between rich and poor in cities of this size, but I’m not sure I have seen it so pronounced.

Travelling westwards you can’t help but notice the changing landscape. Large apartment blocks give way to smaller red-bricked houses. Smooth roads become bumpy and there are fewer new cars.

I visited the lively suburb of Itaquera, close to the new World Cup stadium, to meet the Almeida Nascimento family.

Four generations of the one family and a dog called Cailín live in a comfortable home at the bottom of a hill. The dog was given its name by a previous Irish visitor.

Small houses stretched up the road as far as the eye can see.

The area may be covered in Brazilian flags and bunting, but no one around here has tickets for the World Cup games down the road. The television is their window on the tournament.

It is an experience similar for millions of Paulistas and the Nascimentos are by no means the worst off in this city.

Rita, who lives her with her mother, children and grandchildren, fills me in on the issues facing people in Itaquera.

Over tea and cake in the kitchen, she tells me they have seen little effect from the World Cup, even though six games are being played on their doorstep.

The new stadium may have seen a few new roads built and a few others repaired, but they are still lacking adequate healthcare and education services.

Several streets approaching the new stadium have been cleaned up, but there’s only so much you can hide with green and yellow paint and flags.

Crime is still a major problem and Rita admits there are parts of her own city she doesn’t feel safe in.

Rita’s son Diego is a Corinthians fan but watches most games on the television. It will probably be the same when Corinthians take over the stadium after the World Cup.

Their comments are the same as those I heard in Rio de Janeiro last week. The world is enjoying a terrific World Cup, but the inequality of Brazilian society remains the same.

@glennjmason