Despite its endemic poverty, Brazil is also a country where the rich are extremely rich. Although not everyone sees the benefits, economic activity is booming and revenues have pushed prices up in all the major cities. The one area that is the best example of this daunting dichotomy is unquestionably São Paulo.
Economic heartland and citadel of the “billionaires of São Paulo”
Brazil’s largest megalopolis, São Paulo is the economic capital of the country, not far from Rio de Janeiro, the more well – known tourist capital. São Paulo first flourished in the eighteenth century through gold mining. Its prosperity continued into the nineteenth century thanks to the cultivation of coffee and sugar cane. An extremely cosmopolitan city, South American and worldwide multinationals are concentrated here, headed up by the world´s business elite and by the billionaires of São Paulo itself.
All major Brazilian industry whether it be automotive, petroleum, metal, commerce, aeronautics, or agribusiness have headquarters in São Paulo. Large international companies also base their head offices in the heart of this sprawling city. The São Paulo stock exchange punctuates the economic life of Brazil and the city’s GDP is the largest of any city in South America. Logically, the wealthiest class here is representative of how excessive wealth can be in a developing country like Brazil.
The distribution of wealth in Brazil is exactly like the distribution of wealth on the planet as a whole. A small percentage at the top of the pyramid own a vast majority of the country´s wealth. In São Paulo, the difference between the wealthiest and the poorest is even more extreme. Let´s say the gap between the most and least disadvantaged classes in a European city ranges from 1 to 10, it rises from 1 to 100 in Brazil, and more particularly in São Paulo. Oxfam claims that the 6 richest men in Brazil own the same wealth as the poorest 50% of the population. This phenomenon continues to amplify; the distribution of wealth widens if you focus on the center of São Paulo, the state of São Paulo itself being less incongruent in terms of quality of life. More than anywhere else, the billionaires of São Paulo live beside the poorest of their city.
Sáo Paulo, home of the urban elite
Brazil is an essentially urban country: more than 80% of the population lives in cities. In fact, housing prices are exploding and only the richest are able to live in the city centers. A good quality of life awaits the middle class, and luxury for the class of millionaires and billionaires. São Paulo is the city of tycoons, who made their fortune in intensive agriculture, sugar cane, oil, banks and real estate. These people usually live in the center, enclosed in sealed estates that separate them from the reality of the city.
Millionaires represent a minority of the “Paulista” population, but still number in the thousands. At the top of the pyramid, there are no less than 64,000 millionaires according to Business Insider in 2018.
They live mainly in villas worthy of ones wildest dreams with impassable walls, or in sumptuous apartments of several hundred square meters, with breath-taking views of the city. These luxury homes have direct and secure access to the centres’ commercial and sports facilities located at the foot of the towers. The famous “Jardins” district, located in the west of downtown not far from Ibirapuera Park, is the main example of this kind of extravagant place; locked to anyone who does not have the access code. Their isolation from the world has also led to some residents admitting to not being in the street for several months!
Designed as a kind of Brazilian Beverly Hills, this set of luxurious, ultra-modern towers and villas is home to people living in a completely enclosed vase. All their leisure activities take place in clubs or shopping malls, which are only accessible from that particular district. The billionaires of São Paulo move from secure basements in expensive cars and from roof to roof by helicopter.
In fact, São Paulo has the largest helicopter fleet in the country and the second largest in the world after New York. The state of São Paulo alone holds nearly half of the helicopters in Brazil! All who have the means to pay, adopt this expensive but extremely practical and fast means of transport. It saves valuable time (especially considering the dizzying size of traffic jams in the city), and therefore money in business. The billionaires of São Paulo will rally to the beach at the weekend in 20 minutes rather than sit in three hours of unavoidable traffic jams, even if it were to be in an air-conditioned Italian supercar!
The insecurity of some neighbourhoods of the megalopolis largely explains this compartmentalization between poor and rich. The former were pushed back into favelas located in the outlying districts, naturally leading the latter to settle in the center in these islands of luxury designed by ultra-select architects and designers with order books filled for years.
São Paulo itself however is not just about its wealthy people. Its own intrinsic richness makes it a cultural showcase for the world. It boasts a fantastic art museum “Pinocoteca do Estado de São Paulo” and its Latin American memorial designed by Oscar Niemeyer. It is also a city of fantastic events such as the Saint Silvester Road Race and of course the F1 madness on the Interlagos circuit. In summary, some dizzying figures as regards inequality exist in São Paulo, but it is a unique city in Brazil and definitely worth a visit.