City Brief: Sao Paulo

By Arnout Nuijt

Writing a City Brief about Brazil’s biggest city, its economic powerhouse and home of the country’s cultural, business and political elite, is not easy. São Paulo is simply to big to grasp, as is its impact on Brazil, South America and, no doubt, the rest of the world. The economic heart of the country beats soundly in this urban center of around 20 million people (10% of the national population). Within the city proper around 11 million people are residing. The city is the capital of Brazil’s most important state, also called São Paulo, that, if independent, would be part of the G20 by itself. In fact, the metropolitan region is among the world’s top ten mega cities. Yes, there are endless poor neighborhoods, where migrants from other parts of the country and their descendants slug it out, but you will also find some of the most luxurious and sophisticated housing estates in the world, home to Brazil’s elite. São Paulo is a so called global city. A trend setting Arts Biennial complete the picture.

There are several things you should know about São Paulo when you come down for business, which is the main reason people visit the city. First there is its amazing history, in which São Paulo, though no doubt the most dynamic region of Brazil, experienced a series of political setbacks though managed to get the upper hand in economic terms. For centuries São Paulo was a small colonial town, founded by Jesuit priests on the highlands behind Santos and São Vicente, two of the oldest Portuguese settlements on the coast. From the town groups of settlers fanned out in all directions to explore the interior.

In a very early stage some Paulistas (the nickname of people from São Paulo state, those from the city are called Paulistanos) took control of the gold mines in what is now the neighboring state of Minas Gerais. Later newly arrived Portuguese settlers arrived in the area and rivalry between the two groups led to a small war, the Emboabas War (Emboabas being a nickname of the Portuguese settlers). The outcome meant a loss for São Paulo, as the gold mining region was separated from its control to become the state of Minas Gerais later. The state of Paraná to the south of present day São Paulo State was also originally colonized by settlers from São Paulo. The area was part of the São Paulo colonial province until it was split off and made a separate entity by Brazil’s Emperor in 1843. Paulistas saw this as a move to weaken their position, as they had engaged in a liberal insurrection the year before.

In the 19th century the town became an important hub for coffee production in the state of São Paulo. After slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, immigration from Europe took off. Huge waves of European immigrants (Germans, Eastern Europeans, Italians, Portuguese, Arabs and later Japanese) were attracted by the authorities to replace the slaves. The newcomers worked mainly in agriculture. The coffee boom lasted until the world economic crisis of the 1930s. Meanwhile the elites of both São Paulo and Minas Gerais states had found each other again and ruled Brazil in power sharing deals that were called “café com leite”, or coffee (São Paulo) with milk (cattle breeding Minas Gerais).

In the 1920s and 1930s São Paulo experienced some bloody and violent episodes that are hard to imagine today. It’s one of the few cities on the continent that witness 20th century warfare. The early twenties had seen some insurrections in Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul, but in 1924 it was São Paulo’s turn to revolt. Rebel troops took over the city and their goal was to depose the country’s president. A bloody siege by 15.000 government troops followed and the city experienced one of the world’s first aerial bombardments. The rebels however soon decided to leave the city by train and a long epic journey began. This Paulista rebel troop, also called the Prestes Column, after their leader Luis Carlos Prestes, was able to roam through Brazil’s interior for years, crossing almost all its states as well as Paraguay. They finally found refuge in Bolivia, after traveling for 25.000 kilometers.

In 1930 Brazil southern politician Getúlio Vargas took control of federal capital Rio de Janeiro. Vargas had just lost the presidential elections against the Governor of Sao Paulo State, Júlio Prestes. Vargas began to establish an authoritarian system, that would later develop into the New State or Estado Novo. Soon discontent brewed in São Paulo, since Vargas was seen as antagonising Paulistas. By 1932 the state was in full rebellion, of which the official aim was to uphold Brazil’s constitution against Vargas. Contrary to what the Paulistas had expected, other states did not join São Paulo, so they were on their own. But this time, São Paulo’s middle classes, coffee barons and industrialists had joined forces. Local factories churned out weapons, ammunitions and even improvised tanks. The rebels were able to hold out against the government’s troops for three bloody months, until they were forced to surrender.

The Vargas’s period eventually proved to be a boon to the industrialization of Brazil and especially to the development of São Paulo. The city grew into the industrial center and never stopped. Paulistas put all their energy, creativity and organizational talent to the good use of developing their city and state and they made it the economic powerhouse it is today. Science, education, banking & finance and other services also flourished throughout the short lived post-Vargas democratic period and during Brazil’s military rule, that lasted the 1980s.

Another thing you should be aware of is that São Paulo does not have a Central Business District, but several. That means your transport between meetings will be your biggest problem in the city, because traffic is the city’s drawback. São Paulo is incredibly huge and wave after wave of tall apartments blocks dot the horizon as far as you can see. The old center or Centro has lost most of its appeal to business visitors in the last decades, though it has been making a comeback of sorts. The city government has made an effort of restoring some historic buildings, like the Theatro Municipal. In fact a visit to the area around the Viaduto de Chá (a historic bridge spanning a highway) is a must, with its adjacent City Hall or Prefeitura and the Shopping Light (a shopping mall inside a converted historic office building. Centro also houses the Mercado Municipal, which is a must for gourmets. Other interesting sites are Luz Station, the Sala São Paulo concert hall and the Edifício Itália (with its top floor Italian restaurant offering great views). A huge area between the center and Luz Station, for years a run down area nicknamed cracolandia for its many drug addicts, is now earmarked for major redevelopment.

A bit to the south west of the center, São Paulo’s Paulista Avenue became a landmark business district from the 1960s and it still highly is important, housing the state’s entrepreneurs association FIESP, many banks, foreign companies, good hotels and MASP (Sãp Paulo’s iconic art museum). Paulista Avenue is also adjoining the posh Jardins district, with its many top notch restaurants and luxury shops.

On the other side of the Jardins district, more to the south west, lies Faria Lima Avenue. The areas around this main boulevard became the next business district and new tower blocks are still going up. At the south end of Faria Lima, the Itaim Bibi district is another good place for finding restaurants and hotels. Other companies are still moving even more to the west and settling on Pinheiros river banks, in districts like Brooklin Novo and other newly developed zones. The further west you go the more exclusive the area, culminating in Morumbí, on the other side of the Pinheiros river. The Governor of the State of São Paulo resides in Morumbí, at the Palacio dos Bandeirantes, which doubles as an historic museum. A little to the north you can get easily lost in São Paulo’s huge university campus Cidade Universitária, home to among other things the world renowned Butantá Institute (where snake bite antidotes were developed). From the seventies on people also started moving even further west and a popular destination for wealthy Paulistanos looking for a safe place to live was Alphaville. Alphaville is Brazil’s most famous gated community and the company running it now has similar developments all over the country. This Alphaville outside São Paulo even has its own central business district and industrial area. It is home to many company headquarters, for instance that of Azul Airlines.

For the near future some major developments in and around the city are under way. We already mentioned the urban renewal in the area near Luz Station. São Paulo is also bidding for the 2020 World Expo, which is to be built in the north west of the city in Pirituba district at a major highway junction. There are however four other fast developing urban centers in the proximity of São Paulo that are seeing a lot of investment as well: the Santos Bay Area with its ports and tourism facilities, Campinas and Sorocaba (agribusiness, research, etc) in the interior and São José dos Campos on the road to Rio de Janeiro (aviation and research). The state is also redeveloping the small port of São Sebastião. Due to its proximity to Ilha Bela, a high class resort, the port will be developed in an environmentally friendly way. A high speed railway is planned as well, connecting Campinas through São Paulo and Sao José dos Campos to Rio. If built, this might change transport dynamics among Brazil´s most important cities. A new airport is also planned for São Paulo, which is to be located to the east of the city. A huge new ring road, Rodoanel, is nearing completion and inside the city an ever expanding network of metro lines is meant to accommodate the big traffic problem.

The city hosts the headquarters of most of Brazil’s companies as well as most of the foreign companies that are located in Brazil, except for the oil and gas sector, which is concentrated in Rio de Janeiro. Services are the dominant sector, but you will find huge companies here involved in bio fuels production, agribusiness, banking and finance, manufacturing and automotive among others.

Some organizations are worth a visit, as they may be able to assist you. FIESP, the federation of São Paulo industrial entrepreneurs, is a very important and influential player in Brazil and they can provide you with a lot of information about business opportunities. Investe São Paulo is the state agency that can assist foreign investors. The São Paulo Chamber of Commerce is a good option if you are involved in international trade.

São Paulo boasts no less than four airports serving the city and it is not enough. The main international gateway is Guarulhos or Cumbica airport, in the city of Guarulhos, north east of São Paulo. Depending on the traffic situation reaching the airport from São Paulo can cost you between one and two hours. Upon arrival, always use the prepaid cooperative taxis. You can pay with your credit card before leaving the terminal. Guarulhos also serves as the city’s main domestic airport, with flights to basically all destinations in the country. However most regional flights to and from the major cities in the southern coastal region as well as the Rio-São Paulo air shuttles use the inner city airport of Congonhas, a highly practical and well used facility. Recently a third major airport has been making headlines: Viracopos, near Campinas. It now serves as a domestic hub for Azul Airlines, an upstart airline founded by Dutch-American-Brazilian entrepreneur David Neeleman. TAP Air Portugal also operates direct flights between Viracopos and Lisbon. Both Azul and TAP offer its passengers transfer by bus between the airport and São Paulo. The fourth airport is Campo de Marte, close to Centro a base for private and executive aviation, helicopters and military transport.

We already mentioned that traffic in São Paulo may get a little intense now and then. In São Paulo it is surprisingly easy to use a helicopter if you can afford it. In some cases it might even make the right impression to arrive by air at your meeting.

Tip: You can hire chauffeur driven limousines including bodyguards to move you safely around town between meetings, but even they may get stuck in traffic. It may sometimes be better to take regular taxis: these have the right to use fast bus lanes and get you where you want in no time. Speed and surprise elements may also offset security risks.

São Paulo’s business districts are spread out and so are its hotels. The side streets at the top end of Paulista Avenue have some very good hotels, like the Renaissance, Fasano, Emiliano and several Mercure and Tryp hotels. This is a good base if you have meetings all over town. From here you can reach the Centro and the Faria Lima districts with not to much effort. Another good area for hotels is the Itaim Bibi district, at the southern part of Faria Lima Avenue. Here you’ll find the Melia Jardims Europa, Caesar Park Faria Lima and several good three star hotels. Some of the most luxurious hotels can be found in Brooklin Novo, on the Pinheiros river, like the Hilton Morumbi, Sheraton and the Grand Hyatt.

For a complete overview of all hotels in São Paulo go to Brazil Weekly’s dedicated page.

But we are also interested in finding out what our readers think are São Paulo’s best hotels for business visitors. All hotels are five star:

When it comes to gastronomy São Paulo is a world capital. You will find some of the best restaurants of the world here. The city is a heaven for those who love Italian and Japanese food, due to its millions of descendants from immigrants of those countries. French and international cuisine are also well represented. Food is important when doing business in Brazil and in São Paulo you have the chance to treat your business friends to some very exquisite lunch or dinner. Bring your wallet, but it’s an excellent investment. A business lunch or dinner is also a good opening towards new contacts too, because you will be sure they show up if you chose the right place.

No doubt the best place is D.O.M., owned by chef Alex Atala. D.O.M. has been featuring in listings of the world’s best restaurants for many years. It now occupies fourth position! Coming close are the Italian restaurants at the Fasano and Emiliano hotels. Other fine restaurants are La Brasserie Erick Jacquin (French) and Maní (international). Best Japanese restaurants these days are reportedly Kinoshita and Jun Sakamoto. Interesting Brazilian dishes can be tasted at Brasil a Gosto. But there are dozens of places, less exquisite, where you can eat very well. A popular option for business lunches is the Rubayat Figueira, a bright restaurant under a glass roof constructed around a huge fig tree. A popular option for a Japanese dinner is the intimate Jam Warehouse. The Terraço Italia on the top floor of the Edifício Italia in Centro is a good informal lunch option, especially for the good view.

Again we would like to know the opinion of our readers and have your vote on the best place to eat. We lined up the ten best according to the Guia Quatro Rodas 2012. You have the floor:

At night there is plenty to do in São Paulo. One thing you shouldn’t miss is having a drink at the Skye bar of design hotel Unique, while enjoying a fantastic view. Arrive early though, before ten-ish, otherwise you will have to wait in line outside for the special elevator that brings you up. The Vila Madalena district is a nice option for a night out. It will give you a holiday kind of feel.

São Paulo has a high rate of murders and robberies and crime appears to be going up a bit recently. But if you stick to taxis and good options for spending your evenings you should be fine.

Weekend breaks
It’s highly recommended to spend your São Paulo weekend out of town. It will take some effort though to get to the best places. Ubatuba and Ilha Bela are some of the poshest resorts in the country and they offer the state’s best beaches. But if you have little time you might be forced to get there by air as reaching it by car may take up to four or five hours. Another option is to visit the mountain resorts to the east, for instance Campos de Jordão, a well known Brazilian spa. But the most accessible beaches are in the Santos Bay Area. Santos itself has a good city beach, as has neighboring São Vicente. The nearby town of Guarujá however, offers excellent beaches and some of Brazil’s most excellent hotels. Read all about it in Brazil Weekly’s Weekend Break in Guarujá!

November 5th 2012. All rights reserved by Brazil Weekly/Rotterdam Week


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