The “revision” of the Master Plan of the city of São Paulo

Image: Michelle Guimaraes


There is nothing, in the Brazilian urban scenario, that allows hope, except for those who have the privilege of living in the rich territories of the cities

We are heading towards barbarism. There are setbacks in all fields: unemployment, hopelessness, the return of poverty, all of this deepened by a pandemic that, as expected, drastically affects the poorest. And this scenario materializes in cities, the stage of our social tragedy: homeless people exposed to death from the cold, people with precarious roofs exposed to the impossibility of isolation, people with precarious jobs or forced to work exposed to the transmission of Covid, victims of color and gender prejudice, exposed to everyday violence, to stray bullets that actually have a certain destination: the poorest, the black people, who live in the undignified environment of the favelas, resulting from centuries of urbanization whose functional characteristic is segregation . There is nothing, in the Brazilian urban scenario, that allows hope, except, evidently, for those who have the privilege of living in the rich territories of our cities.

This urban logic will not allow the rope of social tensions to be stretched within the limits of what is bearable. By the way, it has been broken for some time, but the top layers take time to be affected. In many of our metropolises, we have already witnessed the implosion of barbarism: extensive territories controlled by crime, bastions of wealth that look like militarized fortresses, collapsed transport, poverty in broad daylight, not to mention that in a country that boasts of being among the largest economies in the world , we still have a level of provision of basic services – especially sanitation – worthy of the most backward countries in the world.

Many people believe that only economic growth is capable of altering this perverse urban structural pattern. It is not. On the contrary, our economic dynamism is transferred to the urban area in the form of individual solutions for comfort and quality of life, never collective, and the dynamism of consumption, on the contrary, exacerbates the problems: more cars, more pollution and the diseases linked to it. , more closed condominiums that renounce the street and public space, more fences, more uncontrolled real estate appreciation and, consequently, an increase in the expulsion of the poorest to the peripheries.

The city of São Paulo underwent an attempt at reorganization towards greater social and spatial democracy. A Master Plan was approved in 2014, which was later awarded by the UN, proving its qualities and its alignment with what is proposed internationally to combat urban inequality. However, in Brazil, we are a long way from having a State with regulatory capacity that allows us to expect a lot from plans and planning instruments. The 2002 Master Plan, for example, approved during the Marta Suplicy administration, was shelved for eight years during the Kassab administration, without anything happening.

The new 2014 plan, even so, showed considerable progress, by achieving a minimum pact to begin to reduce the unequal and segregating logic, and to generate a minimum regulation of the real estate market, which sees the city only as a stage for business. However, as the pattern in Brazil is one of urbanization of privileges, in which only some “noble” sections of the territory are the object of repeated and exclusive urban public investments, any attempt to organize cities more democratically means confronting these privileges. The problem is that it is precisely the privileged who feed, by consuming increasingly sophisticated and exclusive products, the real estate market's money-making machine. For this reason, plans and other public interventions that aim to reduce inequality and curb privileges are almost always immediately questioned by the private sector, when not shelved by administrations that represent it, as happened with the 2002 plan.

In the case of the new 2014 plan, without even having been implemented in its more structural aspects (such as the massive construction of structural bus lanes, along which a constructive and population density linked to public transport would be allowed), increases market pressure for it to be “revised”, and City Hall, once again, is aligned with this sector that so generously funded its campaign. In the midst of the pandemic, without any possibility of real social participation (we are not talking about simulacra of participation), which is required by law, and when the objectives should obviously be other, aimed at curbing the terrible impacts of the pandemic or, at least, trying to start the effective implementation of many aspects that are still untouched by the plan, the City Hall moves strongly to impose such a “revision”. But what you see is a coordinated action that hides an attempt to make changes that have nothing to do with “revision”, but promote changes in the obstacles that prevent the market from doing what it sees as the only objective in the city: profit. The question is: which social and economic groups are interested in the review in the middle of the pandemic, with low popular participation? And what are the possible changes in the law that would affect people's lives, especially the poorest families?

Just follow the objectives of the desired “revision” in the media and the answers will appear. In general, the pressure intensifies to be able to build more, always more, verticalizing the core of neighborhoods (a process that the plan controlled), going over regions that were already consolidated, with traditional houses. The market justifies this movement by saying that it democratizes the city, as it offers more residential areas in regions with infrastructure, thus avoiding sprawl to the periphery. This is an ideological manipulation of a pseudo-democratic discourse. Densifying the city in the expanded center, with more and more buildings, would only bring about real democratization if these buildings were destined for the low-income population, the segregated and excluded, who live in exile on the outskirts of the city. But that's not what it's about. The market wants to build and expand with high-income projects, which are profitable. They are buildings with huge apartments and few people living in them, generating little housing density and, in practice, just destroying traditional middle-class townhouses to replace them with luxury walled condominiums.

The market wants to lower the Onerous Grant, a tax that every building built in the city must pay, and whose resources are reinvested in the construction of affordable housing, urban infrastructure and urban mobility. Now, the Master Plan stipulated an annual readjustment, but the amounts paid by the developers are considerably out of date, and until today, since the plan was launched, in 2014, only one update has been carried out, in 2019, which increased the values ​​by 2% , when the IPCA variation between December 2014 and December 2020 was 36,97%. If it is to “revise”, it should be readjusted, not reduced.

Other reasons for the desired “revision” relate to barriers such as limitations on the height of buildings in the heart of neighborhoods, the size of apartments and the number of parking spaces in buildings along the bus corridors (an initiative of the plan to encourage the densification close to public transport, reducing dependency on cars), control of the occupation of Special Social Interest Zones, intended for social housing but an object of desire for the construction of high-income developments, inspection of properties left unused in the central region , for speculation purposes (and whose notification has practically ceased since 2017), and so on.

Actions to reduce the resources paid to the City Hall and to gain access to well-located public land (such as the land where the DETRAN-SP is located, among others) also run outside the plan within the scope of the PIUs - Urban Intervention Projects, which modify the laws and parameters in large areas of the city. There are over forty bills in the House dealing with PIUs. One of them, PL nº 712/2020, establishes new values ​​for the so-called planning factor, used to calculate the amount to be paid, proposing a reduction that in some blocks in the central area reaches up to 90%. In the same logic, in early June, the City Hall reduced by 35% the amounts of CEPACS payable in the Urban Operation Água Branca, without presenting the necessary calculations to show the reduction of amounts that were unchanged since 2013, and that should have had , on the contrary, a readjustment of more than 52%.

All of this takes place in a scenario in which the City Hall is visibly trying to reduce popular participation in decision-making processes on the urbanization of the city, guaranteed in the 1988 CF, in the 2001 City Statute and in the Master Plan itself, which could confront so many privileges. The Participatory Councils were emptied, at the same time that the economic groups that were the main supporters of Bruno Covas' electoral campaign in 2019 visibly increased their direct influence in the city hall. Thus, we see a privileged position of representatives of the real estate capital in the Municipal Licensing Secretariat, which recently appointed, in March, only representatives of the real estate capital as members of its Management Committee.

As can be seen, there is much more than a simple “revision” in the movements we have seen around the Master Plan. And what is clear is that they are not at all interested in the dramatic condition of our city, much less in the necessary and radical change in the logic of our urbanization that, today, segregates and kills a considerable part of our population. Barbarism is not a concern. What matters is the pursuit of profit.

*João Sette Whitaker Ferreira is a professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at USP (FAU-USP).

* André Kwak is a doctoral student in Urban & Regional Planning at FAU-USP.


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