November, 26 to 28th
CUNY Graduate Center - New York

FAPESP Week New York



Back to news   |   28/11/2018 16:08

Medium-sized cities with significant inequality

Researchers from Unesp are leading projects that are studying the evolution of socio-spatial inequalities, using consumption as a way to understand the process of socio-spatial fragmentation

By Heitor Shimizu, in New York  |  Agência FAPESP – Since the 1950s, Brazil has become a predominantly urban country. According to the 2010 census, 84.4% of the population lived in urban areas and 15.6% in rural areas. Even according to the 2017 classification proposed by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) in the publication Classificação e características dos espaços rurais e urbanos do Brasil – uma primeira aproximação [Classification and characteristics of Brazil’s rural and urban spaces – an initial approximation], 76% of the country’s population is concentrated in predominantly urban areas.

In talking about the socio-spatial inequalities of cities, it helps to remember the striking differences between the neighborhoods of Brazil’s two largest cities: the periphery and the Jardins in São Paulo; the hills and southern zone of Rio de Janeiro. The growth of Brazilian cities, however, has reproduced significant inequalities in medium-sized cities as well. It is a recent phenomenon and is the subject of study by the Research Group on the Production of Space and Regional Redefinitions (GAsPERR).

“Socio-spatial inequalities characterize urbanization in Latin America, a sub-continent where cities reveal and reproduce their own versions of economic, political and cultural inequalities. Considering this reality as a general process, we are studying its particularities in medium-sized cities, which we understand to be one layer of the urban network, which serve as a space for geographical articulations on multiple scales in contemporary times, during globalization,” said Eliseu Savério Sposito (photo, at left), a researcher at GAsPERR and full professor at the School of Sciences and Technology (FCT) of São Paulo State University (UNESP), Presidente Prudente Campus.

Sposito was one of the presenters at FAPESP Week New York, held November 26-28, 2018 at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).

“In order to investigate the issue of inequality in medium-sized cities, we utilize consumption, associated with the role of credit, as one level of understanding the process of production and consumption in urban space, focused on segregation and self-segregation, to show how that converges into a larger and more complex process we refer to as socio-spatial fragmentation,” Sposito said. He then went on to explain those concepts.

“Segregation severs relationships between people. It constitutes a totalitarian order whose strategic objective is to break the concrete totality; to destroy the urban. Segregation complicates and destroys complexity,” said Sposito quoting the author of this concept, French sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991).

Self-segregation, explained Sposito, according to the definition offered by geographer Roberto Lobato Corrêa, a professor in the Graduate Program in Geography at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, arises when groups with better conditions (whites in South Africa, wealthy people in Latin America, etc.) opt for isolation in relation to the whole of the country, which for them is the “space of the others, and therefore, not for everyone.”

Finally, socio-spatial fragmentation is “characterized by a partial or absolute rupture between parts of the city, under social, economic and political plans,” this according to French geographer Philippe Gervais-Lambony, a professor at Université Paris Nanterre.

“The research studies our group has conducted employ a qualitative and quantitative methodology that gives citizens a say in understanding how current changes modify their spatial practices, using as a reference the viewpoints of people who have economic and political power, elements that reveal the substance of the socioeconomic indicators,” Sposito told Agência FAPESP.

The studies by Sposito and his colleagues have been divided into phases and projects, most funded by FAPESP. From 2006 to 2011, the project was entitled “The map of early 21st century industry: different paradigms for territorial analysis of economic dynamics in the state of São Paulo,” a FAPESP Thematic Project led by Sposito.

The researchers investigated the dynamics of industrial deconcentration in the direction of the state’s interior, which created development axes around cities such as Ribeirão Preto, São José do Rio Preto, Presidente Prudente, Araçatuba, Marília and Bauru. They observed that the economic importance gained by the interior did not come as a concession by the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo.

Many medium-sized cities became large centers of consumption and played a proactive role in attracting business and industry. The project resulted in a book that shares the project title, edited by Sposito and released in 2015 by Unesp Publishing.

Consumption in medium-sized cities

Another FAPESP Thematic Project was “Economic logic and contemporary spatial practices: medium-sized cities and consumption,” conducted from 2012-2018 and led by Maria Encarnação Beltrão Sposito, a professor at FCT-UNESP.

The project investigated the economic logic of companies that since the 1990s had viewed medium-sized cities in São Paulo’s interior as a consumer market ripe for exploration. Those companies, in setting up in cities in the interior, redefined their position in the urban network and restructured their urban space, with ramifications on the consumption habits of those who lived there. The researchers studied the distribution of company branches and shopping centers and how that created new areas for consumption sought out by different publics.

“We produced maps of cities from the interior of the state of São Paulo that ranked the areas by income level, the location of gated condominiums, locations that featured more (or less) consumption, and the distribution of services and recreational areas,” said Beltrão Sposito, who also took part in FAPESP Week New York.

The findings of that Thematic Project will be published in the book Consumo, Crédito e Direito à Cidade [Consumption, credit and rights to the city], slated to be released in early 2019, published by Editora Apris.

In parallel with the first Thematic Project, another FAPESP-funded project has resulted in the book Espaços Fechados e Cidades – Insegurança Urbana e Fragmentação Socioespacial (2013) [Closed spaces and cities – urban insecurity and socio-spatial fragmentation], by Beltrão Sposito and Eda Maria Góes, who is also a professor at FCT-UNESP.

The researchers studied the causes and effects of building gated residential condominium communities in Presidente Prudente, Marília and São Carlos.

“The study, which was awarded the biannual prize for best book by the National Association of Graduate Studies and Research in Urban and Regional Planning (ANPUR), shows that new spatial structures have led to a redefinition of the notion of “downtown” and periphery, as well as the spatial practices of the city’s inhabitants, revealing new relationships between society and space in cities increasingly marked by walls, both visible and invisible,” Beltrão Sposito told Agência FAPESP.

Another FAPESP-funded Thematic Project that recently began at GAsPERR is entitled Socio-spatial fragmentation and Brazilian urbanization: scales, vectors, rhythms, forms and contents – FragUrb, also led by Beltrão Sposito.

The project aims to understand, in the city and urban plan, how the fragmented socio-spatial logic changes the content of the differentiation and inequalities, redefining the experiences of what it means to have rights to the city.

“To conduct the study, we selected five empirical dimensions through which to analyze socio-spatial fragmentation: inhabiting, working, consuming, leisure and mobility. Cities of different socio-spatial formations are going to be studied [Chapecó, in Santa Catarina State, Dourados, in Mato Grosso do Sul State, Ituiutaba, in Minas Gerais State, Marabá, in Pará State, Maringá, in Paraná State, Mossoró, in Rio Grande do Norte State, Presidente Prudente, Ribeirão Preto and São Paulo (from São Paulo State)], as well as small cities, which will be identified during the course of the study,” said Beltrão Sposito.