- São Paulo: A Graphic Biography by Felipe Correa
São paulo, the most populous and extensive megacity in South America, vies with Mexico City and New York as the largest metropolis in the Western Hemisphere. Founded as São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga in 1554, the city began to grow rapidly with the coffee trade and railroads of the late nineteenth century; it exploded in size with the industrialization, cars, and trucks of the twentieth century. Also striking is the city's spectacular verticalization, evident in some 6,000 highrises that now spread across the urban horizon. Growth has slowed in recent years, however, as São Paulo has faced economic restructuring, traffic congestion, air pollution, aging infrastructures, prolonged [End Page 188] drought, problems of public health, and now the Covid-19 pandemic. Consequently, this is a good juncture to review the origins, growth, spatial structure, environmental issues, and general resilience of this enormous city-region.
This substantial volume, authored by architect Felipe Correa, traces the evolving contours of the city's urban form and built environment. Abundantly illustrated with a bilingual text in English and Portuguese, São Paulo: A Graphic Biography includes five major units. The first and by far the longest—comprising two-thirds of the book—is Unit A, São Paulo: Models of Urban Growth. Rather than attempt a single comprehensive model, given the density and complexity of this kaleidoscopic city, Correa opts to visualize and interpret the dominant processes of urban growth. The core of the book focuses on eight topics: City of Ridges and Valleys, City of Citadels, City of Points, City of Spreads and Densities, City of Voids, City of Collective Living, City of Warehouses, and City of Layered Economies. These topical subsections include lively essays by seven other contributors, who supplement Correa's broad appraisals with opinion pieces. Despite the diversity of topics, they all reflect multi-scalar, interdisciplinary, and historical approaches to a dynamic mega-city well worth studying. As Edward Glaeser notes in the foreword, "one great challenge of the twenty-first century is to tame the demons that come with density in cities like São Paulo" (p. 7).
There is much to commend in this Graphic Biography. Along with its stylish design, the book is chock-full of thematic maps, archi tectural models, analytical diagrams, and historical and contemporary photographs—all of which parallel and enliven the text. In fact, the reader can quickly get lost in the profusion of graphic delights, but their quantity and diversity mirror the multi-faceted city itself. Lacking the clear physical limits and the orderly ground plans of more legible cities, the Paulista capital aggregates "multiple neighborhoods, each with a unique structure and identity… São Paulo grew as a patchwork of urban developments" (p. 49). A series of street maps included in the book show a dizzying array of spatial orientations, extensions, and curvatures. Indeed, I recall from my urban geography classes a student from São Paulo, whose mental-map exercise––based on Kevin Lynch's Image of the City––stressed the irregular streets and difficulty of getting one's bearings. Correa also points to the city's rapid growth and adoption of "heavyweight hydrological and mobility infrastructure models… disconnected from civic and urban aspirations" (p. 10). The utilitarian infrastructures of highways, railroads, channelized rivers, and other large engineering projects, he argues, disrupt the urban fabric. The resulting morphological fragmentation helps to explain the difficulty even residents can have in orienting themselves.
Besides its spatial emphasis, the book examines how the expansive built environment has urbanized and for the most part degraded nature. The channelization of rivers along industrial, transportation, and residential corridors, according to Correa, "has resulted in hydrological projects that in many instances are at odds with the general urbanization [End Page 189] patterns in the city" (p. 25). Renato Anelli discusses the juxtaposition of highways and rivers within narrow metropolitan corridors, which results in seasonal flooding, chronic shortages of...