In Search of Gentrification: The Local Meanings of Urban Upward Redevelopment in São Paulo, Brazil

2014-10-28T00:00:00Z (GMT) by Marina Toneli Siqueira
This dissertation explores the contributions and limitations of gentrification theory to understand processes of upward urban redevelopment in São Paulo, Brazil. To this end, I develop a definition of gentrification that maintains its analytical consistency while also providing sufficient elasticity to illuminate diverging contexts. I apply this framework to two case studies in São Paulo that were locally recognized as experiencing gentrification. Ultimately, this research explores both the relevance of existing gentrification theory and the local meanings that it has assumed. Drawing on the classical and global definitions of gentrification, the analytical framework identifies three necessary dimensions common to all cases, even if mediating structures make their materialization context-specific. They are: (1) production of gentrifiable space; (2) upward socio-economic change with displacement; and (3) built environment upgrades. The two case studies in São Paulo expose the challenges of the straightforward importation of theory in each of these dimensions. First, the local urbanization pattern does not follow the central city disinvestment and suburbanization process of classical cases. Second, the presence of urban informality results in the displacement of both formal and informal residents. Third, in scenarios where apartments are valuable housing options, built environment upgrades promote verticalization and corporate developers become “pioneer” gentrifiers. Finally, by focusing on the state as a key mediating structure of gentrification, the case studies analyze the dynamics of one private-led and one state-led upward redevelopment process. In the first case, the state becomes an enabler by providing the support needed for gentrification to happen. By establishing a partnership with the private sector in the second case, the state becomes an entrepreneur, creating and benefiting from a speculative real estate market. Instead of reifying a homogeneous and invariable pro-market approach, though, they demonstrate the multiple and conflictive goals mediated and legitimized by the state and that can limit the impact of displacement. To be clear, these are indeed gentrification cases given the evidence of the necessary dimensions of the analytical framework. However, they posit the need to contextualize our understandings of gentrification since interactions between local and global patterns may alter the process over space and time.