Is urban density the problem? Historical inequalities and COVID-19 in São Paulo

Authors: Camila Saraiva*, Universidade Federal do ABC, Anderson Nakano*, Universidade Federal de São Paulo
Topics: Urban Geography, Development, Population Geography
Keywords: urban density, inequalities, social networks, COVID-19, favelas, São Paulo
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 44
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The city of São Paulo was the initial epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil that, since late February, has devastated the country. At the outset, cases were limited to the high-income central areas of the city, fully provided with infrastructure, services and health facilities (public and private). But soon, Coronavirus case notifications and, worst, deaths have exploded in low-income and highly densified neighbourhoods. Urban density is an attribute of cities expressed by the modes of approximation and distancing between people, housing, buildings, activities, among other elements. Therefore, urban density has been affecting the effectiveness of social and interpersonal distancing imposed to reduce the new coronavirus dissemination. But urban density also favours the construction of communal ties, social networks and solidarity among the poorest. The paper draws on empirical data and critical analysis of ongoing dynamics from the city of São Paulo to address the following questions: How the characteristics, qualities and types of urban density correlates to the number of deaths by COVID-19 in low, middle and high-income neighbourhoods? To what extent such different types of urban density have been affecting municipality decisions and programmes to control COVID-19? How social movements and neighbourhood organisations have been articulating to counter the pandemic in overcrowded settlements without adequate infrastructure – ‘favelas’ and ‘cortiços’?

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