A qualified debate on densification, verticalization, protection of places of patrimonial, urban, cultural and affective interest and the creation of green and free areas is fundamental in the process of reviewing the Strategic Master Plan (PDE), which is beginning to be promoted by the city hall and which, it is hoped, will become effectively participatory.
In recent years, this debate has been polarized, without the public interest and vision of the future of São Paulo, in its different dimensions, having prevailed.
On the one hand, the real estate market wants to make legislation more flexible to allow verticalization without restriction throughout the city, especially in the heart of privileged neighborhoods, where the PDE limited the height of buildings to a maximum of 28 meters (eight floors), and to increase the number of garages and the size of the apartments of the mass public transport axes, where the PDE limited to one space per unit and an average area of the apartments of 80 m2.
On the other hand, movements and associations from these same privileged neighborhoods want to contain the verticalization process, which is transforming the landscape of some consolidated areas of the city, displeasing its current residents.
In this polarization, which involves two antagonistic poles of urban interests, the population that inhabits areas of vulnerability, on the outskirts, slums and tenements, excluded from urban benefits, and which has not had a place in this debate, is absent, making them believe that the urban planning is a matter for elites only.
Giving more breadth and consistency to the urban debate, in a participatory process, is essential so that the legislation can be improved, taking into account the points of view of all segments of society, with the perspective of prevailing the public and social interest.
To delve deeper into this topic, considering demographic, social, urban, environmental and cultural aspects, it is necessary to answer four basic questions:
- Does the city need to become denser, that is, should it house more people and houses in the same urban perimeter that is currently occupied and urbanized?
- If it should thicken, where should it take place?
- With what pattern of land occupation and volumetry of buildings should this densification take place?
- Which social sectors should be served in this densification?
We will answer, in a didactic and reasoned way, these four questions, starting a series of columns on the revision of the Master Plan.
Regarding the first question, the answer is yes: the city needs to become more dense, housing more people and housing in the same area currently occupied or even in a smaller area, considering that risk areas will need to be vacated in view of the intense and more frequent extreme weather events.
The urbanized smear of the metropolis should not expand horizontally, for three environmental reasons: a) because it has already reached the limits of the environmental protection area and water sources; b) because it is necessary to maintain a green and rural belt around the urbanized area, to guarantee microclimatic balance and food production close to the immense consumer market of São Paulo; c) because climate change mitigation recommends a more compact city to reduce motorized mobility, which accounts for 65% of urban greenhouse gas emissions.
On the other hand, projections show an enormous need for new housing in the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo (RMSP), either to meet the accumulated deficit, to meet demographic demand, or to replace the existing stock.
The accumulated housing deficit, that is, low-income people living in undignified conditions, was estimated in 2019, by Fundação João Pinheiro, at 577 thousand units.
The demographic demand is even greater, which includes the new families that form daily and the migrants and immigrants who arrive in the city. According to a projection by the Universidade Federal Fluminense, between 2020 and 2030, the demand for new housing will reach 718 thousand units in the RMSP.
The demographic demand includes families from different income classes, including middle and high income, which explains the heating up of the real estate market.
This huge need for housing is driven by the reduction in family size, so that the slowdown in population growth is not accompanied, on the same scale, by the reduction in housing demand. The average size of families in the RMSP, which was 3.27 people in 2010, will drop to 2.72 in 2030 and to 2.60 in 2040.
In addition, there is still a strong demand in São Paulo, not yet estimated, for second homes, for temporary accommodation (Airbnb model) and for the replacement of the stock of demolished or changed homes, which interfere with the housing market.
Thus, by 2030, it would be necessary to allocate, in the same urbanized perimeter, 1.3 million new housing units to guarantee decent housing for all or, at least, 718 thousand to meet the new needs (leaving the housing deficit untouched and disregarding the replacement of stock and the demands for temporary housing). Faced with this demand, it is obvious that it is necessary to densify the city.
The second question then arises: where and how to densify and where to restrict densification?
I will leave the answer and reflection on this question for the next column, not without giving some clues.
It is possible to densify without adopting limitless verticalization. A well-directed verticalization can generate densification and a good urban quality. Densifying does not mean disregarding and destroying neighborhoods and towns with historical, cultural, urban, affective and environmental interest.
The densification needs to be articulated with other urban strategies, especially with mobility and the stimulus to collective transport and the rational use of automobiles. The mixture of classes and uses in the territories, avoiding segregation and sectorization, needs to be sought.
Parks and squares in the midst of vertical areas are essential to generate a balance between densely packed areas and free and green spaces. A healthy city with quality of urban life needs to have a diversity of densities and types of buildings.
We shouldn’t fear verticalization, but the bad architecture of most buildings. As Lucio Costa wrote, in an opinion about the modern hotel that Niemeyer designed amidst the colonial houses of Ouro Preto, “the good architecture of a certain period always goes well with that of any previous period, what does not match with anything is the lack of architecture”.