Comparing Sao Paulo, Brazil
to our own city of Chicago

We’re used to Chicago. The city of Chicago itself is about 12 x 25 miles; downtown is about 1 x 3 miles of tall buildings, and the lakeshore between Hyde Park and Evanston has a strip of tall apartment complexes. Other than that, Chicago’s buildings are mostly 2 and 3 story apartment buildings and houses.

<<Chicago’s Skyline: Note that you can see most of Chicago’s tall buildings in this picture. (Courtesy University of Illinois-Chicago)

However, from a tall building in downtown Sao Paulo, 10-20 story buildings stretch literally as far as the eye can see. It’s just unbelievable!. Our Sister-In-Law, Melody, once flew into Chicago from Sao Paulo and commented on what a dinky skyline we have.

I never thought I’d say that Chicago seems small, but she’s right!

This is a view of Sao Paulo, Brazil from the top of a 33-story building downtown. The view is similar no matter which direction you look!

Notes from our Diary

So what’s it like here?

Sao Paulo has piles of people (20 million) in an area about 1/2 the size of Chicago land (which has 7 million people) so it’s 6 times as dense. There are miles and miles of 10- and 20-story buildings, mostly apartments, mixed with sprawling houses and shacks built on the sides of hills.

The weather is very nice. Today it was about 75 degrees F and partly cloudy. Perfect temperature. It’s equivalent to our own northern July 31st here in the southern hemisphere. It was a great day for some outdoor shopping. The trees are beautiful and lots of plants are blooming. The weather is very mild in general in Sao Paulo. No hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes or blizzards here. Weather patterns change gradually, and as I understand, in the winter it gets into the 30s and 40’s.

Alan tells us that there are about 1 million people in Sao Paulo who are EXTREMELY well to do; a sizable middle class (5+ million people?) who make perhaps $1200 per month and have jobs in industry etc.; and the rest are, by US standards, quite poor. An average neighborhood in Sao Paulo looks like a bad neighborhood in Chicago (i.e. Englewood or Lawndale) and has all of the usual graffiti etc. Actually it looks more like LA than Chicago but you get the idea. Lots of cement houses and buildings, not brick 2 and 3 flats, in other words.

This description is kind of depressing, but Brazil is a 3rd world country that has improved substantially in the 8 years that Alan and Melody have been here. The concern right now is that the Brazilian government very recently lost its ‘grip’ on the exchange rate with the US dollar. Up until a few weeks ago, the Brazilian Real currency was 1 Real = $1 but now it’s only about 65 cents. So the Brazilian currency’s value has been going down, it buys less of the world’s goods, and the loans to Brazil by other nations are suddenly larger amounts overnight. Inflation, once severe, had been stopped but will probably return soon. The government will print money to rectify the problem and the value of the currency will go down. This hurts the working class, not the well-to-do.

It’s interesting to compare Brazil with Europe and the US. Despite the heavy influence of US entertainment, the culture is more visibly European than US. The architecture and the print media is more European and they use metric measurements etc. All the cars are small and the roads are narrow and twist all over the place. No straight streets in this 500 year old city.

We’re very glad to be able to visit here. I’m sure to some of you this does not sound like vacation material–we’re certainly not getting the sanitized ‘tourist’ view of Brazil, but we’re getting a long-awaited shot at some R&R, as well as a reality check. We’re VERY thankful to have the blessings of the US and sometimes it’s healthy to see how others live. It’s also interesting to ask the question: why is Brazil, with so many natural resources etc., having these kinds of problems and why are we doing so much better in America? I think I’m getting some ideas as to why this is so. There are certainly things in the Brazilian mindset that tend to perpetuate the problems this country has. And of course it’s also important to ask, “What can I, or what SHOULD I do, to help someone in Brazil?”

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