This piece originally appeared on Needsupply.com.
Rio has the reputation and Brasilia has the Neimeyer, but Brazil would be a pretty tropical also-ran on the world stage if not for mighty São Paulo. The city is among humankind’s largest, and its metro is home to just over 20 million people. It’s also geographically enormous – people swear they can see it unfold along the curvature of the earth as they fly overhead. It has been the epicenter of the country’s epic economic rise, and by most measures it is the most important city in all of Latin America and undoubtedly the most important lusophone city anywhere. Its gritty, populist politics and will prove a litmus test for this century’s post-Snowden democracy, and its soft power prowess should help improvements in its massive income disparities.
Sampa, as it’s affectionately known, was once called “the ugliest, most dangerous city you’ll ever love” by the New York Times, and there is still more than a kernel of truth to the assessment. While it remains known for its grey, indifferent architecture and colossal favelas, there’s a design renaissance afoot, with a new generation pushing forward while drawing on Brazil’s rich aesthetic history. And there is vast – vast – amounts of money here, which has in turn fostered a wildly exclusive shopping scene that could even make Milan blush. As elsewhere in the country, its food is positively extraordinary and despite its modernity, just enough idyllic Brazil romance peeks through that it remains vibrant and full of character all its own.