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  • Writer's pictureIHS Alumni

The São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro Mega-region: a territory in an urban world

Updated: Jun 19, 2018

The mega-region and the axis Source: Author on Google Maps image, 2016

“We can never really understand cities as simply “things in themselves” since they are manifestations of broader processes of change, connection and re-combination. Cities are just a particular form of urbanization.”

Matthew Gandy, 2014[1]

In the context of globalization the process of urbanization may already be understood as a planetary reality. In this reality, the growing inequality and vulnerability are becoming universal challenges to the guarantee of the right to the city, including in the so-called group of developed countries. The current diversity of scales of the urbanized territories expresses the high complexity of the contemporary urban forms.

Currently, there are regions on the planet that stand out by concentrating extensive variety of uses, activities and lifestyles. An emblematic example of this kind of space is the São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro Mega-region. This territory combines the São Paulo Metropolitan Region, the Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Region, their surroundings areas and the connection axis between the both metropolises. It´s a region of great economic and demographic weight in the Brazilian and international contexts, which concentrates important challenges for a better urban future.

In my PhD thesis I develop an academic debate linked to an empirical research, which highlights the ongoing processes on the territory along the connection axis between the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro metropolitan regions. The thesis faces this region as contemporary hyper-periphery. It is an experience of comprehension of the space production subjected to the standardization and fragmentation processes in the context of globalization. For this purpose, the thesis proposes a theoretical tool and a method for a critical analysis of contemporary large urbanized territories.

In this work process was possible to verify the conformation of a region of great contradictions, simultaneously cohesive and fragmented on its spatial and social dimensions. Ways of life and market strategies unify the territory in a surprising way – while the space occupation, land use planning, uneven development, segregation and vulnerability fragment it – imposing tough challenges to the population.

The institutions and a bit about IHS

The thesis was developed and defended at the Postgraduate Program in Urbanism[2] of the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (PROURB/FAU/UFRJ), with scholarship of the National Counsel of Technological and Scientific Development (CNPq), under the supervision of Professor Rosângela Lunardelli Cavallazzi (Coordinator of the Urban Law Laboratory/PROURB[3]). PROURB is recognized for its academic excellence in the Brazilian context. I do recommend it as a reference for those who have interest in the Brazilian academic production related to urban studies.

From February to June 2015 I have done a “sandwich” period of studies at the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies – Erasmus University Rotterdam, supervised by Professor Jurian Edelenbos and supported by CAPES (the funding agency of the Brazilian Government). Among other academic activities, I had the opportunity of making a comparative analysis between the Brazilian and Dutch realities, regarding the governance challenges of large urbanized territories. It was possible to realize the deep and predictable differences between the both realities. However, important and even curious similar issues and challenges were also perceived.

This was the third time I have attended a course or program offered by IHS. This opportunity strengthened my convictions about the IHS capacity to combine theory and practice from an interdisciplinary perspective, in order to face the great contemporary urban complexities. Once again it was possible to see how IHS provides an academic environment in level of excellence, which enables the development of a critical analysis of the urban issues.

The blend of cultures and backgrounds of the students, lectures and professors stimulates the debate and exchange of ideas in a democratic environment. This exchange is supported by the skills of all IHS staff. Those interested in attending the IHS PhD program will find a high-level academic space, open to diversity and debate, and committed to the challenges of the current urban reality.

As suggestion to future IHS PhD candidates, I believe it is important to keep an open mind for new ideas, and a deep willingness to work for a better and fairer city – because that’s how I see the motivation of the work developed by IHS.


About the author: Wagner Rufino is a Brazilian Architect and Urbanist (UFJF, Brazil, 2001), Master in Urbanism (PROURB/UFRJ, Brazil, 2006), and Doctor in Urbanism (PROURB/UFRJ, Brazil, 2016). Wagner lives and works in Rio de Janeiro, and has experience as researcher, lecturer and architecture designer.


[1] GANDY, Matthew. Where does the city end? In BRENNER, Neil (Org.). Implosion-explosion. Berlin: Jovis, 2014.


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