Accessibility and segregation in são paulo metropolitan area: using the capability approach to understand the deprivation of living in big cities

Cunha, Luis Felipe Bortolatto da; Kuwahara, Monica Yukie (2019). 'Accessibility and segregation in São Paulo metropolitan area: using the capability approach to understand the deprivation of living in big cities' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA 2019, London, UK.


Socioeconomic development processes have several effects on space and time with different intensities as far as well-being is concerned. The neighborhoods and municipalities in the same metropolitan area are quite unequal in terms of housing, mobility, utilities, public services and urban infrastructure provision. Most jobs are spatially concentrated, far from the workers’ home, generating long travel times that impact the environment and the quality of life. The question posed here is the relevance of computing a spatially disaggregated index of accessibility to understand the inequality on living and moving in big cities like São Paulo (Brasil).

We use of the Capabilities Approach and Urban Economics theoretical frameworks as the foundations of mobility and an accessibility index, which helps analyzing how these aspects increase the inequalities and the deprivation on well-being when living in big cities. We claim that a low degree of accessibility can be regarded as a form of deprivation affecting well-being and the quality of life, and that the role of public policies is to reduce social inequalities and increase quality of life in the sense of distributive justice. In the Brazilian case, with its remarkable inequalities, to develop an improved right diagnosis to point out adequate proposals to reduce inequalities is still a difficult but nevertheless important issue.

Accessibility, hereby defined as the measure of the potential of opportunities for interaction, is a widely used indicator of the interaction between land-use and the transportation network in an urban environment, considered to be a powerful tool on monitoring, evaluating and estimating public policies proposed in these aspects. It is often confused with the term mobility, so it is important to highlight that they have different meanings. Mobility refers to a person’s ability to move through space, so as an “agency aspect”, it could be a dimension of the power of choice, e.g., an indicator of how a person can “function”. Accessibility, on the other hand, is a feature that is attached and describes a geographical area, which impacts on the ability to achieve valuable functionings.

This paper is part of a working in progress research that focuses on the study of accessibility in the São Paulo Metropolitan Area, the largest residential and business center of Brazil. Its development is marked by precarious urbanization and the lack of public policies to support socioeconomic development, which has led to inequalities that are expressed in space through socio-spatial segregation. Urban planning and development plans foresee that one of the main goals of transportation policies is to increase accessibility levels, which is in conformity with the capabilities approach. According to the capabilities approach, people should have the same capabilities (or valuable opportunities) to lead the kind of lives they want to lead, and a low accessibility represents a deprivation on a person’s capabilities.

The contribution of this research resides in the use of spatial analysis instruments to compute an accessibility index for the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo. To reach this purpose, a gravity-based measure is used, where the accessibility in each area equals to the sum of the aggregated potential opportunities in the area (land-use component) times a function of the cost of travel between the centroid of the areas (transportation component).

The potential opportunities are expressed by the spatial distribution of formal employment, since the current employment or the access to future opportunities of employment is one of the main reasons why people choose to live in the metropolis, and the cost of travel is computed as the travel distance by car road, which is the main type of transportation in the study area.

The result is an accessibility index to potential employment opportunities by car in the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo which reveals the inequalities in land-use and transportation in this area and may be used as an input to identify socio-spatial segregation, the assessment of a person’s well-being or the design of public policies.

scroll to top