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Teenagers in black jeans and hoodies sit sipping vodka on the sidewalk. At a venue down a few blocks of graffiti-covered walls, a man in a shark costume belts out rock songs. Outside a dance club, well-paid fashion designers mingle with street punks and transvestite prostitutes.
Rapid change is gripping Brazil, especially Sao Paulo, the largest city in South America and the most expensive in the Western Hemisphere. A red-hot economy fueled by commodities trade with China and decades of stable government have made many Brazilians more prosperous. The five years since have transformed this five-block length of Rua Augusta into a cultural blast furnace. In a society still marked by extreme inequality, it is one place where people of different classes, races and tastes mix freely.
Augusta, only two miles long, runs northeast from Rua Estados Unidos in the high-priced Jardins residential neighborhood. On the posher side of town, Rua Augusta is a relaxed haven for bookstores, cafes and vintage shops among a jumble of overpriced retailers. On most nights, crowds make it difficult for pedestrians to pass through without stepping off the sidewalk. And almost without exception, in none of the establishments will you find traditional Brazilian music. The scenes are dominated by local takes on punk, hip-hop, metal, indie rock and dance music.
Live music is key. The change on the Augusta strip is not the gentrification familiar to North Americans, during which a run-down section of town is taken over by a more prosperous, and ostensibly hip, group of people. Wealthy Brazil is here too. Glitzy television programs throw parties on the street. When international buzz bands come through, they usually play on Augusta. Yousseff says the price of a ticket is often five times more than what it would be in the U.
A worldwide cost-of-living survey by the Mercer consulting group this year found Sao Paulo to be the 10th-most-expensive city in the world, by far the priciest in the Americas. In other parts of the city, some skinheads are still on the streets, fighting anti-fascist punks and darker-skinned immigrants. Sao Paulo is an endless sea of off-white concrete skyscrapers that stretches in every direction, with almost no open space.