I grew up in a city with a population of around 400,000 people. The metropolitan area around the city now boasts a population of 1.2 million. It’s the capitol of a state with lots of federal and corporate connections. However, the development of the area occurred over a 400 year period. Instead of building up, we spread out. Public transportation was more popular in an earlier era when most people lived in the city. It is a necessity now to operate a vehicle to get to most places.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived in Belo Horizonte, Brazil (pictured above), a city boasting a population of almost 2.5 million, and 5.5 million in the metropolitan area. Highways were at least 5 lanes across, reminding me of larger American cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago. Public transportation was super convenient with extensive subway and bus systems that ran to all areas of the city. People were everywhere. There was a huge Wal-mart-like store I used to frequent for groceries. I will never complain about a line at Wal-mart again after the amusement park type of lines I had to endure in Brazils just to buy food. Walking through the subway station on a crowded day required a brisk pace to stay in the flow of foot traffic. My American southern ways of strolling along and taking in the scenery didn’t work.
At home, shopping was done in a mall, spread out over a large plot of land in a suburban area, that may consist of two floors. Several of the malls in Belo Horizonte resembled those in New York City, with three or four floors, in a small sliver of space in between office buildings in urban areas. There were buildings on top of buildings. People on top of people.
You can read all the facts and research but seeing the city, in all of its glory, from Mangabeiras Park helped me see just how big Belo Horizonte is.