One of the most sprawling, frenetic, and downright overwhelming cities I’ve ever been to, Sao Paulo proved an incredible source for trend inspiration, and for insight into how rapidly developing economies like Brazil’s are evolving at the ground level.

Traveling though the city with a colleague who was raised a Paulitano but has been living in the US for the past decade, I was privy to unique insight into the city’s evolution. Again and again, my colleague pointed out a sparkling new high rise apartment complex or luxury shopping mall that had been nothing more than rubble a few years back. “You should have seen this neighborhood ten years ago” became the refrain of the trip.

There were moments when I could have sworn I was in LA. Green, modernist, California-esque design was everywhere in Sao Paulo’s trendy neighborhoods – one agency I visited had a “living wall” in its hangar-like interior – as were boutique health studios and plastic surgeons (this is the home of the “Brazilian butt-lift” after all). That said, LA’s famous traffic has nothing on the congestion I witnessed in Sao Paulo.

As fun as it may be to marvel at the hip cafes, galleries and boutiques popping up in Sao Paulo’s wealthy neighborhoods, it doesn’t take long to remember this is still a developing country struggling with inordinate poverty and crime.

Extreme poverty and extreme wealth exist side-by-side here, literally: there was one point on the central highway when if I turned to the left I saw a multimillion dollar high-rise and if I turned to the right I saw a favela. I had dinner with an old friend of mine who has a great job at a multinational corporation, lives in one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city