Using the experience of metropolitan Rio de Janeiro, this article contributes to the broader debate on development regimes, rescaling and state spatial restructuring in Brazil, and its specificities in relation to the international discussion on the transformations in Atlantic Fordism. I argue that the transition from a (peripheral) development state to a competitive and rescaled regime has been accompanied by important continuities. Legitimized through discourses around development poles and trickle‐down effects, the national‐developmental regime has systematically promoted some spaces as opposed to others, without much emphasis on the social and environmental dimensions of spatial policies. The emerging competitive state spatial regime, whether in its neoliberalized, or its more recent ‘rolled‐out’ national‐developmental version, is merely expected to aggravate the historical socio‐environmental contradictions in the production of space. Moreover, scale has proven contested and strategic‐relational, both molding and being influenced by actors that seek to use scalar politics to reach their interests. My analysis suggests that, within this scenario, neither economic growth, nor regulatory and institutional strengthening, nor financial resources are likely to produce structural transformation in the inherited spaces of Greater Rio de Janeiro.