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4. Land, housing, and infrastructure in Latin America's major cities
The price of land
The changing shape of the city
Since 1950, Latin America's major cities have grown dramatically. The combined population of today's four mega-cities (Mexico City, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, and Rio de Janeiro) increased from some 13 million in 1950 to around 60 million in 1990 (UNDIESA, 1991). If we also include the three cities which have more than four million people (Bogotá, Lima, and Santiago), nearly 60 million additional people were added to Latin America's metropolitan population in forty years. This chapter is concerned with the effects of this massive population expansion on housing, servicing, and land use.
My general argument is that Latin America's major cities have coped with the pressures of rapid population growth extremely well. Housing and servicing provision has generally, if not universally, kept up with the pace of urban expansion. This does not mean that people live well, or that most people are well housed or serviced, or that the major cities are free of severe problems; it does mean that there is little sign of deterioration. Only in a couple of cities can a case really be made that living conditions are getting worse.
The problems facing Latin America's major cities are hardly peculiar to them. Indeed, they have begun to look more and more like the cities of the developed world. In many respects, "developed" and "less developed" cities have been converging in form. Many cities in Europe and North America now contain stereotypical features of the Latin American metropolis: homelessness, unemployment, and a burgeoning "informal sector." Similarly, Latin American cities have begun to look much more like "developed" cities, sprouting skyscrapers and adopting the car-based, privatized culture of the North American and Western European city. Latin America's major cities increasingly share the same urban problems as major cities in most developed countries. Such problems are the result of economic recession combined with the unfettered workings of capitalist land and housing markets, the rolling back of the state, and the unlimited use of the private car. Latin American cities are different only in so far as they are generally poorer than cities in the developed world and also because they suffered much more seriously from economic decline during the 1980s.
Table 4.1 The growth of self-help housing in selected Latin American cities
|City||Year||City population||Population in squatter settlements||Percentage|
|Rio de Janeiro||1947||2,050||400||20|
Sources: Gilbert, 1994: 82, which was based on a variety of primary and secondary sources, supplemented by Jacobi, 1990: 37; Kross, 1992: 154; IBGE, 1991; Molina et al., 1993: 153; UNCRD, 1994; and Villanueva and Baldó, 1994.
a. The figure for 1991 is based on the favela
population. It therefore excludes consolidated seff-help housing.
b. Changed basis of calculation.
c. Except for the 1989 figure, the figures for São Paulo record the proportion of the population living in favelas. They therefore underestimate the total population living in self-help housing. The 1989 figure records the proportion living in favelas and in "precarious housing." Figures are for the municipality of São Paulo.
d. Estimates based on the area of land developed by decade since 1935. Population figures estimated by author.
e. Changed basis of calculation.
This chapter deals with a number of related issues. First, it discusses how effectively the huge growth in Latin America's metropolitan population has been accommodated: the way in which such vast numbers of people have been housed and the extent to which servicing has managed to keep up with demand. Second, it considers trends in residential structure: has segregation been increasing or decreasing and how has its form changed? Third, the chapter examines urban form: to what extent have Latin American cities developed polynuclear urban forms, a tendency that has been widespread among urban agglomerations in the developed world? What is happening to the inner city; is this expanding or contracting, commercializing or gentrifying?
The chapter includes discussion of four cities which have not so far achieved mega-city status: Bogotá, Caracas, Lima, and Santiago. Their inclusion has the advantage of showing how extreme size affects, and fails to affect, the process of urban growth. It also allows a wider breadth of experience to be addressed. Perhaps surprisingly, it also improves the data set, since some of these smaller cities have better information than some of the mega-cities.
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