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The future of the Latin American metropolis

Since 1980, most giant Latin American cities have experienced several common processes. First, there has been a slowing in the pace of population growth due to falling rates of fertility, a decline in the rate of in-migration, a fall in each mega-city's share of the national population, and a decline in the level of urban "primacy." Second, despite a slowing in their population growth rate, most cities have continued to spread outwards: a trend accentuated by the growth of car ownership and by increasing signs of contamination and congestion in the central city. Third, most cities have seen a decline in the proportion of their population living in the central area and a rise in the share living in the suburbs (see chapter 4).

At the same time, there have been some important differences between cities. Fertility rates have not fallen at the same rate in every major city; indeed, the gross reproduction rate in a few has risen. Net in-migration to some major cities has ceased but elsewhere metropolitan areas have continued to attract more people than they have lost.

All the signs are that, in the near future, the trends which have been slowing the pace of metropolitan expansion will continue to operate. Fertility rates will continue to decline in most cities, as will the pace of cityward migration. While the balance of natural increase relative to migration will continue to vary between cities, all will grow more slowly.

Despite the slowing pace of growth, none of the region's mega-cities will cease to expand and all will continue their rapid spread outwards. They will continue to be difficult to manage and will demand large investments in their infrastructure and services merely to prevent a decline in living standards. Finding work for their inhabitants will continue to be a major problem despite the slowing pace of population growth. With so many young people beginning to enter the labour force, with more women wanting paid work, and with young adults continuing to migrate to the cities, it is unlikely that un- and underemployment will be reduced. In addition, new state programmes will be needed to deal with emerging problems such as the rising number of old people.

It is likely that the metropolitan share of national economic activity will continue to decline as manufacturing companies continue to locate in secondary centres. As a result, patterns of migration may change, with fewer people moving to the largest cities and more moving to smaller centres such as Fortaleza in Brazil, Tijuana in Mexico, Córdoba in Argentina, Ibagué in Colombia, and Trujillo and Ayacucho in Peru. However, cities within the metropolitan region will continue to grow. Unfortunately, the quality of urban life is unlikely to improve in such centres, since they are following the model already taken by the major cities: low-density expansion in the periphery, limited infrastructural investment, and inadequate provision of public transport (CEPAL, 1993e).

It is difficult to predict whether the metropolitan centres will increase their share of the national population or not. On the one hand, the tendency towards deconcentration within the metropolitan region will reduce their national population share. On the other hand, given falling fertility rates in the countryside and small towns, much will depend on whether the metropolitan areas will continue to attract migrants. This will be determined in part by the economic performance of their respective nations. Cityward migration was slowed in the 1980s by economic recession. Economic revival is likely to encourage more people to move to the cities. A reactivation of investment in social infrastructure in the major cities, something that went by the board during the "lost decade," will attract migrants from the more deprived regions of the country. It seems likely that most cities will reach the "postapocalyptic" state described by Pírez and Novaro (1993).

Clearly, the demographic forecasts prepared at the beginning of the 1980s were very wide of the mark. Latin America's major cities will not grow to the size once forecast. At the same time, a gradual recovery in the quality of urban life, even if it is still generally below the level reached before the onset of the economic crisis, promises to accelerate the pace of population expansion. There are also signs of better urban management which promise to reduce air pollution and traffic congestion and to improve the provision of basic services and infrastructure (Hardoy, 1993). There are even indications that some national governments are beginning to rethink how large cities should be administered, resuscitating the idea of metropolitan-wide government as a way of avoiding partial and improvised forms of administration (Aylwin, 1991; Carrion, 1992). In addition, the largest cities have recovered some of their economic advantages over most smaller centres. They have increasingly become centres of science and technology and of information management for their countries. In sum, even if the major cities of Latin America are likely to grow less quickly than was once predicted, they will survive and will continue to attract people and capital on a large scale.


1. In several respects, urbanization in Latin America is quite similar to that in other world regions. Urban primacy is certainly not a peculiarity of Latin America. There are many countries around the globe, in both the developed and less developed worlds, which contain primate cities. Where Latin America does perhaps differ is that it contains a higher proportion of super-dominant cities, those with more than 25 per cent of the urban population (Gilbert and Gugler, 1992).

2. Data on other possible explanations of falling fertility, e.g. changing marriage patterns and the availability of abortion, are scarce and, so far, have shown no clear relationship with changing fertility levels (Berquó et al., 1985).

Appendix: Local authority areas included with each metropolitan area

Buenos Aires: Federal Capital, Almirante Brown, Avellaneda, Berazategui, Esteban Echeverría, Florencio Varela, General San Martin, General Sarmiento, La Matanza, Lanús, Lomas de Zamora, Merlo, Moreno, Moron, Quilmes, San Fernando, San Isidro, Tigre, Tres de Febrero, Vicente López.

Caracas: Department of Libertador, Baruta, Carrizal, Cecilio Acosta, Chacao, El Hatillo, El Junko (parish of Vargas), Guaicaipuro, Jose Manuel Alvarez, Leoncio Martinez, Los Salias, Petare, San Antonio, Sucre.

Lima: Lima, Ancón, Ate, Barranco, Bellavista, Breña, Callao, Carabayllo, Carmen de la Legua Reynosos, Chaclacayo, Chorrillos, Cieneguilla, Comas, El Agustino, Independencia, Jesus Maria, La Molina, La Perla, La Punta, La Victoria, Lince, Los Olivos, Lurigancho, Lurín, Los Olivos, Magdalena del Mar, Magdalena Vieja, Miraflores, Pachacamac, Pucusana, Pueblo Libre, Puente Piedra, Punta Hermosa, Punta Negra, Rimac, San Bartolo, San Borja, San Isidro, San Juan de Lurigancho, San Juan de Miraflores, San Luis, San Martin de Porres, San Miguel, Santa Anita, Santa Maria del Mar, Santa Rosa, Santiago de Surco, Surquillo, Ventanilla, Villa El Salvador, Villa Maria del Triunfo.

Mexico City: Federal District, Acolmán, Atenco, Atizapán de Zaragoza, Chalco, Chicoloapán, Chimalbnacán, Coacalco, Cuatitlán, Cuatitlán Izcalli, Ecatepec, Huixquilucan, Ixtapaluca, Jaltenco, La Paz, Melchor Ocampo, Naucalpán, Netzahualcoyotl, Nextlalpán, Nicolás Romero, Tecámac, Teoloyucán, Tepotzotlán, Texcoco, Tlalnepantla, Tultepec, Tultitlán, Zumpango.

Rio de Janeiro: Rio de Janeiro, Duque de Caxias, Itaborai, Itaguaí, Magé, Mangaratiba, Maricá, Nilópolis, Niterói, Nova Iguaçu, Paracambi, São Gonçalo, São João de Merití.

Santa Fe de Bogotá: Capital District, Chia, Funza, Soacha.

Santiago: Santiago, Cerrillos, Cerro Navia, Conchalí, El Bosque, Estación Central, Huechuraba, Independencia, La Cisterna, La Florida, La Granja, La Pintana, La Reina, Las Condes, Lo Barnechea, Lo Espejo, Lo Prado, Macul, Maipú, Ñuñua, Pedro Aguirre Cerda, Peñalolén, Providencia, Pudahuel, Puente Alto, Quilicura, Quinta Normal, Recoleta, Renca, San Bernardo, San Joaquín, San Miguel, San Ramón, Vitacura.

São Paulo: São Paulo, Arujá, Barueri, Biritiba Mirim, Caieiras, Cajamar, Carapicuiba, Cotia, Diadema, Embu, Embu-Guaçu, Ferraz de Vasconcelos, Francisco Morato, Franco da Rocha, Guararema, Guarulhos, Itapecerica da Serra, Itapevi, Itaquaquecetuba, Jandira, Juquitiba, Mairipora, Mauá, Mogi das Cruzes, Osasco, Pirapora de Bom Jesus, Poa, Ribeirão Pires, Rio Grande da Serra, Salesópolis, Santa Isabel, Santana de Parnaiba, Santo André, São Bernardo do Campo, São Caetano do Sul, Susano, Taboão de Serra, Vargem Grande Paulista.

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