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7. Lima: mega-city and mega-problem

The origins of lima's problems
Demographic growth
Employment and poverty
Infrastructure and services
Crime, violence, and terrorism
Urban management
Towards a more participative, denser, and more polycentric metropolis

Gustavo Riofrío

The origins of lima's problems

Lima's problems began when it was founded on the Pacific coast by the Spanish in 1535. It was not a good place to locate Peru's new capital city. It was chosen in part because the Spanish did not want a highland capital like Quito or Bogotá. They ignored Cusco, the Inca capital, and Jauja, the first capital of Peru, both of which were located in the sierra. They wanted a maritime capital that would link South America with Europe; Lima was established to act as the point of contact between Spain and the Inca civilization.

Lima's founders were no doubt misled by the weather when they established the city. January is one of the few months of the year when dank mist does not cover the city like a grey blanket. Lima's climate is boring. From February until October, there is neither wind nor sun, the weather is neither hot nor cold, simply dull and humid. Limeños have to travel into the mountains to see the sun or to look at the stars. Except for the occasional sea breeze, there is little or no wind in Lima. Beneath the layer of mist, smoke and dust accumulate, a perfect recipe for atmospheric pollution and for the development of respiratory diseases. The colour of the city reflects the leaden sky, the buildings impressing the visitor only with their greyness. While the summer is pleasant, it rarely lasts more than four months.

It is the cold Humboldt current, running northwards along the Peruvian coast, that creates the winter mist and prevents the formation of rain clouds. Peru's rain comes from the Atlantic Ocean, soaking Amazonia but never crossing the Andes.1 A desert extends almost the whole length of the Pacific coast, some 2,000 kilometres from north to south.

Lima is located at the mouth of one of the fifty or so alluvial valleys that periodically irrigate the Peruvian coastline. Location in another valley would have served the future city better. Either the Santa valley (450 kilometres to the north) or the Cañete (150 kilometres to the south) would have provided the new capital with both more space and more water. The problem with the Rimac valley is that the river's regime is highly seasonal, varying from an average of 30 cubic metres per second during the winter months to as much as 400 cubic metres in the summer. In the winter there is not enough water; in the summer there is always the danger of floods, made worse by the narrowness of the valley.

Demographic growth

Until the beginning of this century, most of Peru's political power was concentrated in Lima. It was an administrative city that gradually extended its grip on the wealth of the nation. Most of the country's imports were channelled through the port of Callao; most of Peru's export revenues found their way back to the city. After the Second World War, Lima became even more dominant, finally managing to destroy its rivals by establishing a virtual monopoly over the newly emerging industries and commercial services. By 1986, Lima generated 69 per cent of industrial value added and collected 87 per cent of the nation's taxes. It also contained 76 per cent of the nation's telephones, 51 per cent of its public employees, and 73 per cent of its doctors. In the same year, Lima attracted 83 per cent of all Peru's bank loans and 98 per cent of private investment outside the mining sector. By 1993, Lima had no rivals; it was nearly 10 times larger than Arequipa, Peru's second city, and more than one-quarter of all Peruvians lived there.

Lima's growth, like that of most cities in Latin America, had accelerated after 1940. In the next half-century, its population grew tenfold. By 1993, seven out of ten Peruvians were living in urban areas, two out of five of these in Lima. The last census showed that Lima-Callao contained 6.3 million people.

Table 7.1 Lima: Population growth, 1940-1993




Population (000s) Annual growth rate Population (000s) Annual growth rate
1940 649   6,208  
1961 1,846 5.1 9,907 2.2
1972 3,303 5.5 13,538 2.9
1981 4,608 3.1 17,005 2.5
1993 6,423 2.7 22,639 2.2

Source: INEI, 1994.

Fortunately, the city's growth rate began to slow in the 1970s (table 7.1), the result of a drop both in the rate of natural increase and in the pace of cityward migration. The slower pace of growth means that the population pyramid is no longer dominated by children. The 1993 census showed that the most populous sections of the age pyramid were the 15-19 and the 20-24-year age groups. Neither is Lima any longer a city of migrants: most of the population has been born in the city.

Employment and poverty

The changing age structure of the city has brought new problems in its wake. Today, Lima lacks sufficient jobs and needs more facilities for higher education; there are plenty of primary schools now that the wave of youngsters has passed, especially in the low-income districts of the city (Driant, 1991). The youth that seeks work in Lima today is literate and is no longer satisfied with the unskilled construction work that once employed so many of its migrant forebears. The proportion of the economically active population born in the city rose from 40 per cent in 1981 to 50 per cent in 1993. Most of the young people now seeking to enter the labour force share the unsatisfied desires of their parents. The difference is that they are not strangers to the city, they were born there.

Unlike many other Latin American cities, Lima has experienced little or no economic growth since the petrol crisis of 1973. Since 1980, the economic situation has deteriorated severely. Peru has suffered badly from inflation, which rose to a peak of 7,660 per cent in 1990, and its per capita income has declined consistently, by almost 30 per cent between 1981 and 1993 (CEPAL, 1993).

Table 7.2 Un- and underemployment in Lima (percentage of economically active population)

  1979 1990 1993
Unemployment 6.5 8.3 9.6
Underemployment 33.0 73.1 77.6
Satisfactorily employed 60.6 18.6 12.8

Source: Ministerio de Trabajo, Household surveys.

Changes in economic policy have brought few benefits. Fluctuations in economic policy during the import-substituting industrialization phase of the 1980s gave way in the 1990s to a neoliberal model of economic adjustment and trade liberalization. Although the latter has reduced the monthly inflation rate to single figures and has recently brought an increase in per capita income, there has been little effort to compensate poorer groups in society. These have seen no improvement in their incomes or in their prospects for employment.2 The minimum wage in Lima in 1992 was only one-sixth of its value in 1980 and average salaries in 1994 one-half of their earlier value; some kind of social compensation package is badly needed.

Economic decline has reduced the number of decent jobs available. Cuts in the national government's budget reduced the number of government employees, a high proportion of whom worked in Lima, by 300,000 between 1990 and 1993. There has also been a major decline in manufacturing employment. Table 7.2 shows that only 13 per cent of the economically active population in Lima currently earn an adequate income and that the level of unemployment has risen to almost 10 per cent. Some of the unemployed are highly qualified; others, with less education and skills, remain unemployed because the informal sector can no longer absorb them.

Much informal-sector work is contributing little to national development, providing only a way in which families can survive their poverty. According to the census, there were half a million street traders working in Lima in 1993. Public space is being invaded by the informal sector. The streets of the city are full of traders, many of whom have established stalls that permanently occupy space in the central areas of the city. All sorts of activities are now conducted in the city streets: food is sold and eaten, vehicles are repaired and resprayed, there is a lot of crime. The authorities have no answer to this phenomenon. They hope that if existing rules and regulations are relaxed the informal sector will prosper and contribute to economic regeneration. They trust that some businesses will discover new market niches, improve their productivity, and develop into formal enterprises. Despite these hopes, there are clearly too many people working in informal-sector activities. Incomes have fallen dramatically in this sector since 1980, a trend matched by wages in the formal sector.

Recent reports show clearly how falling incomes have affected poverty in the city. Between 1985/86 and 1990, it is estimated that the proportion of households living below the poverty line rose from 17 per cent to 44 per cent. After a single year of structural adjustment, the proportion had risen to 49 per cent in October/November 1991. By 1992, the proportion was 55 per cent, with 90 per cent of the labour force earning less than US$400 per month. When poverty is measured in terms of those unable to buy the minimum basket of goods, the proportion of Lima families living in poverty rises to a staggering 60 per cent (DESCO, 1993).3

Of the 49 per cent of limeños living below the poverty line in 1991, 20 per cent could be classified as living in structural poverty and the other 29 per cent as newly poor. The first group suffers not only from a low income but also from poor housing and low levels of education; the second group has an income below the poverty line.

Households are coping with increasing levels of poverty by putting more people into the labour force. While this allows them to survive, their employment in low-income activities only serves to lower wages further, so that "poverty tends to reproduce itself" (Gamero et al., 1994).

Although not everyone in Lima is poor, some three-quarters of the population of Lima are now considered to be working-class or "lower." The only slight consolation is that this proportion is far smaller than the 89 per cent recorded for the country as a whole.


The most distinctive feature of Lima's growth over the years has been the proliferation of low-income settlements. These are known locally as barriadas or, since the military regime of Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968-75), more euphemistically as pueblos jóvenes, or "young towns". Given the lack of cheap public housing, Peruvian govern meets have built even less than those in most other Latin American countries, so the poor have been forced to build their own accommodation. Both natives and migrants have occupied undeveloped land on the edge of the city: between 1955 and 1961 the share of Lima's population living in barriadas jumped from 10 per cent to 17 per cent (see also chapter 4). Housing policy became two-faced: the poor were permitted to invade land and build their own shelters, while the state and the private sector sought to provide housing for the middle class (Riofrío, 1978). As far as the state was concerned, housing for the poor became simply a matter of providing a plot of land. After 1961, the occupation of peripheral desert land came to be accepted officially.

Table 7.3 Population by social class in metropolitan Lima, 1993

Social class Population (000s) %
Upper 184 2.8
Middle 1,310 20.1
Below poverty levela 2,483 38.1
Below extreme need levela 2,540 39.0
Total 6,518 100.0

Source: Compañía Peruana de Invesugación de Mercados (CPI), Market report.

a. The poverty line is measured as twice the cost of purchasing a minimum basket of food goods; the extreme need line as the cost of purchasing a minimum basket of goods.

Sites and service schemes were pioneered in Peru during the 1960s. Land was reserved for the poor, and when invasions of different areas took place the authorities responded by regularizing these settlements. If the community took on the burden of upgrading the settlement, the authorities would quickly recognize its leaders. The settlers would be guaranteed security of tenure. Most "young towns" were laid out in a highly ordered manner. The lots were all the same size, there was a recognizable street plan, and certain areas were left for the subsequent provision of public facilities and open spaces. Compared to the situation in other Latin American cities, families living in the "young towns" had plenty of space.

At one level the process worked well. Individual families gradually improved their homes, following similar designs to the houses of the middle class. Depending on their financial resources, they built quickly or slowly. They were free to build the kind of home they wanted and the final housing solution was often superior to what they would have received in a public housing project. Better the home in a barriada at a time when most architects tended to design only "small, cheap, modular, and uncomfortable" units for the poor.

The problem with the barriadas was that the uncoordinated self-help process was a highly inefficient way to develop a city: it was expensive, it was slow, and it forced many families to live for long periods in inadequate accommodation. The standard of construction was often very low and many families were forced to live in crowded conditions. The authorities did far too little to help the poor build their homes. They did not make cheap credit available. They did not organize any kind of technical assistance. They did not even ensure that the buildings being constructed were safe to live in. After 1961, the barriadas were freed from any requirement to obtain a building licence. The authorities accepted that they would receive no payments from the barriadas; in return they would not interfere. The only planning was that done by the community itself.

The process of self-help construction produced a city of relatively low density. Compared to other Latin American cities, few families rented accommodation. Central Lima had few slum areas because most people preferred to live in their own self-help home and could obtain their own plot and begin construction. The fact that the state owned large areas of flat desert land allowed this process to continue unhindered for many years. Low-density shelter also accommodated most higher-income groups. Urban sprawl was the result.

The problem with this process was that it could not continue for ever (Riofrío, 1991). By the 1990s, the city faced major problems with this housing model. Unoccupied land was scarce and therefore expensive. Any land close to the main service lines had several potential developers competing to settle it. The stock of state land was exhausted and the "young towns" began to occupy less suitable sites. New settlements began to occupy land on steep slopes, in valleys subject to flooding, in areas reserved for public projects. It was expensive to service these areas and the new settlements were as badly organized and serviced as the barriadas of the 1940s and 1950s.

As the amount of accessible, serviceable land became scarcer, population densities began to rise in the established areas. Lots increasingly accommodated more than one household. While the more foresighted or affluent built additional rooms at the side or above their own homes to accommodate newcomers, others were forced to share their own quarters. The young and poor could no longer obtain free plots in the periphery. They were forced to share or rent in the existing settlements, which caused increasing problems in terms of service provision and overcrowding. More and more households did not easily fit into settlements conceived as low-density residential areas and which had long been neglected by planners and politicians.

If there are increasing problems in the established "young towns," the situation is even worse in the new settlements. In part, this is because of the difficulty and cost of obtaining services in distant and unsuitable locations. In part, it is because the nature of the settlers has changed. Many are refugees from the guerrilla war which was raging in the countryside until 1993. They arrived with few resources, unprepared for urban life, expelled by the actions of either guerrillas or the military. The rest are native to the city. Educated they may be, but they do not know how to build homes; in any case, given the perilous work situation, they have few resources with which to consolidate and improve a shelter.

New and old settlements alike face a further problem, the inability of the authorities to provide adequate services and infrastructure. Lima coped in the 1960s and 1970s by extending services without improving basic facilities. The authorities lengthened the power lines without increasing overall capacity. They put more water into the existing pipes without upgrading or even maintaining the system. The city is now reaping the consequences of this improvisation.

Infrastructure and services

The lack of infrastructure and services in now a major problem in Lima, one aggravated both by rapid population growth and by economic decline. In contrast to the improvement that occurred in the 1970s, the quality of servicing deteriorated badly during the 1980s. Water, sewerage, and electricity provision was hampered by the decline in public investment as well as by concerted guerrilla attacks on the national electricity grid. Admittedly, the quality of some kinds of service, notably roads and rubbish collection, did improve during the 1980s. These services were in municipal hands and the improvement can be attributed to the fact that since 1980 the municipal councils in Lima have been elected.

The combination of terrorist attacks and drought brought particular problems for the electricity sector. Between 1989 and 1992, the city suffered from severe rationing; at particularly difficult times the electricity supply was reduced by 35 per cent. Guerrilla attacks and a lack of water aggravated a crisis that had long been in the making; at its heart lay the lack of adequate planning and foresight.

Table 7.4 Water, sewerage, and electricity provision in Lima, 1993 (percentage of households)

Piped water provision in the home 63.6
Link to the main sewer 60.2
Electricity in the home 82.1
Total homes 1,399,530

Source: INEI, 1994.

Capacity had been reduced because too little investment had taken place. The authorities had responded only to crises: for example, they built a new coal-driven power station between 1992 and 1994 as an emergency response to the shortage of 300 megawatts of power.

The water sector was no better planned. Water had been scarce since the middle 1960s, when poorer settlements first began to be rationed. Too little water was supplied from outside the city and, as a result, the level of the water table gradually dropped and sea water penetrated the aquifer. The shortage of water meant that, during the 1980s, fewer homes in the "young towns" were being connected to the network. Table 7.4 shows that by the 1990s services were lacking in many parts of the city. Even homes linked to the mains were suffering water shortages; 4.5 million limeños suffered from rationing during the drought of 1992.

It remains to be seen whether current plans to privatize some of the major utilities will yield better results. Certainly, any reactivation of the economy will help the situation, and public investment has already increased the supply of water to the city. So far, however, there is little sign of any improvement in the quality of maintenance or of any extension of the supply network.


Current road conditions and the state of public transport are perfect examples of the urban disorder that rules in Lima today. During the 1980s, there had been signs of hope. More investment was put into transport than into any other sector. With the newly elected municipal authorities attempting to improve traffic conditions, the road system improved in leaps and bounds. A World Bank loan helped the Municipality of Lima to build new roads and to pave or repave 100 kilometres of existing road. Paved roads reached most settlements, including the larger "young towns." The principal problem was how to handle the massive amount of traffic in the city without saturating the main roads. Lacking adequate funds, the Municipality of Lima was unable to build enough road interchanges or to improve the system of traffic lights. International loans could not be used because these were cut in 1986, when the national president insisted on the construction of an electric train system in the city and, as a result of this project, the Municipality of Lima could not comply with the terms of its contract with the World Bank. The construction of three new road interchanges in the last six years has helped, but any real improvement has been hampered by the fact that road spending has been cut by the national government's attempts to cut municipal funding.4

The system of public transport has been in progressive decline since the 1970s. Long-term municipal plans to reorganize mass transport in the city were rudely interrupted by the imposition of the electric train project in 1986. The national president established a new authority to "plan" and operate the new railway, and building work commenced in the absurdly short period of nine months. Ten kilometres of line were built in the south of the city between 1986 and 1990, but the line has still not been completed and is currently out of service.

Public transport in Peru is mainly in the hands of large numbers of small enterprises. They operate fleets of small vehicles which are rarely well maintained. In Lima, the bus routes are poorly planned and have grown haphazardly in response to changing demands for transport. During the 1990s, economic restructuring has brought several important changes. First, with the lowering of import tariffs, large numbers of new vehicles have been imported. The number of public transport vehicles in Lima increased from 7,000 to 27,000 between 1990 and 1993. While this has helped modernize some of the fleet, new legislation has also allowed the import of used vehicles, and even used lyres, into the country.5 The result is that there are far too many small vehicles on the roads. Second, large numbers of unemployed workers have set up in business, driving the newly imported taxis and "combis." Unfortunately, few of these drivers have been properly trained and the municipal authorities estimate that only half hold a driving licence. The huge expansion in unauthorized taxi services has increased the rate of accidents and has also led to frequent attacks on passengers by drivers. The "combis" are even worse than the taxis and the police estimate that 40 per cent of road deaths in Lima involve such a vehicle.

Public transport in the city is in chaos because the authorities no longer exert any real level of control. The standard of driving has deteriorated as the numbers of vehicles have increased. People park their vehicles where they want and no-one prevents illegal parking. In terms of transport, Lima appears to have become ungovernable (see also chapter 5).

Crime, violence, and terrorism

Lima faces many of the same problems as most other Latin American cities with respect to crime. Ordinary crime and police corruption have increased in line with rising levels of poverty. Crime rates are higher in Lima than in the rest of Peru, and during the 1980s crimes of violence rose considerably. Wellarmed and organized gangs emerged during the late 1980s. As in other Latin American cities, the authorities have been unable to cope with the rising wave of violent crime. However, the situation in Lima is worse than in most other parts of the region because of the influence of drugs and terrorist violence.

Special mention needs to be made of the problem of drugs. For some years, coca paste has been exported from the Peruvian Amazon directly to neighbouring countries. Recently, however, new networks have developed which have involved Lima in the production of refined cocaine. Peru is now an important exporter in its own right and the local mafias, subsidiaries of the Colombian cartels, have acquired a great deal of power. So far, the authorities have scarcely confronted the new drug mafias. Only two arrests of important dealers have been made in Lima, the first in 1985 and the second in 1994.

Crime rates in Lima have been affected by the recent rise in the level of drug addiction. For decades, Peru exported drugs, but it only began to consume drugs in the late 1970s. Local drug producers started to sell cocaine paste, the equivalent of crack, on the streets. Its cheapness and highly addictive characteristics soon turned many young people into addicts. A form of drug-related violence, previously unknown in the city, became common. Ordinary killings in Lima increased from 5.2 deaths per day in 1992 to 9.9 per day the following year (Otárola, 1994). By 1994, few families in the city had not been touched in some way by crime, terrorism, or drug addiction. Whatever their income, everyone had been affected.

A wave of terrorist violence during the 1980s also brought a major shift in criminal behaviour throughout Peru. Lima suffered when the ruralbased Shining Path guerrillas realized that the most fertile ground to sow their political seeds lay in the city. Lima became an important recruitment centre and also the principal target by which national and international attention could be attracted. From 1980, the guerrillas attacked the national electricity network, particularly that supplying Lima. The authorities responded by defending only one of the three transmission lines to the city, increasing Lima's vulnerability. Shining Path also launched a wave of assassinations of barriada leaders and of leading national personalities. From around 1985, the focus of assassinations was in Lima. Car bombs and dynamite explosions reached dramatic proportions in 1992, generating a widespread feeling of fear in the city. Security services proliferated to protect both offices and high-income residential property. In addition to Shining Path, another guerrilla group, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), launched a wave of kidnappings and attacks on rich and powerful people. The authorities contributed to the atmosphere of insecurity by their indiscriminate and exaggerated form of response.

It is only since the leader of the Shining Path guerrillas was arrested that the level of terrorist violence has fallen. Since Abimael Guzmán's capture in 1993, guerrilla activity has declined remarkably. From a high in 1992 of 8.5 deaths per day, the number of deaths in Lima from political violence was almost halved in 1993 and fell again in 1994. This has brought huge relief in Lima, although whether the peace will last is uncertain; for, although the security forces were immensely successful in capturing the leaders of Shining Path, government attempts at confronting poverty and at improving political participation among lower-income groups have been far less convincing.

By the early 1990s, no-one in the city felt safe. Many ordinary people started to carry guns and the police estimate that today there are around a quarter of a million armed civilians. As a result of widespread fear, there has been a huge increase in the demand for security services. By 1993, some 500 firms were operating in the country, employing some 125,000 people; the security industry was the one business that was doing well. During the 1990s, armed escort vehicles began to proliferate in Lima and cars ceased stopping at red traffic lights. Professional companies fitted more and more electric fences round high- and middle-income settlements.

Table 7.5 Major causes of violent death in Lima, 1993 (persons killed)

Traffic accidents 1,353
Terrorist attacks 680
Community leaders assassinated by Shining Path 24
Political violence 284
Common crime (estimated) 1,800
Politically motivated disappearances 6
Total 4,147

Sources: Policia Nacional, Division de investigación de accidentes de tránsito, reported in El Comercio, 7 March 1994: A6; Peru Paz 18, January 1994:16 and 18; Policía Nacional, Caretas, 21 April 1994: 34; DESCO, Quehacer 76 (1992): 42.

Urban management

The overriding impression given by the city's management is one of being unable to coordinate the actions of the different administrative agencies. Lima and Callao lie in different municipalities and, in spite of their common problems, their councils have never even managed to organize a meeting to coordinate future plans for the conurbation's development. The two municipalities are divided into 49 districts, each with its own mayor and council, which are elected every four years.6 Each district is administratively autonomous in most respects, although the budget has to be approved by the respective municipality. Since 1994, however, a new law has increased the amount of money each district receives from central government. While increased funding is welcomed by the districts, it has been achieved at the expense of coordinated planning. The funds have been taken from the budget of the Metropolitan Investment Fund (INVERMET), which used to coordinate programmes across the districts. So far, there has been little sign of cooperation between the districts, and this will always be difficult to achieve given their differences in age, socio-economic needs, and financial and managerial capacity.

Public services in Lima are organized in ways which often impede the making of sensible decisions and which reduce the chances of coordination. For example, rubbish collection is in the hands of the districts but final disposal is the responsibility of the two municipalities. The result is that the districts often dump rubbish in unauthorized areas. A different kind of problem afflicts the electricity and water services. Each is run by central government agencies whose boards contain no municipal representatives. The municipalities have never managed to coordinate the actions of these different agencies. Figure 7.1 shows the responsibilities of the different agencies that administer telephones, water, and electricity.

Figure 7.1 Lima: Instutional boundaries, 1993

The formulation of housing policy in the city is equally flawed. State housing agencies have always acted autonomously and have never sought permission for their projects from the municipal authorities. The likelihood of coordination has hardly been helped by the reallocation of central government functions that occurred in 1992. The Ministry of Housing now forms part of the Ministry of Transport and Communications, while the state housing agencies are responsible to the Ministry of the Presidency.

The two municipal authorities are responsible for most forms of planning in the conurbation. However, they have little control over the public service agencies and given their failure to liaise there is little real planning going on in the city. This tendency was encouraged in the 1990s by the neoliberal attitudes which rule national government thinking. The National Planning Institute was abolished in 1991 and the only real planning entity now operating in the country is the Ministry of Economy and Finance!

Towards a more participative, denser, and more polycentric metropolis

For Lima to be administered competently it is necessary to create stronger planning processes and to develop ways of coordinating the activities of the different groups who are responsible for changing the city. It is vital to include the mass of the population in the decision-making process; after all, the poor have already taken on the task of building much of the city themselves. There is no lack of suggestions and ideas bubbling up from the bottom; the difficulty is to get the authorities to take such views seriously. Officials do not like ideas that conflict with their own plans and ways of thinking, especially given the social divide that exists in Peru between the top officials and the poor. In turn, the poor are extremely suspicious of the ways in which important decisions are made in Lima. Although it will not be easy to overcome this mutual hostility and lack of respect, it is essential to do so.

Such a change in official attitudes is necessary for both growth and equity reasons. First, it is by no means obvious that the Peruvian economy can grow without the dynamism of the informal sector; certainly few parts of the formal sector in Peru will be able to compete in the world market (de Soto, 1987). Second, if the government does not help the informal sector, there is little hope that the benefits of growth will trickle down to the poor.

The informal sector needs official help in the form of more credit and the provision of business advice centres and industrial facilities. What it does not need are the kinds of policy that emerged in the past when the poor were not consulted: for example, the development of industrial parks with facilities for companies with more than 50 employees.

The shape of Lima also has to change. Current tendencies towards urban sprawl and a unicentric city need to be reversed, and most professional planners are agreed that Lima has to develop a more polycentric form. Fewer people should have to travel to the central area and alternatives need to be found to reduce the number of trips passing through the city centre. The creation of a polycentric city is important for economic reasons, particularly to reduce traffic congestion and to save people's time, but it is also of social significance. Ordinary people cannot possibly identify with a city as large as Lima; they need a local identity, to belong to lively neighbourhoods of which they can be proud. Fortunately, there are already signs that certain commercial and service centres are developing in the suburbs (figure 7.2). It is important to encourage this trend.

At present, however, official efforts to encourage the decentralization process have been confined to discussing the legal implications of administrative change. To move forward it is necessary to obtain political agreement on what form the new administrative structure of the city should take and to determine which of the incipient secondary centres should have priority in terms of private and public investment.

If the shape of the city needs to be modified, so too does the unfortunate tendency towards low-density development. The outward spread of the city has occurred in an uncontrolled and highly irresponsible way. This process needs to be slowed so that scarce resources can be used more efficiently. There are already some signs of a shift in this direction, but it is occurring in too spontaneous a fashion. Public intervention is required to prevent future crises in service provision. Much greater coordination is necessary between the authorities and private investors at every social level. In future, infrastructure investment should be used to encourage densification.

There is great scope for such intervention in the "young towns," where as many as 300,000 buildings could be extended to produce additional homes. Densification could also be encouraged by improving living conditions in the deteriorating areas of the city. The civil defence authority has drawn attention to the fact that 110,000 dwellings in central Lima, Rimac, La Victoria, and the centre of El Callao are in danger of collapse. In such areas, conventional forms of urban renewal will not necessarily help if they encourage gentrification and expel the existing population. If existing population densities are to be maintained, major public programmes are required to help the small-scale enterprises already functioning in these areas. Small projects, especially those that never get beyond the pilot stage, are of little help. What is required is larger-scale investment and better planning aimed at restructuring the city. More infrastructure investment in low-income areas would both improve living conditions and help slow the outward growth of the city.

Figure 7.2 Lima: Settlement type and main commercial centres

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