Latin American Urban Development into the 21st Century
Towards a Renewed Perspective on the City
According to UN-Habitat, Latin America is the most urbanized region in the world. Over three quarters of its population resided in cities at the turn of the twenty-first century, a proportion that is estimated will rise to almost 85 per cent by 2030. By comparison, just over 36 and 37 per cent of the populations of Africa and Asia respectively were urban dwellers in 2000. In many ways, this state of affairs is not surprising.
Urbanization and urban culture have long been features of the Latin American panorama, with the Mayas, Incas, and Aztec—to name but the best-known pre-Columbian societies—all associated with the construction of large urban centres, even if none of these societies were urban per se. At the same time, however, the region’s contemporary urban condition is very much a consequence of twentieth century developments. Industrialization and the introduction of capitalist modes of production in rural areas from the 1930s onwards triggered a process of concentrated urbanization that seventy years later had led to a majority of the societies in the region crossing the urban threshold, as well as the emergence of over forty cities with more than one million inhabitants. This rapid urbanization fostered a particular quality and distinctiveness about the Latin American city.
The unprecedented urban growth that characterized Latin America from the 1930s onwards gradually transformed the utopian urban imaginary, and promoted a much more negative conception of cities, which manifested itself in a variety of guises over the years, from the popular theory of ‘over-urbanization’ in the 1940s and 1950s, to the currently predominant vision of the Latin American city as a ‘city of walls’.Understanding the broader patterns of Latin American urban development research is critical, however, especially if we are to conceive of cities as part of the solution rather than part of the problem—something that is particularly important in a world that has inexorably moved beyond its urban tipping point.
To this extent, this book offers a range of perspectives on contemporary urban dynamics in the region, drawing on empirical examples from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico. It begins by offering a broad-brush overview of regional urban development trends, before exploring changing concerns and predominant issues in order to illustrate how the underlying imaginary of the city has critically shifted over the past half century. Focusing particularly on the way that slums and shantytowns have been conceived in the Latin American urban imagination, it highlights how thinking about cities in the region has been subject to a pendulum movement that has seen them become increasingly considered as fundamentally fragmented spaces rather than unitary systems within which the majority of the region’s population now resides. It then outlines how this particular vision has had critically negative ramifications for urban development agendas, and calls for a renewed vision of Latin American urban life, before providing an overview of the contributions to this book.