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close this bookThe Mega-city in Latin America (UNU, 1996, 282 pages)
close this folder2 Demographic trends in Latin America's metropolises, 1950-1990
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentChanging patterns of metropolitan growth
View the documentCauses of demographic change
View the documentThe spatial pattern of metropolitan growth
View the documentThe future of the Latin American metropolis
View the documentNotes
View the documentReferences

Changing patterns of metropolitan growth

Latin America's population has increased hugely during the twentieth century and particularly since 1950 (Chackiel and Villa, 1992; CELADE, 1993a). Between 1950 and 1990, it increased from 159 million to 430 million, growing annually at 2.5 per cent. Not only has the population expanded rapidly, it has also moved home: Latin America is now predominantly an urban region. The pace of urban development has been really startling. Between 1950 and 1990, the urban population increased from 59 million to 306 million: an annual growth rate of 4.2 per cent. In 1925, three-quarters of Latin Americans lived in the countryside, an average that placed the region halfway between the most urbanized continents, Europe and North America (with 50 per cent urban population), and the least urbanized, Africa and Asia (with less than 10 per cent). Since then, Latin America has become more and more like Europe and North America. In 1990, the region had 72 per cent of its population living in urban areas and the projections indicate that it will have caught up with the developed regions by the end of the century (UN, 1993a; Chackiel and Villa, 1992).

Having so far talked at the regional level, it is important to recognize the important differences that exist between Latin American countries. Both Argentina and Chile urbanized early and had an urban majority in the 1930s, whereas most other countries in the region did not achieve this position until the 1950s. Similarly, whereas the urban systems of Argentina, Chile, and Peru are dominated by the huge concentrations of people in their national capitals, Colombia has a very balanced urban system, and Brazil and Ecuador lack a "primate city."

In the early 1990s, three Latin American cities had more than 10 million inhabitants and another five had more than four million. These eight cities increased their combined population from around 16 million in the early 1950s to approximately 70 million in 1990 (table 2.1). The dramatic nature of their growth during this period is clearly demonstrated by the huge numbers of additional people joining their populations every year; 312,000 people in São Paulo, 300,000 in Mexico City, and 142,000 in Buenos Aires. At certain times, metropolitan expansion accounted for as much as 40 per cent of national population growth.

Table 2.1 Latin America's largest cities: Population, 1950-1990

City

1950

1960

1970

1980

1990

Bogotá

647,429

1,682,667

2,892,668

4,122,978

4,851,000

Buenos Aires

4,622,959

6,739,045

8,314,341

9,723,966

10,886,163

Caracas

683,659

1,346,708

2,174,759

2,641,844

2,989,601

Lima

645,172

1,845,910

3,302,523

4,608,010

6,422,875a

Mexico City

3,145,351

5,173,549

8,900,513

13,811,946

15,047,685

Rio de Janeiro

2,885,165

4,392,067

6,685,703

8,619,559

9,600,528a

Santiago

1,509,169

2,133,252

2,871,060

3,937,277

4,676,174a

São Paulo

2,333,346

4,005,631

7,866,659

12,183,634

15,183,612a

Source: National census figures.
a. Preliminary figures.

Of course, the region's giant cities have not expanded at the same rate. Between 1947 and 1990, Buenos Aires grew at only 2 per cent per annum, around half the rate of growth in Mexico City and São Paulo, and very slowly when compared to the growth rates of over 5 per cent in Bogotá and Lima. As a result of these different rates of metropolitan growth, there has been some reordering of the largest cities within Latin America (figure 2.1).

Between 1950 and 1970, the proportion of the national population living in the largest eight cities of the region increased markedly (table 2.2). Since 1970, however, the level of metropolitan dominance has begun to decline and in at least four countries the population share of the largest city has fallen. This trend has come as rather a surprise to most governments and was certainly not predicted by the experts (de Mattos, 1979). Only Lima among the eight cities is still clearly increasing its share of the national population.

Some authors have argued that the region is now demonstrating clear signs of what Richardson (1980) calls "polarization reversal," with the secondary cities now growing more rapidly than the giant cities. Certainly, seven of the eight largest cities have seen a decline in their shares of the national urban population (table 2.3). Even if the real significance and causes of "polarization reversal" are subject to dispute (de Mattos, 1992a; Gilbert, 1993), a major change is under way.

Not surprisingly, this shift has also affected the level of urban primacy.1 While the extent of urban primacy continues to be extreme by world standards, an outcome of the nature of the region's historical development, the degree of dominance has levelled off in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Peru, dropped slightly in Argentina and Mexico, and fallen markedly in Venezuela (table 2.4).


- Figure 2.1 Annual growth rates of Latin America's largest cities, 1950-1990 (Source: Table 2.1)

Table 2.2 Major Latin American cities: Population relative to the national total, 1950-1990


Percentage

Percentage

Percentage

Percentage

Percentage

City

(c. 1950)

(c. 1960)

(c. 1970)

(c. 1980)

(c. 1990)

Bogotá

5.4

9.6

14.0

14.8

16.4

Buenos Aires

29.1

33.7

35.6

34.8

33.4

Caracas

13.6

17.9

20.3

18.2

16.5

Lima

10.4

18.6

24.4

27.1

29.0a

Mexico City

12.2

14.8

18.5

20.7

18.5

Rio de Janeiro

5.6

6.2

7.2

7.2

6.6a

Santiago

25.4

28.9

32.3

34.8

35.0a

São Paulo

4.5

5.7

8.4

10.2

10.4a

Source: Table 2.1 and national census figures.
a. Preliminary figures.

Table 2.3 Major Latin American cities: Share of national urban population, 1950-1990

City

Percentage
(c. 1950)

Percentage
(c. 1960)

Percentage
(c. 1970)

Percentage
(c. 1980)

Percentage
(c. 1990)

Bogotá

12.7

18.5

22.9

22.0

22.3

Buenos Aires

46.5

45.7

45.1

41.9

38.4

Caracas

25.2

26.5

26.3

21.6

19.6

Lima

29.4

39.3

41.0

41.5

41.3a

Mexico City

28.6

29.2

31.4

31.2

26.0

Rio de Janeiro

22.3

13.9

12.8

10.7

8.7a

Santiago de Chile

42.2

42.4

43.0

42.3

42.0a

São Paulo

18.0

12.8

15.1

15.1

13.8a

Source: Respective national census data.
a. Preliminary figures.

This slowing of metropolitan expansion represents a major secular change and will be highly welcome to governments that have for many years tried to reduce the dominance of the major cities. At the same time, the shift should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the proportion of the national population living in many of these giant cities is still very high and that in some cases large numbers of people are still being added to the urban population. Despite a considerable slowing in the pace of its growth during the 1980s, some 125,000 people were still being added to Mexico City's population every year.

Table 2.4 Indices of urban primacy, 1950-1990


Index of primacy and populations

Index of primacy and populations

Index of primacy and populations

Index of primacy and populations

Index of primacy and populations

Countries and cities

(c. 1950)

(c. 1960)

(c. 1970)

(c. 1980)

(c. 1990)

Argentina (Buenos Aires)

4.0

4.0

4.0

3.8

3.5

Buenos Aires

4,622,959

6,739,045

8,314,341

9,723,966

10,886,163

Rosario

503,711

674,549

813,068

957,181

1,095,906

Cordoba

373,314

592,861

792,925

983,257

1,197,926

Mendoza

-

-

-

605,623

773,559

La Plata

273,220

404,129

485,939

-

-

Brazil (Rio and São Paulo)a

0.8

0.7

0.8

0.9

0.9

Rio de Janeiro

2,885,165

4,392,067

6,685,703

8,619,559

9,600,528

São Paulo

2,333,346

4,005,631

7,866,659

12,183,535

15,183,612

Recife

660,569

1,082,504

1,650,336

-

-

Porto Alegre

468,642

887,269

-

2,148,079

3,015,960

Belo Horizonte

-

-

1,501,629

2,460,012

3,416,905

Chile (Santiago)

2.4

2.6

2.8

2.9

2.9

Santiago

1,509,169

2,133,252

2,871,060

3,937,277

4,676,174

Valparaísob

348,022

438,220

530,677

674,462

758,192

Concepciónc

211,305

285,444

379,793

505,479

612,289

La Serenad

66,362

-

-

-

-

Antofagastad

-

87,860

125,086

185,486

226,850

Colombia (Bogotá)

0.7

0.8

0.9

0.9

1.2

Bogotá

647,429

1,682,667

2,892,668

4,122,978

4,851,000

Medellín

397,738

948,025

1,475,740

1,963,873

1,585,000

Barranquilla

305,296

543,440

789,430

1,122,735

1,019,000

Cali

245,568

633,485

1,002,169

1,367,452

1,555,000

Mexico (Mexico City)

3.0

2.8

2.7

2.8

2.0

Mexico City

3,145,351

5,173,549

8,900,513

13,811,946

15,047,685

Guadalajara

440,528

851,155

1,491,085

2,192,557

3,012,728

Monterrey

375,040

708,399

1,213,479

1,913,075

2,593,434

Puebla

234,603

297,257

532,774

835,759

1,815,095

Peru (Lima)

3.5

5.1

4.5

4.3

4.2

Lima

645,172

1,845,910

3,302,523

4,608,010

6,422,875

Arequipa

102,657

163,693

306,125

446,942

620,471

Cusco

42,644

-

-

-

-

Trujillo

36,958

103,020

240,322

354,301

508,716

Chiclayo

-

95,667

187,809

279,527

410,468

Venezuela (Caracas)

1.3

1.5

1.5

1.2

0.9

Caracas

683,659

1,346,708

2,174,759

2,641,844

2,989,601

Maracaibo

270,087

461,304

681,718

962,014

1,358,266

Barquisimeto

125,893

225,479

371,270

-

-

Valencia

110,828

200,679

429,333

720,579

1,198,978

Maracay

-

-

-

599,238

810,413

Source: National population censuses and DEPUALC project.

Note: For Brazil, Chile, and Peru c. 1990 preliminary data are included.

a. Until 1960 the index was calculated on the population of Rio de Janeiro. For the later dates the population of São Paulo is used

b. Includes the urban population of the communes of Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, Quilpué, and Villa Alemana.

c. Includes the urban population of the communes of Concepción, Talcahuano, and Penco.

d. Includes the urban population of the commune of Homónima.