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close this bookThe Mega-city in Latin America (UNU, 1996, 282 pages)
close this folder8. Mexico City: No longer a leviathan?
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe Mexican urban structure: the roots of centralism
View the documentThe debt crisis and its aftermath
View the documentMexico City's changing urban structure
View the documentAdministration and finance
View the documentCurrent issues and policy approaches
View the documentConclusions
View the documentNotes
View the documentReferences

The Mexican urban structure: the roots of centralism

Mexico is similar to most other Latin American countries in so far as a high degree of urban primacy has become the norm. The roots of this pattern are found in the historical concentration of political power, economic activity, and population (Davis, 1994; Garza and Schteingart, 1978; Gwynne, 1985; Scott, 1982). Subsequent industrialization accentuated this pattern; investment was concentrated in the largest cities: Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey. The availability of jobs attracted large numbers of migrants to those cities (figure 8.1).

By 1950, Mexico City was home to 12.3 per cent of the national population, while the two next largest urban areas, Guadalajara and Monterrey, together accounted for only 3.2 per cent of the national total (table 8.1). By 1970, the shares of all three cities had grown, to 17.9 per cent for Mexico City, 3.0 per cent for Guadalajara, and 2.4 per cent for Monterrey; by 1990, the shares were 18.5 per cent, 3.5 per cent, and 3.2 per cent respectively. By 1950, Mexico City accounted for 25 per cent of all persons employed in manufacturing industry, a level of dominance that peaked at 42.1 per cent in 1970 (table 8.2).

Spatial concentration in Mexico was accentuated by import-substituting industrialization (Gwynne, 1985: 84-5; Portes, 1990). Other government policies aggravated these centralizing tendencies. During the 1960s and 1970s, most public investment in water, education, power, and transport was directed at urban areas, with Mexico City receiving the highest share. In addition, direct and indirect subsidies for water, corn, electric power, diesel fuel, and public transport offered special advantages to Mexico City (Garza and Schteingart, 1978; Scott, 1982).


Figure 8.1 Mexico City: The metropolitan region

Deliberate government efforts to reverse this concentration of industrial activity were ineffective and sometimes counterproductive. The most serious problem was that few decentralization policies took the differing potentials of the regions into account. Thus, a limited amount of public investment was spread over a wide and undifferentiated periphery - not surprisingly, to limited effect (Scott, 1982). More targeted policies during the 1970s, for example industrial complexes and parks, had little effect on industrial location (Aguilar-Barajas, 1990).

Table 8.1 Population of Mexico's ten largest urban areas, 1950,1970, and 1990




Population (000s)

Rank

Urban Area

State

1950

1970

1990

1

Mexico City

Federal District/Mexico

3,167

8,624

14,685

2

Guadalajara

Jalisco

440

1,456

2,870

3

Monterrey

Nuevo Leon

375

1,177

2,574

4

Puebla

Puebla/Tlaxcala

235

533

1,420

5

Leon

Guanajuato

157

420

868

6

Toluca

Mexico

115

239

820

7

Cd. Juárez

Chihuahua

131

424

798

8

Torreón

Coahuila/Durango

260

438

792

9

Tijuana

Baja California

65

341

747

10

Merida-Progreso

Yucatan

159

242

665


National population

25,791

50,417

81,250


Source: Respective national censuses.

Table 8.2 Manufacturing employment, 1950,1970, and 1988 (numbers of employees)


1950

1970

1988

Mexico City

156,697

672,446

745,387

National total

626,285

1,596,816

2,587,013

Mexico City as % of nation

25.0

42.1

28.8

Sources: Derived from Garza, 1987, and Gordon et al., 1993.

While the maquiladora programme has successfully increased economic activity on the border with the United States and has attracted substantial migration to the border cities, the maquilas have generally failed to generate significant industrial linkages or to stimulate growth in other parts of Mexico (Scott, 1982; Wilson, 1992).