Latin America’s Urbanization in the 20th Century
- LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0187
- LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0187
A demographic, economic, social, cultural, and territorial process, urbanization involves different dimensions, which in 20th-century Latin America have exhibited more dramatic patterns than in other underdeveloped regions of the world. Demographic urbanization—understood as the percentage of population living in urban centers, categorized according to national censuses—was a process initiated at the turn of the century by foreign immigration in the Southern Cone and southern Brazil, followed by rural-urban migration since the 1920s in Mexico and Andean countries. Unlike western Europe and North America, where industrialization attracted and absorbed immigrants, the expulsion from neglected agrarian sectors was the actual catalyst of Latin America’s migration and urban growth in the second third of the century. Relationship with the productive system was thus problematic from the beginning and therefore marked successive approaches to the economic bases of Latin America’s urbanization, from the model of import substituting industrialization (ISI)—adopted in largest economies during postwar desarrollismo (developmentalism)—to the liberal and globalizing reforms introduced in most of the region after the “lost decade” of the 1980s, when the ISI-based and state-led model was dismantled. The urbanization’s weak relationship with productive activities has also been blamed for Latin America’s failed modernization in the 1970s, which had been anticipated during the developmental era as a consequence of industrialization and urbanization. Instead, the region’s shanty towns were proof of the sobreurbanización, or urban inflation, and sobreterciariación, or excessive growth of the tertiary and informal sectors of the economy, the latter caused by the absorption of the metropolises’ unproductive masses. Regarding the territorial dimension, the highly concentrated pattern of dual metropolises lacking services and equipment in their informal sectors was for most of the century one of the features of Latin America’s Third World–like urbanization. However, the continent reached 75 percent urbanization by 2000, and through a demographic transition characterized by lower fertility and mortality and a rural–urban migration that gave way to interurban migration, Latin American cities and metropolises exhibited less contrastive yet still segregated structures. In addition to successful reforms in economic and political models of some countries since the 1990s, the improvements are due to a more social-oriented conception of human development by governments, alongside reorientating urban development in the era of globalization. This does not mean, however, that poverty, inequalities, and deficiencies of services have disappeared from Latin American metropolises and cities; they still exist, and many of them are still undermined by violence, crime, social, and political unrest.
The interaction between industrialization, urbanization, and modernization in Latin America was compared with other industrialized and developing regions of the world early on in Davis 1982. As the field of urban studies and historiography emerged in Latin America in the late 1960s, the first reviews of the process of 20th-century urbanization were set in perspective with pre-Columbian, Colonial, and early Republican eras in Hardoy 1975 and Hardoy, et al. 1978. Resulting from a more specialized agenda and a broader perspective, the social challenges inherited from the 19th century through the Great Depression were compiled in Pineo and Baer 1998, whereas Clichevsky 1990 distinguished economic and political periods and their relationship with urbanization stages, as Almandoz 2014 did later, including the paradigms of modernization and development. The demographic records for tracing Latin America’s 20th-century urbanization can be found in the landmark report United Nations Center for Human Settlements 1996, whereas comparisons between countries and cities according to different indicators are available at United Nations Habitat.
Almandoz, Arturo. Modernization, Urbanization and Development in Latin America, 1900s–2000s. London: Routledge, 2014.
An overview of the relationship and imbalances between industrialization, urbanization, modernization development, globalization, and populism, with roots in 19th-century progress and civilization and emphasis on Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Venezuela. Appendices include tables on urban population, urbanization, growth, level of transition, and Human Development Index per country.
Clichevsky, Nora. Construcción y administración de la ciudad latinoamericana. Buenos Aires: IIED-América Latina, 1990.
With the collaboration of nine specialists on urban aspects, the book’s coordinator reviews major trends of Latin America’s urbanization, especially after World War II. Effects of the debt crisis during the 1980s are thoroughly analyzed, mainly relying on data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
Davis, Kingsley. “La urbanización de la población mundial.” In La ciudad. Edited by Scientific American, 11–36. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1982.
The article compares urbanization and urban growth in countries industrialized since the 19th century and underdeveloped regions such as Latin America. Originally published in English in 1965, it became a classic through successive editions in Spanish and updates of the collective volume that includes diverse topics and case studies.
Hardoy, Jorge E. “Two Thousand Years of Latin American Urbanization.” In Urbanization in Latin America. Approaches and Issues. Edited by Jorge E. Hardoy, 3–55. New York: Anchor, 1975.
The chapter summarizes, in seven “stages,” Latin American urbanization from the pre-Columbian era to the mid-20th century, which makes it valuable as an introduction to the field for undergraduates and nonspecialized readership. Interesting connections between the 19th century and the development of urban networks in the 20th across the region.
Hardoy, Jorge E., Richard Morse, and Richard Schaedel, eds. Ensayos histórico-sociales sobre la urbanización en América Latina. Buenos Aires: Clacso, Ediciones SIAP, 1978.
Resulting from a symposium on Latin American urbanization held at the 42nd Congress of Americanists in Paris, 1976, the book belongs to a pioneering series produced at similar symposia. Historical approaches since the Indian and Colonial periods frame chapters on marginality, metropolises, and ideology in the 20th century.
Pineo, Ronn, and James A. Baer, eds. Cities of Hope. People, Protests and Progress in Urbanizing Latin America, 1870–1930. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1998.
The book shows how the impact of urbanization on the working class and the demands by that group in relation to hygiene, housing, and transport set the agenda for the 20th century. Case studies include Bogotá, Montevideo, Veracruz, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Valparaíso, Buenos Aires, Panama City, and Lima.
United Nations Center for Human Settlements. An Urbanizing World. Global Report on Human Settlements. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
The first part of the report compares Latin America’s general trends of urbanization, urban growth, and primacy with other regions, relying on tables and figures that span from the 1940s through the 1990s. Other parts deal with sectorial components—housing, environment, urban land, infrastructure, and services—completed with statistics.
The United Nations website is an interactive platform for exploring, comparing, and downloading urban data of Latin American countries and cities, alongside other regions of the world. Publications available online provide historical approaches on indicators such as population, slum dwellers, infrastructure, and public services, among others.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Agricultural Technologies
- Ancient Andean Textiles
- Andean Contributions to Rethinking the State and the Natio...
- Andean Music
- Antislavery Narratives
- Arab Diaspora in Brazil, The
- Arab Diaspora in Latin America, The
- Argentina in the Era of Mass Immigration
- Argentina, Slavery in
- Argentine Literature
- Army of Chile in the 19th Century
- Asian Art and Its Impact in the Americas, 1565–1840
- Asian-Peruvian Literature
- Atlantic Creoles
- Baroque and Neo-baroque Literary Tradition
- Bello, Andrés
- Black Experience in Colonial Latin America, The
- Black Experience in Modern Latin America, The
- Borderlands in Latin America, Conquest of
- Bourbon Reforms, The
- Brazilian Northeast, History of the
- Buenos Aires
- Caribbean Philosophical Association, The
- Caribbean, The Archaeology of the
- Cartagena de Indias
- Caste War of Yucatán, The
- Caudillos, 19th Century
- Cádiz Constitution and Liberalism, The
- Chaco War
- Children, History of
- Chile's Struggle for Independence
- Chronicle, The
- Church in Colonial Latin America, The
- Chávez, Hugo, and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela
- Cinema, Contemporary Brazilian
- Cinema, Latin American
- Colonial Central America
- Colonial Legal History of Peru
- Colonial New Granada
- Colonial Portuguese Amazon Region, from the 17th to 18th C...
- Contemporary Maya, The
- Costa Rica
- Cárdenas and Cardenismo
- Cuban Revolution, The
- Dependency Theory in Latin American History
- Development of Architecture in New Spain, 1500–1810, The
- Development of Painting in Peru, 1520–1820, The
- Drug Trades in Latin America
- Dutch in South America and the Caribbean, The
- Early Colonial Forms of Native Expression in Mexico and Pe...
- Economies from Independence to Industrialization
- Ecuador, La Generación del 30 in
- El Salvador
- Enlightenment and its Visual Manifestations in Spanish Ame...
- Environmental History
- Era of Porfirio Díaz, 1876–1911, The
- Family History
- Film, Science Fiction
- Football (Soccer) in Latin America
- From "National Culture" to the "National Popular" and the ...
- Gaucho Literature
- Gender in Colonial Brazil
- Gender in Postcolonial Latin America
- Guaraní and Their Legacy, The
- Guatemala and Yucatan, Conquest of
- Guatemala City
- Guatemala (Colonial Period)
- Guatemala (Modern & National Period)
- Haitian Revolution, The
- Health and Disease in Modern Latin America, History of
- History, Cultural
- History, Food
- Honor in Latin America to 1900
- Horror in Literature and Film in Latin America
- Human Rights in Latin America
- Immigration in Latin America
- Indigenous Elites in the Colonial Andes
- Indigenous Population and Justice System in Central Mexico...
- Indigenous Voices in Literature
- Japanese Presence in Latin America
- Jewish Presence in Latin America, The
- José María Arguedas and Early 21st Century Cultural and Po...
- Las Casas, Bartolomé de
- Latin American Independence
- Latin American Urbanism, 1850-1950
- Law and Society in Latin America since 1800
- Legal History of New Spain, 16th-17th Centuries
- Legal History of the State and Church in 18th Century New ...
- Literature, Argentinian
- Machado de Assis
- Magical Realism
- Maroon Societies in Latin America
- Martí, José, and Cuba
- Mestizaje and the Legacy of José María Arguedas
- Mexican Nationalism
- Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940, The
- Mexican-US Relations
- Mexico, Conquest of
- Mexico, Education in
- Migration to the United States
- Military and Modern Latin America, The
- Military Government in Latin America, 1959–1990
- Military Institution in Colonial Latin America, The
- Modern Decorative Arts and Design, 1900–2000
- Modern Populism in Latin America
- Modernity and Decoloniality
- Musical Tradition in Latin America, The
- Native Presence in Postconquest Central Peru
- New Conquest History and the New Philology in Colonial Mes...
- New Left in Latin America, The
- Novel, Chronology of the Venezuelan
- Novel of the Mexican Revolution, The
- Novel, 19th Century Haitian
- Novel, The Colombian
- Oaxaca, Conquest and Colonial
- Painting in New Spain, 1521–1820
- Paraguayan War (War of the Triple Alliance)
- Pastoralism in the Andes
- Paz, Octavio
- Perón and Peronism
- Peru, Colonial
- Peru, Conquest of
- Peru, Slavery in
- Philippines Under Spanish Rule, 1571-1898
- Photography in the History of Race and Nation
- Political Exile in Latin America
- Ponce de León
- Popular Culture and Globalization
- Popular Movements in 19th-Century Latin America
- Post Conquest Aztecs
- Post-Conquest Demographic Collapse
- Poverty in Latin America
- Preconquest Incas
- Pre-conquest Mesoamerican States, The
- Pre-Revolutionary Mexico, State and Nation Formation in
- Printing and the Book
- Prints and the Circulation of Colonial Images
- Protestantism in Latin America
- Puerto Rican Literature
- Religions in Latin America
- Revolution and Reaction in Central America
- Rosas, Juan Manuel de
- Sandinista Revolution and the FSLN, The
- Santo Domingo
- Science and Empire in the Iberian Atlantic
- Sexualities in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Slavery in Brazil
- São Paulo
- Spanish American Arab Literature
- Spanish and Portuguese Trade, 1500–1750
- Spanish Caribbean In The Colonial Period, The
- Spanish Colonial Decorative Arts, 1500-1825
- Spanish Florida
- Spiritual Conquest of Latin America, The
- Telenovelas and Melodrama in Latin America
- Textile Traditions of the Andes
- 16th-Century New Spain
- Transculturation and Literature
- Trujillo, Rafael
- Tupac Amaru Rebellion, The
- United States and Castro's Cuba in the Cold War, The
- United States and the Guatemalan Revolution, The
- United States Invasion of the Dominican Republic, 1961–196...
- Urban History
- Urbanization in the 20th Century, Latin America’s
- U.S.-Latin American Relations During the Cold War
- Vargas, Getúlio
- Venezuelan Literature
- Women and Labor in 20th-Century Latin America
- Women in Colonial Latin American History
- Women in Modern Latin American History
- Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas