Published on February 4, 2008
GEOG 3515: GEOG 3515 The Geography of South America Class 23: Economic Geography: Urban Environments: Cityscapes and Shantytowns South American Cities: South American Cities In the USA and Canada, land use in cities is usually closely controlled by zoning, determining the relative locations and mixes of different developments. Such planning is relatively, speaking, absent from the South American city which had and has a much more laissez-faire approach to building. This does not mean that South American cities are just random and have no spatial pattern. The lack of planning has organically tended to produce a relatively recognizable juxtaposition of land use zones the provide stark contrasts between rich and poor. South American City Model: South American City Model The generic urban model above highlights the growth of Latin American cities and the clear class divisions within them. While the central business district (CDB), elite spine, and residential sector may have excellent access to services and utilities, life in the zone of peripheral squatter settlements is much more difficult. In many Latin American cities, one-third of the population resides in squatter settlements. From Ford, 1996. “New and Improved Model of Latin American City Structure.” Geographical Review 86(3), 437–40. Inner City: Inner City Before the development of the modern economy and rise of the service sector, the inner city was always an enclave of the elite, with large lots and big houses usually hidden away behind imposing walls with interior gardens or courtyards. With the development of the high rises and the growth in the size and scale of commerce, the inner-city has given way to a Central Business District, in many cases the elite taking advantage of their ownership of large core lots to cash in on the real estate market as land values appreciated. Elites have chosen to move to choice locations along a transit route, normally a multi-lane boulevard, connecting the CBD to one or more satellite mall-type developments on the edge of the old town center with entertainment, upscale shopping and franchise restaurants, frequently American like TGI Fridays or Tony Roma’s. Inner City Landmarks: Inner City Landmarks The Republic period may have coincided with a wave of nationalistic fervor and the construction of several large avenidas or boulevardes with large, grandiose buildings and monuments. Somewhere in the center of most South American cities will be one or more grand plaza mayores or main squares onto which will front ornate cathedrals, el teatro nacional and/or imposing government buildings, many dating back to the colonial era. The squares will be occupied by constantly milling peoples – lottery ticket sellers, chess-players, etc. and will increasingly have become fringed by fast-food restaurants, either local franchises (e.g. Pollo Campero) or global (McDonalds, Pizza Hut, etc.) – side streets will have small, family owned stores. Since the Spanish preferred river sites for their cities, many will have a sizeable water body passing through it with bridges criscrossing, gravel and sand miners digging, trucks and cars being washed in the river bed, and sewers draining freely in. Characteristic Inner Zones: Characteristic Inner Zones Also near to the center will be the Zona Viva – an upscale area, perhaps of historical value with preserved buildings in good condition, and the focus of non-mall night life – boutiques, restaurants, nightclubs and so forth. Most South American cities will also have a red light district with a less upscale character full of bars, pool halls and cheap hotels used for prostitution - these are frequently close to the market or to the industrial area and very seedy. Near the center is also usually a mercado – a sprawling market complex of covered stalls vending a staggering array of items, usually very cheaply, and dotted with food vendors, frequently selling traditional dishes Linking the Edges: Linking the Edges Although the CBD portion of the core has been extensively redeveloped and is high-rise, much of the older center of South American cities, particularly those built in mountainous areas, is a tangle of narrow streets with walled compounds and store fronts hemming in foot and vehicle traffic between narrow, frequently non-existent side-walks. Growing car ownership and heavy use of diesel buses for public transport makes the roads frequently jammed, the air polluted and the noise levels intense. With the industrial areas outside the main core of the town, the elite tending toward the outer edges, and the malls sprouting up everywhere, many South American cities have bypassed the town center with a peripheral ring road (the anillo periférico) which enables elites to get to the various malls or around to the factory areas without navigating across the center of town. Frequently, the periférico marks the beginning of the shanty towns, the elite living inside the ring, the poor outside. Suburban Trends: Suburban Trends Unlike North American cities, the inner core of South American cities has, until recently, remained vital and of greater social standing, the periphery relegated to poverty, decay and crime. However, a more recent trend, not reflected yet in the Ford model, is for the center to be further forsaken by the elite in favor of satellite, gated-community type developments outside the periférico in areas not yet covered by shanty towns (what would be termed greenbelt areas here) – in Brazil this is frequently beachfront areas further out along the coast. Frequently, they are built in line with existing elite spines with good roads extended out across the periférico through the shanty towns to permit the elite to transit through in their SUVs, Mercedes or BMWs to their jobs in the CBD. However, ironically, these roads tend to permit the development of spurs of shanty settlements on the greenfield hillside areas bisected by the improved roads. Sprawl, facilitated by buses, has extended the limits of cities. Inner City Trends: Inner City Trends Adjacent to the CBD, in areas that were formerly elite residential zones but which have not yet attracted the developers bulldozers, a flight of the rich to the spines and to the gated greenfield suburbs has left mansion homes vacant of their former owners. Frequently, these have been converted into rented tenements – multi-family apartment buildings in which several whole dwellings will be carved out of a single room, resulting in twenty or even forty families living in a building once housing a single family and their servants. These then become the shanty-towns of the inner-urban poor, those working as street vendors or in low-paying service jobs in and around the towering commercial buildings of the next door CBD. These types of changes create zones of disamenity which are neglected by the city authorities and exploited by the landlords. Shanty Towns: Shanty Towns Every South American city has them – usually on the edge of town outside the ring road, often on steep slopes or along river corridors subject to periodic flooding. So common are the shanty towns that almost every country in South America has its own term for them – favelas, villas miserias, pueblos jóvenes, cerros and quebradas, and so forth. Depending on the country and city, shanties may contain more than half of the urban population, although 20-30% is a more common figure. In some situations, rapid growth of cities has led to shanties filling in underutilized space (for example steep unstable slopes) inside the sprawling metropolises, creating stark juxtapositions. Highly VariableZones: Highly Variable Zones They are characterized more by the fact that the land they occupy has no title – the communities are squatting on (usually) public or ejidal lands – than the nature of the dwellings. Depending on age, they can range from sprawling collections of hastily constructed shacks of scavenged materials to more orderly, multi-room brick or cement panel buildings, often with rebar or wood scaffolding sticking out of a flat roof - evidence of permanency, or at least ambitions of such. Changing Attitudes: Changing Attitudes Population growth has overwhelmed most South American cities and shanty towns are obvious demonstrations of this. In the 1960s and 70s, when officials had not yet accepted the ultimate, even necessary reality of the shanty town, they were seen as failures and blights and were frequently eradicated with or without efforts to replace them with public housing complexes financed, all to frequently, by foreign loans. The elite viewed them with distain and fear, imagining them to be soul-less hovels devoid of virtues and without community. Frequently, we confuse economic poverty with poverty of spirit, absence of dignity and other redeeming social virtues and values. Frequently, the opposite is true and gradually the shanty town has been looked at in a more positive light in terms of its societal role and the lives of its inhabitants, although it is still of great concern from the perspective of securing material quality of life and access to the key services enjoyed by formal settlements. Characteristics of Shantytowns: Characteristics of Shantytowns Population densities are high, families living in close proximity to each other on small parcels of land. Privacy is very limited, with minimal separation between households in both a geographical and physical sense. Basic services are usually absent especially garbage collection, sanitary sewer service, telephone and piped potable water supply, although basic electricity service might be provided (often with many illegal connections). Roads are usually unpaved, with no formal surface drainage to conduct surface runoff safely off the roads and down hillsides, leading to extensive erosion. Garbage is usually burned in oil drums or pits and open-air defecation is common, thus development projects frequently promote pit-latrine projects in shanty towns. Change Over Time: Change Over Time In the beginning, amenities are limited with perhaps a local front-room store (pulperia) selling basic items in a particular vecino (neighborhood) and many street-vendors and hawkers will be present selling food items and/or anything that can be carried or pushed up the potholed and muddy streets. Depending on the age of the settlement, schools may be absent although as time goes by and the shanty upgrades to greater permanency and substance, such things as churches, schools, police stations, health clinics and public transport nodes will become established. Prior to this maturity, shanty dwellers will need to walk down to the bottom of the community and to the periférico to hop on a bus to work, the doctor, church or school. Development more permanent structures and better roads, depending on the terrain, might bring bus service and water tankersto the streets. In the cases where formal incorporation of the shanty town occurs and titles are provided, roads might by paved and water and sewer pipes laid along with telephone lines. Some Pros and Cons of Shantytowns: Some Pros and Cons of Shantytowns Illegal squats that, over time, become established and provided with services by authorities gives the urban poor a stake in society that they could not otherwise get. They are a solution to a public housing issue that the formal economic system and government programs are ill-equipped to satisfy. As the poor luchar for a better life, they tend to upgrade their own environment through self-help, eventually raising the quality of the barrios to something approaching middle-class status. The reserve of urban poor close to the city provides a wealth of potential employees usually willing to work for low wages. Because they are unplanned, they do not conform to appropriate building or public-works standards and thus are likely to experience public safety problems. Because they lack basic services, they are foci for disease, both vector-born and infectious, and lead to water pollution from erosion and sewage runoff. Made of ramshackle materials in risky locations, they are especially subject to the impact of earthquakes, floods, landslides, etc.