The Mega-City in Latin America

Alan Gilbert
Release Date: April 1, 1997

By the year 2000, Latin America will contain five metropolitan areas with more than 8 million people. Their combined population will be over 70 million, and approximately one Latin American in seven will live in those five cities. Two of them, Mexico City and São Paulo, will arguably be the world’s two largest cities.

The sheer number of people living in Latin America’s mega-cities is not the only reason for looking at them carefully. Unfortunately, they also demonstrate many of the worst symptoms of the region’s underdevelopment: vast areas of shanty towns, huge numbers of poor people, high concentrations of air and water pollution, and serious levels of traffic congestion. This book is about the prospects for their future.

Several conclusions emerge from the book. First, the largest cities of Latin America differ greatly in terms of their future prospects. It is easier to be optimistic in Buenos Aires than in Lima. Second, whether urban problems improve or deteriorate has little to do with size of city and a great deal to do with trends in the wider economy and society. Third, Latin America’s mega-cities are not going to grow to unmanageable proportions because their growth rates have generally slowed. Fourth, management is a critical issue for the future.

The book examines the six largest cities (Mexico City, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Lima, and Santa Fé de Bogotá); discusses the demography of urban growth in the region; and focuses on the particularly sensitive issues of public administration, transportation, and land, housing, and infrastructure.