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Has urbanization helped Latin America development?

Another one of my essays for the Latin American Culture course by Enrique Tamés on Coursera:

Has urbanization helped Latin American countries develop?


There’s been a time when Latin America used to be a mostly rural continent, with great part of its population (and economy) residing in the countryside. That time is no more: since the middle of the 20th century, a chaotic but rapid urban development has moved four-fifths of the population to cities and big towns, creating some big "monsters" like Sao Paulo (11 millions inhabitants, 20 if considering the surrounding area), Lima (8.5 millions) and Buenos Aires (13 millions in the metropolitan area), and depopulating large areas of the continent. Even more, that development is still going on, letting UN say that "nearly nine out of 10 Latin Americans will live in cities by the year 2050".

It’s interesting to notice that the urbanization of Latin-American society happened before industrialization: cultural and political influence, more than economics, have fueled the creation of big "capital" cities, that have become the centre of Latin American life, attracting people like a cherosene lamp attracts moths. Cities are considered THE place to live in (or near to), and the only place where to find a job: a very good example is Brasilia, created from scratch in the 㥄s for a population of 500 thousands persons, and that now has a population 5 times that number still growing; there’s simply no space in Brasilia for so many persons, and infrastructures are not capable of sustaining the amount of people who came to the new capital to find a job, and a life, leaving the little they had for less.

Same could be said of Lima, around which there’s almost one third of the whole peruvian population; and of many other places (not only in Latin America, to be fair: more than half of the population of New Zealand is living in the area of Auckland, deserting the southern island and its big spaces).

It’s this era’s trend, and the few persons who willingly decide to go the opposite way are still looked at like they’re lunatics. After all, cities have got it all: work, food, culture, amusement...

But is that really true? And is it all?

While South American countries have enjoyed an economical development also thanks to the masses available for industries and mining facilities, and for the always growing market that the big urban centres represent, they have started to lose part of their soul with less and less people living in rural areas, keeping the old traditions alive, guarding their ancient culture.
Agriculture has become a byproduct of industries, and most of what is produced in every country doesn’t stay there, but gets sent abroad, processed and then, maybe, will make its way back home, different and more expensive: most of the milk produced in Peru is now sold to the big producers of powder milk, who then sell it back to peruvians at a obviously higher price.
Young ones are leaving their villages, first to study at the university (when they’re lucky) and then for a job, and their homeplace grow smaller and smaller, older and older, untill the elders, the only one left, die out and nothing is left; or they’re "lucky", and they become some kind of turistic attraction, and there’s another switch of the economy, and they become sophisticated beggars.

There seem to be no solution to this problem: as long as the wealth will not be available to everyone, people who can do it will still move towards the sources of that wealth, and people who cannot will disappear. It’s the Evolution, baby! So, the UN report is probably right. And the answer to the title of this essay depends really on what do we consider development: is it just economics, or is there something else?


sources (sometimes quoting other sources):

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