Theoretical framework

Urban expansion in Latin America, despite its bad reputation, is quite compact and continuous. Overall growth is strongly determined by geographical media complex. Thus in the first instance the expansion space vector structures reflected in their price is more or less technical feasibility, the market reflects the geographical roughness and transfer them to market. By analyzing the morphology of the Latin American urban sprawl is constrictor geographical support more weight than the normative. In less rugged geographical media (Montevideo, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Córdoba, Santa Cruz, Assumption, etc.). Compactness is seemingly minor, the periphery becomes more diffuse: the expansion vectors are best economic adjustment which would morphologic expression more fragmented, not counting the geographic effect. The pattern, as in Europe, is highly sensitive to investment in infrastructure.

The perception in Latin America expert sees cities extending endlessly about the hinterland in a deregulated and chaotic continuum. However, an empirical analysis with appropriate analytical tool, satellite imagery, might indicate something quite different: compact Latin cities, European cities face blurred. Our perception “visual” can be misleading due to the “edge control” where European physical planning determines the morphological refinement of the urban edges, but not urban sprawl. This urban edge managed also occurs in some Latin American contexts and is the product of the current physical planning.

In European cities – where the vast majority (unless highly anthropogenic river basins) there are no major geographical complexities – expansive processes and is more diffuse (European Environment Agency report No 10/2006: 15) show a greater use of morphological edges. This is the result of physical planning, with clear control of urban form and a more orderly growth. But more diffuse and less dense. More polymerized in the territory and fragmented than in Latin America. This pattern would be indexed to the higher level of income and economic performance and therefore may become manifest in Latin America, where such expansions still polymerized (fig 1) are emerging and correspond to the economic performance of countries. When the geographic variable loses weight seems more diffuse expansion which would be inverse compactness of income and investment in infrastructure.

On the other hand draws attention to the dissimilar densities can be calculated a priori based on the Latin American regional statistics. In addition to methodological inconsistencies problems that would prevent a priori comparison of official data (different criteria for defining urban areas, etc.) There are also technical limitations that prevent some cases to have that information. In this context it seems necessary to develop a common comparative platform for the Latin American context, a diligent study, comparative and in situ. Calibrate the expansion verifying the consistency of their approvals and categories.

By contrast the European context is much more studied. This glaring contrast empirical evidence with the perception of Latin America where it is generally accepted a priori the myth of the compact European city, with development models guided by planning efficient and clear institutional, technical and competent. Our excesses are given territorial political and administrative jurisdictions outdated and full of disparities and fiscal fragmentation which metropolitan management and regional planning in the form of a metropolitan government or an association of municipal governments, is an unavoidable issue given the overlap and competition between various governmental entities involved in the regulation of land use (2001:267 LUNGO in Urban Perspectives Smolka & Mullahy 2007). However, the reality appears to be another: the cities of Latin America are apparently more compact and less diffuse than European. And this could have important effects on public policy.

The evidence shows that European cities follow the pattern of Scattered development (fig 1). In Latin America the principle of compact development (fig 1). Although it seems paradoxical, does not conform to the existing perception, from an economic perspective this behavior is reasonable: … sprawl is no more or less Than the efficient operation of the land market, and in this sense, is the outcome of a competitive process. (Batty et al, 2003:6, Traffic, Urban Growth and Suburban Sprawl)

Where is the efficient European physical planning, compact city model? Apparently this counterpoint to the American development model suburbanized there.

In former socialist countries of Central and Eastern clusters with high density compact cities, reflecting strong regimes of central planning with public transport substantive unit prevailed during the Communist era, but today those same cities face similar threats rapidly expanding urban cities in southern Europe liberated land markets, and lower residential preferences evolved through planning controls. (European Environment Agency report No 10/2006: 15). A better understanding of the potential impacts of this urban expansion driven by economic growth can be drawn from the comparison between East Germany and Poland in 1990-2000, when Germany benefited from substantial monetary support from western Germany after reunification 1990, became one of the European regions of most rapid development. In contrast to Poland, only joining the European Union recently, was less developed in the period 1990-2000. The different levels of urban sprawl between the two countries are evident (Fig. 2). (European Environment Agency report No 10/2006: 10). The European trend indicates the imminent urban development polymerization, indexed to economic development. And for this reason, paradoxically, our cities, poorer and more homogeneous in density, are more compact European cities. Polymerization occurs only in the territory’s most dynamic economies, as the case of Chile where to date format is masked under a rural setting (lots of pleasure) but it is hidden suburbanization.

Fig. 1: Fuente,  Galster et al 2001 Fig. 2: Fuente, EEA Report Nº 10/2006:11


Morphology varies according to urban sprawl takes vary (see Figure 1) the degree of fragmentation. In the current scenario of continued urban expansion, the question is what are the degrees of fragmentation urban planning considers acceptable. Urban sprawl remains a problem of physical planning, shifting the concern about the format that takes in space, more or less fragmented as it is manifested. This pattern of spread of urban sprawl express the adjustment factors, the spontaneous tendency is short-term economic maximization. What is the relationship between the dispersive tendency and a better fit for public policy, physical planning, transport and investment? “expansive patterns more scattered (fragmented) are given in policy contexts less tight or tighter? Is sprawl and broken the natural response of economic adjustment to the urban system asymmetries? Or is the perverse effect of physical planning which leaves no function freely entering the land market imperfections?

Focusing the problem and use appropriate analytical tools. Include an integrated view of the expansion, the triangle of sustainability, ecological and social implications regarding the increasing spatial segregation and inequality, with appropriate parameters for better evaluation and a long-term perspective. Analyze and compare the factors that are driving the density and urban form not to attempt a chimeric control of the expansion but to better anticipate their occurrence, the possibility that expansions could play more or less fragmented. And in this context to open the discussion of the role of urban planning in our continent in the XXI century.