Latin America is the most urbanized of the developing regions. In most countries, populations are relatively concentrated in the largest cities, usually the capital. Urban growth rates are slowing in the region's larger cities; more remarkable are ongoing political and social changes affecting urban management and development.
Urban growth in Latin America's large cities is largely driven by natural population growth. Migration is increasingly from other cities rather than from rural areas.13 Migration to large cities including São Paulo and Santiago de Chile has slowed; Mexico City has begun to experience a net out-migration. There is accelerated growth in certain medium-sized cities which are part of urban systems growing around the large centres.
Following the economic crises of the 1980s, economic activity has accelerated, but much of it is in the informal sector. Individuals and families face increasing job insecurity, lower wages and a reduction in essential social services; investment in public works has decreased. Environmental degradation around many of the region's cities is increasing; low- income shanty towns proliferate in the affected areas. Urban road and transport systems do not meet local needs. A large portion of cities' solid waste, industrial waste and sewage goes untreated, contaminating water supplies; cities like Lima and Mexico City which depend on wells are especially burdened.14 Water rationing is common and quality varies.
Most studies since the 1980s have noted an increase in poverty in the region's metropolitan areas. Latin America is the only developing region with more poor people in cities than in rural areas; although as elsewhere, poverty is more prevalent in the countryside.
The change from military to civilian regimes throughout the region and the devolution of powers to local authorities have given impetus to grass-roots and local initiatives, creating a climate for a vibrant and diverse network of local and national non- governmental organizations and associations. Increasingly, local and municipal authorities are subject to election rather than appointment by central governments or parties, increasing their accountability and responsiveness to local populations. A review of the new developments concludes:
"In the past ten years more than 12,000 cities, towns and local government units in Latin America have elected mayors and councillors. In many of them new people seem to have established themselves at the grass roots. A study carried out in Colombia, for example, showed that 11 of 16 cities in that country elected outsiders as mayors, not members of the traditional local elites. The newcomers in turn attracted better-educated people to work for them: graduates' share of total municipal employment rose from 1 in 39 in the early 1980s to 1 in 13 now."15
Although conditions vary from country to country, there are opportunities throughout the region for progress following a deep and extended crisis. The most stubborn and persistent problem is to address the needs of the urban poor.