Understanding the Urban Sprawl in the Mid-Size Latin American Cities through the Urban Form: Analysis of the Concepción Metropolitan Area (Chile)


Latin American cities, like those from North America and Europe, experience problems of urban sprawl. However, few studies have dedicated exclusively to this phenomenon in specific cities, and this omission is particularly noticeable regarding cities not considered among the megalopolis of the continent. The present work analyzes urban sprawl through an urban form in the Concepción Metropolitan Area, Chile, between 1990 and 2009, considering local aspects that may have played a role in the process. The main empirical results obtained from this study reveal a metropolitan area that has expanded intensely over a 20-year period, growing from 9000 hectares to more than 17,000 ha for a 96% increment in the built-up area. The new urban surfaces consolidate a central conurbation that strengthens the role of the main downtowns, with less-intense occupation towards the sub-centers but in a structure that follows the transportation infrastructure. Over the last 20 years, the distance between the shapes has grown progressively by around 2 km, increasing the size of the ellipse by more than 1000 km2. In particular the complexity of the urbanized surfaces has grown, becoming more irregular in shape and less compact as they come to occupy larger areas. So our principal findings include: an increment of nearly 100% in the urban surface, the importance of a polycentric urban structure in the process of consolidation as a support for analyzing different spatial dynamics, and the growing morphological irregularity of the territory of the sprawl.

Share and Cite:

C. Rojas, I. Muñiz and J. Pino, "Understanding the Urban Sprawl in the Mid-Size Latin American Cities through the Urban Form: Analysis of the Concepción Metropolitan Area (Chile)," Journal of Geographic Information System, Vol. 5 No. 3, 2013, pp. 222-234. doi: 10.4236/jgis.2013.53021.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] J. K. Brueckner, “Urban Sprawl: Lessons from Urban Economics,” Brookings-Wharton Papers on Urban Affairs, 2001, pp. 65-97. doi:10.1353/urb.2001.0003
[2] P. W. G. Newman and J. R. Kenworthy, “Cities and Automobile Dependence: A Sourcebook,” Gower Technical, Aldershot, 1989.
[3] I. Muniz and A. Galindo, “Urban Form and the Ecological Footprint of Commuting. The Case of Barcelona,” Ecological Economics, Vol. 55, No. 4, 2005, pp. 499-514. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2004.12.008
[4] M. Munro, “Homo-Economicus in the City: Towards an Urban Socio-Economic Research Agenda,” Urban Studies, Vol. 32, No. 10, 1995, pp. 1609-1621. doi:10.1080/00420989550012267
[5] P. Wilson, “Building Social Capital: A Learning Agenda for the Twenty-First Century,” Urban Studies, Vol. 34, No. 5-6, 1997, pp. 745-760. doi:10.1080/0042098975808
[6] M. C. Derloo and S. Musterd, “Ethnic Clusters in Amsterdam, 1994-1996: A Micro-area Analysis,” Urban Studies, Vol. 35, No. 3, 1998, pp. 385-396.
[7] I. Thomas, P. Frankhauser and C. Biernacki, “The Morphology of Built-Up Landscapes in Wallonia (Belgium): A Classication Using Fractal Indices,” Landscape and Urban Planning, Vol. 84, No. 2, 2008, pp. 99-115. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2007.07.002
[8] G. Galster, R. Hanson, M. Ratcliffe, M. Wolman, S. Coleman and J. Freihage, “Wrestling Sprawl to the Ground: Defining and Measuring an Elusive Concept,” Housing Policy Debate, Vol. 12, No. 4, 2001, pp. 681-717. doi:10.1080/10511482.2001.9521426
[9] M. Batty, “The Size, Scale, and Shape of Cities,” Science, Vol. 319, No. 5864, 2008, pp. 769-771. doi:10.1126/science.1151419
[10] J. Barredo and L. Demicheli, “Urban Sustainability in Developing Countries Megacities: Modelling and Predicting Future Urban Growth in Lagos,” Cities, Vol. 20, No. 5, 2003, pp. 297-310. doi:10.1016/S0264-2751(03)00047-7
[11] N. B. Grimm, S. H. Faeth, N. E. Golubiewski, C. L. Redman, J. Wu, X. Bai, et al., “Global Change and the Ecology of Cities,” Science, Vol. 319, No. 5864, 2008, pp. 756-760. doi:10.1126/science.1150195
[12] United Nations, “World Urbanization Prospects,” Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2007. http://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/index.htm.
[13] C. de Mattos, “Santiago de Chile, Globalization and Metropolitan Expansion: What Was There Still Is,” Latin American Regional Urban Studies Review, Vol. 25, No. 76, 1999, pp. 29-56. doi:10.4067/S0250-71611999007600002
[14] J. X. Barros, “Urban Growth in Latin American Cities Exploring Urban Dynamics through Agent-Based Simulation,” Ph.D. Thesis, University of London, London, 2004.
[15] R. Hidalgo and F. Arenas, “From Urban Country to Metropolitan. Recent Transformation in the Chilean Cities,” In: R. Hidalgo, C. De Mattos and F. Arenas, Eds., From Urban country to Metropolitan, GEOlibro, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Santiago, 2009, pp. 9-29.
[16] P. Ciccolella, “Recent Transformation in the Latin American Metropolis,” In: F. M. Victoria and R. Gurevich, Eds., Geography: New Topics, New Questions. An Agenda for Teaching, Buenos Aires, Biblos, 2007, pp. 17-38.
[17] P. Mieszkowski and E. Mills, “The Causes of Metropolitan Suburbanization,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 7, No. 3, 1993, pp. 135-147. doi:10.1257/jep.7.3.135
[18] A. G. Champion, “Population Change and Migration in Britain Since 1981: Evidence for Continuing Deconcentration,” Environment and Planning A, Vol. 26, No. 10, 1994, pp. 1501-1520.
[19] P. C. Cheshire and D. G. Hay, “Urban Problems in Western Europe: An Economic Analysis,” Unwin Hyman, London, 1989.
[20] J. Huang, X. Lu and J. M. Sellers, “A Global Comparative Analysis of Urban Form: Applying Spatial Metrics and Remote Sensing,” Landscape and Urban Planning, Vol. 82, No. 4, 2007, pp. 184-197. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2007.02.010
[21] C. de Mattos, “Transformación de las Ciudadess Latinoamericanas Impactos de la Globalización?” Estudios latinoamericanos Urbanos Regionales (EURE), Vol. 28, No. 85, 2002, pp. 5-10. doi:10.4067/S0250-71612002008500001
[22] M. K. Jat, P. K. Garg and D. Khare, “Monitoring and Modeling of Urban Sprawl Using Remote Sensing and GIS Techniques,” International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2008, pp. 26-43. doi:10.1016/j.jag.2007.04.002
[23] W. Ji, M. Jia, R. Wahad and K. Underhill, “Characterizing Urban Sprawl Using Multi-Stage Remote Sensing Images and Landscape Metrics,” Computers. Environment and Urban Systems, Vol. 30, No. 6, 2006, pp. 861-879. doi:10.1016/j.compenvurbsys.2005.09.002
[24] H. S. Chae, S. J. Kim and J. A. Ryu, “A Classification of Multitemporal Landsat TM Data Using Principal Component Analysis and Artificial Neural Network,” Geosciences and Remote Sensing, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1997, pp. 517-520.
[25] X. Li and A. Yeh, “Principal Component Analysis of Stacked Multi-Temporal Images for the Monitoring of Rapid Urban Expansion in the Pearl River Delta,” International Journal Remote Sensing, Vol. 19, No. 8, 1998, pp. 1501-1518. doi:10.1080/014311698215315
[26] E. Irwin and N. Bockstael, “The Evolution of Urban Sprawl: Evidence of Spatial Heterogeneity and Increasing Land Fragmentation,” PNAS, Vol. 104, No. 52, 2007, pp. 20672-20677. doi:10.1073/pnas.0705527105
[27] G. Shen, “Fractal Dimension and Fractal Growth of Urbanized Areas,” International Journal of Geographical Science, Vol. 16, No. 5, 2002, pp. 419-437. doi:10.1080/13658810210137013
[28] M. Zhu, N. Jiang, J. Li, J. Xu and Y. Fan, “The Effects of Sensor Spatial Resolution and Changing Grain Size on Fragmentation Indices in Urban Landscape,” International Journal of Remote Sensin,g Vol. 27, No. 21, 2006, pp. 4791-4805. doi:10.1080/01431160600702442
[29] S. Mubareka, E. Koomen, C. Estreguil and C. Lavalle, “Development of a Composite Index of Urban Compactness for Land Use Modelling Applications,” Landscape and Urban Planning, Vol. 103, No. 3-4, 2011, pp. 303-317. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2011.08.012
[30] M. Mardones and V. Vidal, “Zonning and Assesment of Natural Geomorphological Risk. A Instrument of Urban Planning in the City of Concepción,” Latin American Urban Planning Review, Vol. 27, No. 81, 2004, pp. 97-122.
[31] SEREMI—MINVU (Secretaría Regional Ministerial de Vivienda y Urbanismo Región del Bío-Bío), Report of Urban Metropolitan Planning of Concepción, Concepción, 2003.
[32] C. Rojas, I. Muniz and M. A. García-López, “Estructura urbana y Policentrismo en el área Metropolitana de Concepción,” Latin American Regional Urban Studies, Vol. 35, No. 105, 2009, pp. 47-70.
[33] C. Rojas, S. Opazo and E. Jaque, “Growth Dynamics and Patterns in the Concepción Metropolitan Area. Last Decades Trends,” In: R. Hidalgo, C. De Mattos and F. Arenas, Eds., From Urban Country to the Metropolitan Country, GEOlibros—Instituto de Geografía Pontificia Universidad Católica de Santiago, 2011, pp. 257-268.
[34] L. Pérez and E. Salinas, “Urban Growth and Globalization: Transformations of the Metropolitan Area of Concepción, Chile, 1992-2002, Scripta Nov,” Geography and Social Science Electronic Review, Vol. XI, No. 51, 2007. http://www.ub.edu/geocrit/sn/sn-251.htm
[35] C. Rojas and W. Plata, “Metropolitan Area of Concepción: Driving Factors of Urban Growth (2001-2009) by a Spatial Logistic Regression Model,” International Congress of Territorial Planning and Geographical Information Technology, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, 2010.
[36] F. Machiavello and R. Hidalgo, “Socio-Spatial Consequenses of the Social Housing in the Metropolitan Area of Concepción: Integrated Neighborhoods or Urban Spaces?” In: L. Pérez and R. Hidalgo, Eds., Metropolitan Area of Concepción (MAC), Evolution and Challenges, Geolibros, Institute of Geography Pontifical Catholic, University of Chile, Santiago, 2010, pp. 153-170.
[37] A. Pauchard, M. Aguayo, E. Pena and R. Urrutia, “Multiple Effects of Urbanization on the Biodiversity of Developing Countries: The Case of a Fast-Growing Metropolitan Area (Concepción, Chile),” Biological Conservation, Vol. 127, No. 3, 2006, pp. 272-281. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2005.05.015
[38] L. Perez and P. Fuentes, “The Intercommunal Urban Plan of Concepción in 1963. Beginning of the Metropolitan Planning,” In: L. Pérez and R. Hidalgo, Eds., Metropolitan Area of Concepción (MAC), Evolution and Challenges, Geolibros, Institute of Geography Pontifical Catholic, University of Chile, Santiago, 2011, pp. 45-58.
[39] I. Gysling and A. Hoffmann. “Intercommunal and Communal Planning of the Metropolitan Area of Concepción,” In: L. Pérez and R. Hidalgo, Eds., Metropolitan Area of Concepción (MAC), Evolution and Challenges, Geolibros, Institute of Geography Pontifical Catholic, University of Chile, Santiago, 2010, pp. 59-82.
[40] G. Azócar, H. Romero, R. Sanhueza, C. Vega, M. Aguayo and M. Munoz, “Urbanization Patterns and Their Impacts on Social Restructuring of Urban Space in Chilean Mid-Cities: The Case of Los Angeles, Central Chile,” Land Use Policy, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2007, pp. 199-211. doi:10.1016/j.landusepol.2005.04.003
[41] C. Rojas, J. Pino and E. Jaque, “Strategic Environmental Assessment in Latin America: A Methodological Proposal for Urban Planning in the Metropolitan Area of Concepción (Chile),” Land Use Policy, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 519-527. doi:10.1016/j.landusepol.2012.04.018

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.