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La individualidad nacional de las capitales centroamericanas
No. 66 (Junho de 1967), pp. 7-18
Published by: Pan American Institute of Geography and History
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40982774
Page Count: 12
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The geographic structure of the Central American countries is characterized by two apparently contradictory elements: an inclination toward a cellular pattern based on demographic and economic units of pre-Columbian or colonial origin, and the contrasting conditions on either side of the isthmus which dominate the physical geography of the region. Since the winning of independence, there has been a steady increase in the influence and centralizing attraction of the ancient population clusters that have now acquired the status of capital cities, jealous of their monopoly of innovation and modernization. To understand the individual framework of each capital, three aspects will be taken as a basis of comparison: the metropolitan environment, the growth process, and the land use pattern in the fringe area surrounding the capital. The metropolitan environment or way of life reflects the national traits discernible both in the city itself and in the marginal shanty-towns of its blighted areas. The "barriadas brujas" or crumbling quarters of Panama with their exaggerated Caribbean vitality bear no resemblance to the somnolent semi-rural character of the "barriadas" of San José. Nor does the city of San José bear any relation to that of Managuá or Tegucigalpa. The second aspect to be considered is the type of urban growth in the light of an analysis of the social framework. In Panama, the explosive development of the poorer quarters laps around the middle-class areas and tends to isolate the higher social groups. San José has expanded along lines that are far more conservative, with the residences of the well-to-do laid out to east and west and the blocks of lower class tenements stretching north and south, subdividing the built-up area into sections. In Managua, it is only in the southwest that higher grade quarters are to be found, and both site and layout reveal a separatist tendency and the existence of strong social barriers. Turning to the third basis of comparison, it will be seen that there are three distinct land use patterns operating in the countryside adjacent to the capitals. On the outskirts of San José and San Salvador, intensive use and small to medium coffee plantations predominate. In Guatemala, the capital, Managua, is surrounded by cattle ranches and mixed farms, run on a less intensive scale. Panama and Tegucigalpa are set in the midst of largely fallow lands, mantled for the most part in scrub forest and chaparral. In San José and San Salvador, it is clear that the local development of the suburbs has been influenced by the type of farming and the size of the estates or "fincas". In San José, the spreading acres under coffee in the hands of the large growers have barred the way to urban expansion in one direction, whereas in another (east and south) the complex of smallholdings has led to the growth of housing developments that follow, in size and location, the pattern of land ownership. To fill in our knowledge of the Central American capitals, one more factor needs to be analyzed: the demographic relationship between the main cities. In Costa Rica, San José is the only urban center worth mentioning. In Honduras, the capital is not so far removed, demographically speaking, from the other cities in the country. In Panama, the capital is rapidly outdistancing the provincial townships in population and urban layout. As a general rule, the Central American capitals are gaining increasing relative importance, but in the course of the last five years signs of change are apparent in the mushrooming of go-ahead outlying centers. The onset of industrialization aimed at securing a share in the Central American Common Market, the start that is being made with townplanning and the fact that the general public is coming to realize the extent of the problems arising out of the disorderly, uncurbed development of capital cities do much to strengthen this trend. Most likely, it will be accompanied by more and more features in common, as regards first modernization of the townscape and subsequently the process of expansion. In the Central American countries, the explosive growth of the capitals is a relatively new element. As the metropolitan social framework is built up, the national features of each capital will tend to be ironed out with a corresponding loss of that individuality which is so interesting.