Asunción, Paraguay: National Context, Historic Evolution, and Neoliberal Urban Redevelopment
Boschmann, E. E. (2020). Historical Evolution and Neoliberal Urbanism in Asunción. Journal of Latin American Geography, 19(4), 140-169. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/772605
This short supplement provides further details on a) population growth and urbanization trends in Paraguay; b) a discussion of Paraguay’s urban hierarchy, including descriptions of the country’s other large cities; and c) population growth details of the metropolitan area of Asunción (Gran Asunción).
Population and Urbanization Trends
Paraguay’s population growth and urbanization trends in the twentieth century are somewhat unique in Latin America. By the 1950s, South America’s population was growing by 2.76 percent annually, and across Latin America annual population growth peaked in the 1960s at 2.77 percent. Paraguay’s annual population growth rate reached a high of 2.93 percent in the 1980s, a rate Brazil achieved during the 1950s and 1960s. As the rate of growth in Latin America slowed dramatically in the last half of the twentieth century due to falling fertility rates, the decline in growth rates in countries such as Paraguay and Bolivia was much slower. Even in 2010, Paraguay’s population growth rate of 1.7 percent was twice that of neighboring Brazil and Argentina, and 0.5 percent higher than the Latin America and South America regional rates (UN, 2018). The population of Paraguay grew from 1,328,452 inhabitants in 1950, to 6,672,631 in 2012. Rapid population growth will continue as 61 percent of the population is under thirty years of age, and one-third is under age fifteen (DGEEC, 2013).
The period of rural-to-urban migration and urbanization in Paraguay also occurred several decades later than the trends across South America (Figure 1). In 1950, only 34.6 percent of Paraguay’s population lived in urban areas. While this rate was similar in Colombia, Bolivia, and Brazil, it was below the levels for Latin America (41.3 percent) and South America (42.8 percent). By 1980 regional urbanization was high, and in 2015, Latin America was 79.9 percent urban and South America was 83.5 percent urban. Except for Guyana (26.4 percent), Paraguay remains the least urbanized country in South America (60.8 percent).
In terms of annual rate of urban population growth, from the 1950s through the 1970s South American cities grew between 1.25 and 1.94 percent annually, while Paraguayan cities only grew between 0.29 and 1.01 percent annually. It was not until the 1980s and 1990s that Paraguay’s cities grew by almost 1.52 percent annually, at a time when Latin American and South American rates fell below 0.73 percent (UN, 2018). Paraguay’s lag in urbanization during the mid-twentieth century is attributed to the lack of an urban-industrial sector, and the 1970s rise of export-oriented agricultural production.
Asunción has always stood atop the urban hierarchy of Paraguay. In the early 1800s the three largest cities were Asunción (population 7,404), Capiatá (population 5,394), and Piribebuy (population 5,018), both emerging as Franciscan mission towns located 23 km and 65 km away, respectively, in the verdant lands just east of central Asunción. In 1846, Asunción had approximately 12,000 people, representing 5 percent of the national population (Causarano, 2015). But two trends in the twentieth century dramatically changed the urban hierarchy from this localized cluster of small towns in central Paraguay.
The first trend was the development of more distant border towns and agricultural centers that came as a result of new highway infrastructure, bridge border crossings, and the rise of regional economic trade, including agribusiness and shopping tourism.1 The largest cities of Paraguay (excluding suburban municipalities of Asunción) are listed in Table 1. Asunción has held a population over 500,000 since the 1990s, and Ciudad del Este reached a quarter-million in the 2000s. Except for Concepción, the other cities reached 100,000 in population after the 2002 census. In the national hierarchy of cities, Asunción continues to dominate in population size. Though population growth of the city will flatten, Asunción is projected to remain Paraguay’s largest city in 2025.
|Ciudad del Este||–||–||26,485||62,328||133,881||222,274||281,422||290,912||315,489|
|Pedro Juan Caballero||11,514||25,925||48,702||50,808||77,270||88,189||108,625||113,872||129,870|
Ciudad del Este, over 300km east of Asunción on Route 7, was founded in 1957 to develop the eastern border region adjacent to Brazil. The Puente de la Amistad bridge was completed in 1965, and provided a highway trade route into Brazil and the Atlantic coast. Ciudad del Este quickly became a commercial trading center dominated by shopping tourism and a large ‘re-export industry’ whereby international products are imported with favorable tax rates, then re-exported to neighboring Brazil and Argentina. The city remains at the center of the tri-border region infamous for its illicit economy of money laundering, as well as drugs and arms trafficking. The region boomed economically with the construction of the Itaipú dam, the growth of large scale soybean agri-business, and recent rise of export-manufacturing maquilas. Three cities near Ciudad del Este in the Alto Paraná Department (Hernandarias, Minga Guazú, and Presidente Franco) have populations ranging between 75,000 and 85,000. Together they constitute Paraguay’s second largest metropolitan area with an estimated total population of 550,000.
The city of Concepción is 250 km upriver from the capital. Originally founded in 1773 as a defense outpost against invasion from the north, and later as a supply town for the nearby yerba maté industry, Concepción’s major economic activity today is soybean exportation and meat processing. Even further north, about 500 km from the capital, is Pedro Juan Caballero, founded in the 1890s as a frontier border town along the trade route to Brazil. It remains an important agricultural town, as well as a remote entry point for foreign trade, smuggling activities, and shopping tourism.
The city of Encarnación is 350 km south of the capital along Route 1. Founded in the early 1600s with several Jesuit missions nearby, Encarnación became an important river port for trade on the border with Argentina. In 1990 the Puente San Roque González de Santa Cruz bridge across the Paraná River linked road traffic with Posadas, Argentina, and in 2015 limited international rail service across the bridge commenced. Today the city is a university town and serves as a major international transit point into Argentina. Its economy was boosted by the nearby Yacyretá hydroelectric dam (opened in 1998) and the rise of carnival and river-promenade based tourism. Its metropolitan area contains approximately 200,000 people.
Two cities in the Caaguazú Department (Coronel Oviedo and Caaguazú) each have just over 100,000 in population. With close proximity to Asunción and the fertile eastern agricultural sector, they thrive along major national highways that connect with the Brazilian border.
A second change to the Paraguayan urban hierarchy was the rapid growth of municipalities in the metropolitan area of Asunción that greatly concentrated the national population within the sphere of the capital. The political geography of modern Paraguay consists of seventeen departamentos and the distrito of Asunción. Gran Asunción (Área Metropolitana de Asunción) refers to the greater Asunción metropolitan area which is comprised of the municipality of Asunción, and the entire Central departamento which contains the nineteen suburban municipalities (distritos) listed in Table 2. Several are more populous than the biggest national cities outside the Asunción region except Ciudad del Este.
|Fernando de la Mora||5,253||14,519||36,892||66,597||95,072||113,560||163,658|
|Mariano Roque Alonso||4,043||5,686||7,388||14,636||39,289||65,229||95,506|
|J. Augusto Saldívar||–||–||–||–||–||39,156||51,060|
Asunción grew in population from 206,634 in 1950 to an estimated 526,408 in 2015 (Table 1). Over the same period, the Central Department grew from 167,850 to 1,985,385 (Table 2). Together the total metropolitan population is approximately 2,511,792, constituting 37.6 percent of the national population. In 1950 only 26 percent of the Central Department was urban, increasing to 86 percent by 2002 (Garcia de Villanueva, 2015). Asunción contained a majority of the metropolitan area population until 1982 when the suburban municipalities of the Central Department collectively contained an equal amount of population; by 2015 the suburban municipalities contained 79 percent of the metropolitan population.
First tier suburbs immediately adjacent to Asunción experienced their highest rates of growth between the 1950s and 1970s, including Fernando de la Mora and Lambaré. Through the 1970s and early 1980s growth was most rapid in Villa Elisa, M.R. Alonso, and San Lorenzo. Further away from Asunción, the fastest growth of the 1980s and 1990s occurred in Areguá, Capiatá, Limpio, Luque, Ñemby, and San Antonio. And the fastest growing municipalities in the 2000s were the more distant Guarambaré, Itauguá, and Ypané. The municipalities of the Central Department first emerged as bedroom communities of Asunción, absorbing much of the urban growth of the second half of the twentieth century. At the same time, the department has long been the production center of the country, containing nearly two-thirds of the nation’s businesses, including service industries and manufacturing (e.g. food, machinery, clothing, furniture, printing, chemicals, cement, plastics).
- Shopping tourism refers to individuals and microbusinesses who transport goods (e.g. electronics, basic consumer goods, luxury brands, and illegal goods) across the border to take advantage of low prices and duty free exemptions.
Causarano, M. (2015). Cambios del carácter público y la centralidad del Centro Histórico. In A. R. Flores (coordinadora), Paraguay: Una Perspectiva. Las centralidades actuales y las posibles (pp. 79-96). Organización Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Centros Históricos, and Instituto Distrital de Patrimonio Cultural,
Dirección General de Estadística, Encuestas y Censos (DGEEC). (2013). Anuario Estadístico del Paraguay 2012.
Dirección General de Estadística, Encuestas y Censos (DGEEC). (2015). PARAGUAY. Proyección de la población por sexo y edad, según distrito, 2000-2025. Revisión 2015 . Fernando de la Mora, Paraguay.
United Nations (UN). (2018). Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision, On-Line Edition.
Garcia de Villanueva, M. del C. (2015). Urbanización y centralidades en Paraguay. Segunda mitad del Siglo XX. In A. R. Flores (coordinadora), Paraguay: Una Perspectiva. Las centralidades actuales y las posibles, (pp. 37-58). Organización Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Centros Históricos, and Instituto Distrital de Patrimonio Cultural.