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Les villes du Minas Gerais

Yves Leloup


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1During a stay of 4 1/2 years in Brasil, from 1959 to 1963, as a professor at Belo Horizonte, the author had the opportunity to travel across a large part of the State of Minas Gerais to gather the necessary documentation for his Thesis. He returned there for a short while in 1967. Therefore this work does not pretend to reflect the present situation (1969) but rather the prevalent condition from 1959 to 1963.

2The originality of Minas Gerais is significant: Country of mountains without access to the sea, reminder of the glamour of the gold and diamond Century, agricultural and political traditions, suspicious and provincial character. In spite of a recent effort of economic recovery it occupies an intermediary level of economic development between the underdevelopped North Eastern States and the more industrialized region of Sâo Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

3I – In the first part the author presents the urbanization in the State from a twofold point of view: quantitative and qualitative: The demographic growth and population migrations. The urban landscape.

4A) On the first aspect the author insists on several points: The urbanization has been and still is in direct competition with the emigration outside the State.

5It is estimated that there are 3 millions emigrants since the beginning of this century, going to Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Paranà States, the Goias and more recently to Brasilia. The urbanization is still on a small scale if the population distribution only is considered: the urban centers (more than 5 000 inhabitants) represent in 1960, only 27,85% of the total population, and probably now, 35%. However since 1950, the urbanization process is gaining momentum in every types of towns. During the fifties, the towns secured 69% of the total population expansion compared to 47,50 in the forties and only 14 urban centers over 137 were unable to maintain all their natural expansion compared to 63 in the forties. Because of the very poor accuracy of the brasilian statistics, concerning the birth and death rates, the author used the theoritical average rate of natural expansion to deduct from the population deplacement theoritical also.

6B) In the second aspect the author emphasizes the oustanding development of the capital: Belo Horizonte, built from nothing at the end of the 19 th century becoming today the 4th Brasilian town with a population over 1 million. The still very rural life of the little towns are described as well as the more developped regional centers.

7II – In the second part the author has tried to show the assets and the obstacles presented by the natural environments, more or less improved or degraded by men, in relation to the successive economic phases this State went though since the beginning of the 18 th century. These economic phases explain the successive generations of towns: Towns that have gone down hill or towns in full expansion. So we can distinguish:

  1. In the Central part of the State the historical towns surviving from gold and diamonds century unchanged since this time: those are the more picturesque Brazilian towns because of their baroque architecture.
  2. Most of the towns of Minas, especially in the Southern part, have grown during the agricultural phases from the 19 th and first half of the 20th Century: the “Slave” agriculture which existed until 1888, the advancing at the same time of the coffee, railroads and foreign immigration, and the expansion of the dairy production. At the same time some thermal resorts and the first company towns were born.
  3. During twenty years time, the urban explosion came from the invasion of the industrial world (transportations, telecommunications, industries) the urban speculations (trade, real estates investments) as well as from the consciousness of the rural poverty, reaches at different degrees all the kind of towns and created industrial or pionner centers. The most striking examples are those of Governador Valadares, Coronel Fabriciano - Ipatinga in the Rio Doce Valley. At the end of the second part, the author studies the urban populations and fonctions in 1950 from the demographic census.

8III – The third part concerns the towns and the organization of the region. The author has attempted to evaluate the relative importance of the towns, their relationship with a geographical environment, very heterogeneous depending on the various regions of the State.

  1. To analyse the geographical environment, the regions have been classified by types with various levels of economic development by using the most meaningful demographic and socioeconomic indexes, such as the rural population density, the agricultural load, the farm structure, the distribution of farm surplus, the equipment, etc.
  2. Then to establish the traits of the urban hierarchy, the relative importance of the most significant urban net works have been analysed (commerce, banks, local goverment and industrial management, health and welfare, news media and transportation).
  3. The author has shown the influence of the main towns which dominate the State: the old and traditional influence of Rio de Janeiro, the technical and industrial relationship with Sâo Paulo and the dynamism of the State capital which succeeded in building a genuine region.
  4. Finally the influence of some regional centers are indicated with the very diverse responses of each region more or less receptive to the urban stimulus, more or less resisting to their domination.

9IV – As a conclusion of his work, the author lists the subjects he was not able to develop because of too limited means: particularly the motivations of the migrations and their consequences, the importance of the building industry and real estate speculation, the drain of the land rent, the structure and dynamism of urban space, etc.

10Finally the author presents his Personal impressions and general reasons and consequences of the urbanization.

  1. To evaluate the urbanization mecanism and the causes of the present regional organization, it would be necessary to measure the multiple interactions between on one hand, the dynamism of the towns: it is the problem of the urban economy and the real power of attraction from the services and on the other hand, the level of development of the rural areas: that is the failure or the success of the rural economy.
  2. When looking at the consequences of a brutal, ill managed and too fast urbanization without a real social and economic transformation of the country, it seems that if a genuine democratic and extensive development is to be pursued, the short term advantages: the take off of the industrial economy, wider employment, better cultural level, promise of social promotion for the new town - citizens are more than offset by the present inconvenencies and particularly the strong tensions foreseen in the towns: congestion and under-equipment, social cost higher than efficiency, steady strong demographic expansion, sociopolitic agitation. The basic research of such fundamental questions can be undertaken and successfully achieved only by multidisciplined team work.

© Éditions de l’IHEAL, 1970

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