Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brazil Grows Westward

See interactive map on Globo.com
My 1998 dissertation analyzes the urbanization of Rondonia, a state in the western Amazon region of Brazil. I chose Rondonia because it was experiencing extremely rapid rates of deforestation and urbanization at the same time, and I wanted to examine connections between the two. Among my conclusions were that the cities themselves were not contributing substantially to the growth of the forest and that the cities had taken on a life of their own and were poised for substantial further growth.

That early work led eventually to the establishment of the U.S.-Brazil Consortium on Urban Development, which I founded with fellow geographers at four universities in both countries (none of them in the Amazon). One of the first student participants was Rodrigo Capelani, whom I count among my many amazing friends in Brazil. After finishing our semester program, he graduated in Brazil and then completed his master's at Miami University of Ohio, where I had received my master's twenty years earlier. This evening, this came full circle, as Rodrigo showed me this map based on the work of the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE), and pointed out that it shows the remarkable growth of population in the western Amazon.

very preliminary look suggests that this bears out my conclusion growth in the region. The greens of the map show population gains, while the reds show losses. Porto Velho, the urban area where I lived during my 1997 field work, gained over 27 percent in the past decade -- almost 100,000 more residents. That increase alone exceeds the population of the entire state of Rondonia in 1960. Some other municipalities even farther from the historic core of the country have increased even more rapidly. The data in this form cannot validate my hunch that most of this growth is urban; I look forward to examining the data to find out.

More importantly, I look forward to revisiting the region (which I last saw in 2003), and especially the later frontiers in the far northwestern Amazon, to see for myself. I plan to do so when my friend Miguel and I publish a second edition of our book about perceptions of the Amazon region. Both perceptions and reality have changed significantly since we first published Olhares Sobre a Amazonia a decade ago!

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