doi 10.4067/S0718-83582013000100002


Traces of the metropolization process in Chile1


Arturo Maximiliano Orellana Ossandón2, Pedro BannenLanata3, Luis Alejandro Fuentes Arce4, Horacio Gilabert Peralta5, Karen Pape Casale6

2 Chile. Ph.D. in Human Geography, MA in Urban Development, Economist. Head of the Master’s Program, Institute of Urban and Territorial Studies, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

3 Chile. Architect, MA in Urban Development. Director of the Institute of Urban and Territorial Studies, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

4 Chile. Geographer, MA in Urban Development, Ph.D. in Architecture and Urban Studies. Professor, Institute of Urban and Territorial Studies, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

5 Chile. Forest Engineer, MSc in Natural Resources Management, Ph.D. in Forest Resources. Professor, Faculty of Agronomy and Forest Engineering, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

6 Chile. Architect, MA in Urban Development. Assistant researcher, Institute of Urban and Territorial Studies, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.


This paper analyzes the changes in the urban quality of life within the main metropolitan areas of the country over the last decade: Greater Santiago, Greater Valparaíso and Greater Concepción. To this end, the Urban Quality of Life Index (UQLI) is applied to establish the possible patterns and trends that may shed light on the traces left by this metropolization process. Taking into account that two out of three people could live in the metropolitan areas of Chile during the next decade, and as a means to contribute to the construction of more cohesive, sustainable and competitive cities, this research aims to provide with guidelines on socio-territorial configuration to influential public and private sectors participating in the urban development.




Strong geographic concentration in urban areas is one of the main trends of the demographic development in Chile. The 2002 Census showed that more than 86% of Chilean population lived in urban areas and according to the preliminary findings of the 2012 Census this figure could rise to 90%. In addition, current Chilean population is rising to 16.5 million, out of which 45% live in three main metropolitan areas7; Greater Santiago, with 5.8 million; Greater Valparaíso, with 0.91 million; and Greater Concepción, with 0.96 million.

In the context of high levels of urbanization, quality of life emerges as the challenge of being an intrinsic condition to an urban development that promotes more competitive, socially cohesive and environmentally sustainable cities. We can observe an increasing number of situations within the local political and social agenda in which citizens and their organizations clash with the State or the private sector -or both- in a great number of projects that threaten the quality of life of people living in the main metropolitan areas.

According to Mattos8 “if we accept that the current urban metamorphosis is structurally determined by trends constituting the new dynamics of accumulation and growth, it is reasonable to anticipate that any urban transformation proposal seeking to promote radical changes within the current configuration of these cities, should necessarily consider a previous modification of such trends, since they have ultimately modeled the transition towards this new urban form. It will be shown in this paper that this new urban configuration is modeling Chilean metropolitan cities with significant degrees of inequity in terms of quality of life among the different municipalities that comprise them, especially in the metropolitan areas. Somehow, the thesis proposed by Veltz9 in which metropolitan areas tend to be alike at global scale and differ when compared internally, holds true.

Our metropolitan cities, as those of the rest of Latin America, do not have an institutional structure in charge of governing, planning and administering from an institutionalism, either appointed or elected, as in the case of other countries10. This means that the urban governance, planning and administration expressed in the different public policy actions is carried out at three political-administrative levels of government: national, regional and municipal11. Such a centralist and unitary government structure responds to what was established by the 1980 Constitution of the Republic of Chile, Chapter XIII, articles 99 to 115, including the corresponding further amendments. As a result, there are only two levels of government elected by citizens, national and municipal. In contrast the regional government, whose territories are the scenario for the metropolization process, is represented by both a governor appointed by the President of the Republic and a Regional Council, composed of members appointed by councilors, who, in turn, are elected every four years in municipal elections.

Thus, acknowledging that metropolitan areas do not have a de facto government, which is a trend that emerges as a challenge for urban development in coming years, the analysis of the evolution of quality of life within these areas over the last decade is essential to guide further public and private actions; such a purpose is the aim of this research.


Urban Quality of Life

Some research carried out by international entities such as the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the World Bank have related quality of life to the sense of happiness, satisfaction or welfare. However, given that these studies are focused only on subjectivity, the concept of quality of life turns into a complex subject due to the differences in perceptions among different individuals. In this regard, Fadda and Jirón12 point out that quality of life represents more than the level of private life or welfare of each individual, it refers to every single element of the conditions people live in, that is to say, their needs and satisfactions. These include multiple dimensions of quality of life, which makes it necessary to determine how we measure the extent to which the sufficient or insufficient amount of a (public or private) good or service affects the quality of life of people within the urban space.

To reinforce the aforementioned need to measure quality of life by using objective variables, it is enough to point out that UNESCO, by means of a report made by experts13, considered that the collection of quality of life data based on the counting, measurement and illustration of physical elements on the part of the researcher constitutes an objective form to measure and evaluate quality of life. Yet, the latter does not invalidate the contribution of studies on perception to know the country, city or community in which quality of life is an urgent demand for State policies.

Furthermore, a research carried out by the Inter-American Bank for Development (IABD)14, based on perception surveys conducted in 24 Latin American countries, is one of the most recent studies on quality of life. This research identified the diffuse depiction of reality as one of the constraints of these methodologies aimed at measuring quality of life, since they are influenced by cultural patterns and affected by expectations and aspirations that make them variable and sometimes undecipherable. In addition, these definitions are focused on assigning an exclusive role to the public sector as the guarantor of the satisfaction of these needs. However, within the current predominant development model in the world, many of these needs are satisfied by the private sector and even by the community itself through its participation in the construction and production of urban space.

In the light of this bibliographic review and the different problems to define urban quality of life from an operative perspective, this research sees urban quality of life as “the objective life conditions of the population generated by actions and dynamics of transformation of the urban space produced by public and private actors and civil society.” This statement explicitly recognizes that quality of life is not restricted to the actions of the public sector, but is the result of the intervention of different actors, including the private sector and civil society.

In addition, this research seeks to embrace the complex nature of this urban quality of life concept by acknowledging that the use of statistical information as preferential condition allows both a better representation of the needs of a population as a whole and the identification of favorable or unfavorable conditions. Likewise, in case an intertemporal analysis of quality of life in metropolitan areas is needed, the use of objective variables seems to be more suitable than the interpretation of studies on perception or opinion due to the difficulty of controlling the influence of cultural, aspiration or expectation factors.


Methodological Design

The Urban Quality of Life Index (UQLI)15 was used to compare the quality of life changes in the main metropolitan areas during the 2002-2012 period and geographical information systems were used to collate and decipher patterns and trends. The UQLI was developed by means of a comprehensive review of different indicators designed and applied by national and international entities devoted to quality of life issues; these include those built upon objective and subjective variables. The multidimensional nature of urban quality of life was established through the analysis of the methodology and findings of the Perception Survey on Urban Quality of Life (PSUQL)16, conducted by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development (MINVU), and international indicators such as the “Better Life Index”17, developed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2011); The Economist Intelligence Unit18, developed by The Economist; the Emerging Markets Index 2008, compiled by MasterCard19; and the "Quality of Living Ranking Highlights - Global 2011", developed by MERCER20. All these indicators are valuable instruments to know and compare the impacts on the urban environment and the effects on the quality of life of those who inhabit these areas.

The PSUQL is the only study at communal and metropolitan level available in the country; however, without detracting from its contribution from subjective studies, this survey does not clearly identify the sphere in which favorable or unfavorable conditions are related to public or private actions and neither provides the period of study. As for the international indicators, they are biased and cannot be applied to areas other than Greater Santiago, since the MasterCard and MERCER indicators are oriented towards issues related to the economic and business potential of cities. For this reason, the methodological option of this research was the design of an indicator based solely on objective variables, as it could provide policy makers with more accurate directions on how to guide future public and private investments. The aim is to correct inequality among municipalities and cities and promote development strategies in the integral sense of the term.

The UQLI was built upon the basis of thirty three variables chosen from a set that included more than a hundred possible variables. These were selected by using the expert knowledge of an interdisciplinary research team and considering four conditioning factors at communal scale: pertinence21, representation22, coverage23 and an update level not exceeding three years. The chosen variables were distributed among six recognizable quality of life spheres and adapted according to the revision of the aforementioned national and international indicators: