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Revista INVI

versión On-line ISSN 0718-8358

Revista INVI vol.27 no.75 Santiago ago. 2012 

Revista invi N°75/august 2012/Volid 27: 21-71


Industrialization, development and city: sociodemographic and spatial transformations within the social geography of greater Concepción (1950-2010)1

Enrique Aliste Almuna2 ,Miguel Contreras Alonso3,Valeria Sandoval Manríquez4


2 Chile. BA in Geography, Escuela de Geografía, Facultad de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, Universidad de Chile; MA in Management and Environmental Planning, Universidad de Chile; Ph.D.(C) Studies on Development, Ecole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales –EHESS- Paris, France. Professor, Departamento de Geografía, Facultad de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, Universidad de Chile. Email:

3 Chile. BA in Geography, Universidad de Chile. MA in Geography, specializing in Urban-Regional Planning, Universidad de Chile. Professor, Departamento de Geografía, Facultad de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, Universidad de Chile. Email:

4 Geographer, Universidad de Chile. Email:


There have been important transformations regarding the sociodemographic and urban structure in Greater Concepción over the last sixty years; these changes have been related to the import-substitution industrialization and the consequent integration of the national economy within the globalized market. This paper analyzes these transformations by using socio-educational, age and employment in industry and services indicators so as to verify if the spatial behavior was linked to these processes, putting them in perspective against the notion of progress and development. The results show an early concentration of employment in industry in the peri-urban area. The socio-educational structure retained high income groups in the downtown area of Concepción, but it has recently showed a more peripheral localization, in line with metropolization mechanisms and the liberalization of the land market. This article presents two moments of the city: one belonging to the idea of progress and the other is the notion of development; both concepts are discussed by taking the social geography of the city as a basis.



Greater Concepción is a conurbation that includes the municipalities of Concepción, Talcahuano, Penco, San Pedro de la Paz, Chiguayante and Hualpén. Greater Concepción is located in central/southern Chile, in the Bíobío region, latitude 36" 43' to 36" 50' south.

The municipalities belonging to Greater Concepción represent a total area of 551.4 km² with a population of 622,364 inhabitants and 168,675 households in 20025. These townships have the higher urbanization rate of the Bíobío region6. According to data retrieved from the Regional Government, the demographic evolution of these municipalities shows an important increase, with a tendency that should continue in the future. However, the transformations in Greater Concepción over the second half of the XX century can be characterized in different ways. The sociodemographic analysis offers a deeper insight into the social demography of the city as these changes, derived from the industrialization process that began in the fifties –a process that brought along the organization of the city-, give this area the character and sense of an "industrial city." However, the analysis of the population of Greater Concepción shows that this feature is no longer represented by the relevance of industrial activity.

After studying sociodemographic variables it is possible to see that this industrial character has changed and is not as important as it was prior to the 90s. Nevertheless, the image of industrial city is still present today. This article explores this situation, it is expected to discuss on an analysis perspective focused on the ways the social geography of a city gravitates towards industry. The extent to which this social geography influences the city is also discussed. Likewise, this contribution offers a view of the representations of the city that rely more on recent tradition than on current reality.

Some of the previous steps of this research are compulsory in order to have a grasp of the processes that demographically shape the urban social space; this is why it is important to understand these transformations in space and time as an indissoluble unit7. Space and time are seen as a whole associated with a history contained within its geography; for this reason the territory should be regarded as a result of this process8.

Figure 1: Area of Research

Greater Concepción as an industrial city: general processes of current urban structure. Why the sociodemographic approach?

The gradual growth of industrial and services activities9 is essential for Greater Concepción. In effect, this urban entity, one of the three major Chilean cities, has been influenced by different development policies and strategies implemented back in the fifties, as a result, Greater Concepción became an important industrial center and acquired a seal and character closely linked to industry10. Such a character was promoted by the Production Development Corporation (CORFO) through the implementation of key projects in favor of the national and local economy such as the production of electricity, oil and most especially, steel11. The Huachipato steel complex, owned by the Pacific Steel Company (CAP), was launched in 1950 and is one of the most important milestones in the urban history of the city and the symbol of the import substitution and industrialization policy, which also included the construction of the National Oil Company (ENAP) oil refinery and four petrochemical complexes in the Bay of San Vicente.

The import-substitution industrialization policies (ISI) implied an active participation of the State in the economy and national production, promoting the creation of semi-state or state-owned industries protected against foreign competitors12. The idea was to combine the commercial protectionism of manufacturing plants and the economic integration of Latin America, apart from coordinating the productive and export specialization of Latin American countries; in addition, the small size of internal markets was compensated in relation to regional markets13. During this period, Concepción and Talcahuano were thought to be an important industrial development center due to relevant spatial features such as the presence of two important and protected bays suitable for port activity; a large river which, apart from being suitable for navigation, it offered an important hydroelectric potential and closeness to the large copper deposits located in the Arauco Gulf; as well as the presence of an important network of roads and railway lines, among others14; however, the fragile natural conditions of this area were not taken into consideration15.

In this way, the construction of industries boosted the expansion of the urban area, giving shape to an important metropolitan area with a percentage increase in surface higher to that experienced by Santiago between 1950 and 197016. This situation entailed difficulties and shortage of land for development, as a consequence, the city saw itself forced to grow over distant locations (San Pedro, Penco and Chiguayante)17. These areas became dormitory towns with a demographic growth that exceeded economic growth18, creating an urban area functionally integrated but spatially disjointed. As a result, there are behaviors and socio-spatial dynamics that remain until today; these factors have their roots in the changes within the internal distribution of the population and the presence of social and quality of life differences.

In this way, stressing how this industrial city gets socio-demographically articulated according to development notions, and following this process so as to suggest implications regarding the industrial nature of this urban area, is useful to get a deeper insight into a social geography that guides definitions and measures related to its own planning.

It is worth noting that during the analyzed period (1950-202) this area changed its political administrative limits several times, so it is difficult to manage demographic data and census databases information. This is why this research made some adjustments such as including Coronel, which between 1950 and 1970 reached the Bíobío River (a territory that today is part of San Pedro de la Paz.)

This research identifies historic moments that influenced the urban structure of Greater Concepción, as well as the effects these events had on variables such as employment in industries and services, age structure and the socio-educational level of the population, among others. In this sense, this research included two relevant areas: the first one is the evolution of indicators, which are based on the highest possible volume of available data; and the second one is the study of the events that left an imprint on the urban structure of the city through bibliographic analysis and interviews to key respondents.

Greater Concepcion, urban structure and the metropolitan city. Observing the city in space and time

Understanding the changes within the urban structure of Greater Concepción requires comprehending the historical processes that gave shape to this territory. This is why cities should be understood as physical and social manifestations that exist under permanent fusion, overlapping spatial and temporal layers19; therefore, envisaging the influence of the union between historical processes and space would enable figuring out the configuration of the urban structure20. According to Edward Soja, the preeminence of temporal dimension and history over other ways of conceiving the nature of social phenomena during the 20th century, apart from relegating the role of space to a secondary role or to a aesthetic dimension, it has prevented a more accurate approximation to the complexity of the elements that characterize social processes21. Understanding the relationship between historical processes and its spatial correlate implies accepting both the traces left by time in relation to space and the influence of space over time22, thus creating a dynamic notion of territory23. In this way, there is inevitably the braudelian "geohistory" concept, in which space and time should be seen as a whole unit to comprehend social phenomena within a given place24.

Therefore, it is possible to say that the relationship between geography and history is essential to understand processes such as the one that is being analyzed in this paper, as it allows knowing the traces of the past and how present should be studied. Then, the city is seen as a process and not as an object; it presents important challenges not only at conceptual or methodological level, but also at interpretative and global understanding level.

Greater Concepción should be regarded as a city that lives and responds to a notion development that clashes with the history contained within its geography and, in the case of this paper, as a city that welcomes and changes from its sociodemographic structure in an urban context.

The urban phenomenon has followed different functional and territorial patterns, reflecting the ways of life and organization of societies around the world. When speaking about urban space, the transformation processes are the illustration of changes within productive, organizational and cultural structures of society. In this sense, the changes of the city should be understood as the response of society through space, in other words, it is a geographic picture of society25. More than being observed from a value-based perspective (for better or for worse), the changes within the sociodemographic structure of Greater Concepción should be seen as the process through which it is possible to progress towards the understanding of the city.

Another important aspect to consider when it comes to analyzing existing transformations in Greater Concepción is the globalization paradigm, as there is a consensus that cities are experiencing deep changes as a result of transformations triggered by economic, cultural, political and technological globalization processes26. Today, every city is affected by this global process and their involvement is reflected on the influence and scope of this paradigm27. Globalization, along technological breakthroughs in communications, generalization of mobility through the use of vehicles, and drastic changes in production and consumption, among others, has altered the use of land, thus affecting different social groups; some authors have even mentioned a new relation society-territory28.

Finally, before analyzing a metropolitan city such as Greater Concepción, it is worth mentioning the importance of theoretical models proposed within urban geography to describe the internal structure of large cities, as they are useful to gather and relate knowledge about different aspects of reality, thus overcoming the difficulty created by different phenomena. In this sense, research carried out by Pérez and Hidalgo29 is of great relevance since it generates a wide overview of the process occurring in Greater Concepción, highlighting urban, architectural, environmental and historical aspects and the relevance of socio-spatial, management of urban areas and employment processes, as well as projections and challenges.

Methodological Criteria Used in the Analysis

In order to cover the analyzed period, this paper initially used data retrieved from the censuses carried out between 1940 and 2002. In order to analyze this information, the methodology was divided into two large stages since there are different censuses and different resolution levels and variables.

First Period (1940-1970)

The spatial scale of the analysis is at community level, the lowest unit available in that period. The structure of these censuses is more general and less developed, the analyzed information and variables are less detailed. It is worth noting that the 1960 census does not provide community level data (only provincial data), this sample was therefore eliminated from the analysis. Information from the municipalities of Concepción, Penco, Talcahuano and Coronel dating back to the analyzed period was gathered in order to cover the current surface of Greater Concepción. The inclusion of Coronel is explained because during that period, the administration of the territory, which today is known as San Pedro de la Paz, was under its jurisdiction. Background of this period included the following common variables:

• Percentage of the population with undergraduate studies; intended to identify groups of high socio-educational level: 1952 and 1970 censuses.

• Percentage of the population engaged in activities related to industry: 1940, 1952 and 1970 censuses.

• Percentage of the population engaged in activities related to services: 1940, 1952 and 1970 censuses.

• Percentage of the population older than 65 years; intended to observe demographic ageing: 1940, 1952 and 1970 censuses.

Second Period (1982-2002)

The census district level was used to analyze this period, intracommunal disaggregated data is available from 1982 onwards. The resulting variables allowed the development of more complex indicators regarding socio-educational aspects, in such a way that the variables were considered, as Table 1 shows.

Table 1. Summary of Variables Used for the Design of Indicators. Second Period 1982-2002



Disaggregated Variables


Occupation of the head of household

Percentage of people engaged in executive, legislative and judicial power and board directory of companies

Percentage of professors, scientists and scholars

Percentage of middle level technicians and professionals

Instruction level

Percentage of people graduated from professional education

Percentage of people with undergraduate studies

Completed undergraduate studies

Percentage of people with more than 5 years of undergraduate studies


Workers engaged in services

Percentage of people engaged in services activities


Workers engaged in industry

Percentage of people engaged in industrial activities

Source: Authors’ Elaboration

Historical periodization and identification of relevant urban events

There are two large initial periods: the import-substitution industrialization (ISI) and the opening up to the external market; bibliography regarding the urban and economic history of Greater Concepción was consulted. Data retrieved from historical30, geographic31 and urban32 research was of great importance.

The consultation of literature allowed the identification of elements such as the establishment of industries, development of large housing projects, construction of infrastructure and amenities and definition of economic and productive policies. The aim was to identify the historical events that defined different interventions with significant effects on urban space.


The City of Progress: The Beginning of the Import-Substitution Industrialization

One of the pillars of the campaign that brought the Popular Front, led by Pedro Aguirre Cerda, to power was the idea of progress and creation of industries able to self-supply the domestic market. In addition to this, and as a consequence of the 1939 earthquake that struck the area of Concepción, the Corporation for Reconstruction and Relief (renamed National Office of Emergency of the Interior Ministry, ONEMI) and the Production Development Corporation (CORFO) were created by Act 6,634 of April 29, 1939. The mission of the latter agency was to promote the strengthening of industrial activity and one of its most emblematic projects was the Huachipato steel complex, owned by the Pacific Steel Company (CAP); this project was the result of 10 years of studies and initiatives carried out by CORFO to establish in the Bay of San Vicente, Talcahuano33.

There are important milestones in the urban history of the city identified between 1940 and 1970 such as:

• Policies implemented by CORFO by the end of the forties aimed at creating an industrial productive center in Greater Concepción.

• The construction of the Huachipato steel complex on November 25, 1950.

• The Intercommunal Master Plan of Concepción, implemented in 1962; this Plan defines important areas for urban expansion, estimating a continuous built-up area between Concepción, Talcahuano, Chiguayante and Penco. It is worth mentioning that this initiative set the guidelines for each respective communal Master Plan, defining spaces for industry and the productive vocation of the metropolitan territory34.

During the fifties, the area between Concepción and Talcahuano experienced a rapid population growth due to both the migration from rural areas in search for employment and the establishment of villages for workers and managers from the industrial sector35. This is why it is possible to think that the first workers of this nascent industry, given the limited housing supply, settled down in the limit between Concepción and Talcahuano; the first intermediate areas appeared in the early fifties, these were irregular settlements that emerged from land takeovers36.

One of the first consequences of Huachipato and the massive arrival of migrants was the construction of settlements for the workers and their families; this site was located between Alto Horno and Arenal, an area that is now part of the company. For this reason, CAP-Huachipato and the Housing Corporation (CORVI) built housing developments so as to satisfying the housing need of workers; in addition, the 1960 earthquake turn this situation into a matter of urgency. One of the most telling examples of this intervention is San Pedro Village, located in the then territory of Coronel, "location selected because of its closeness to the downtown of Concepción and the favorable price of land37."

Between the sixties and seventies the growth of the urban centers of Concepción and Talcahuano was evident; as a consequence, the form of the urban area of each city got complex, especially in Concepción, which added new areas to its limits thus using more space, repeating the same expansion patterns of the previous period.

Considering the above, the results of each of the indicators for this period show the following behavior:

a) Educational Level:

This data, only available for the 1952 and 1970 censuses, shows that the municipality of Concepción stands out for concentrating an important proportion of people with undergraduate studies (2.8% and 2.5% on each census.) These figures largely exceed those of the rest of townships, including the national average. In this context, the remaining municipalities of the conurbation (Talcahuano, Penco and Coronel) presented low levels during this period, being surpassed by the national average in 1970. In this context, the data in Table 2 shows the consolidation of Concepción as the municipality that concentrates the groups with higher socio-educational level of the then new conurbation.

Table 2. Percentage of the Population with Undergraduate Studies per Municipality. 1952 and 1970 Censuses



















Source: National Institute of Statistics (INE) 1952 and 1970.

Table 3. Percentage of the Economically Active Population Engaged in Industry and Services. 1940, 1952 and 1970 Censuses


Percentage of EAP engaged in industry

Percentage of EAP engaged in services










































Source: INE 1940, 1952 and 1970.

In broad terms, it is possible to point out that elite groups remained in the downtown of the city, close to the administrative district.

b) Population engaged in industrial and services activities

Industrial activity in Greater Concepción has promoted many of the changes that occurred in the past century. Information retrieved from the 1940, 1952 and 1970 censuses shows an early concentration of Economically Active Population (EAP) engaged in industrial activity in Concepción and Penco. By 1940, a third of the EAP belonging to these municipalities was engaged in industry. Likewise, it is worth mentioning the lower proportion of industrial employment in Talcahuano, which was even below the national average. In 1952 and 1970 this city showed an important increase in industrial employment, reaching the 26% of its EAP.

During the same period Concepción experienced a decrease in this type of activity, however, it remained above the national average. Furthermore, Penco showed a slump in industrial employment, which dropped from 37.5% in 1952 to 15.3% in 1970. See Table 3.

In this context, this data shows that most of the population engaged in industrial activities moved from Concepción, and most especially Penco, to Talcahuano due to the closeness to the industrial facilities located in the latter township. During this period, Hualpén, located in Talcahuano, showed a rapid growth closely linked to the emergence of new industries built in the area as part of the development strategy launched in the forties.

As for the services activities, Concepción and Talcahuano have historically been an administrative center and a transport and trade center respectively, this is why these municipalities are regarded as one of the most important Chilean services centers. The data shows an important increase in services employment in Concepción; likewise, Talcahuano showed an initial growth and a subsequent slump in this area (from 44.7% to 26.2% between 1952 and 1970.) Both Penco and Coronel experienced a constant increase in services employment but their figures remained low when compared to other municipalities.

Global analysis of data reveals a clear pattern: Concepción changed from an industrial into a services city over this period; at the same time, Talcahuano seems to experience a completely opposite process. This is how a new social configuration, defined by the industry and services activities, emerged within the new conurbation.

c) Ageing Level

During the 1952 and 1982 period (the latter interval being used as the reference that projects the trend) all municipalities showed ageing levels (proportion of the population over 65 years) below the national average. In this context, Concepción presented relatively high ageing levels, this indicator steadily increased in each census. It is worth noting that Talcahuano had the lowest ageing levels of the conurbation, remaining unchanged between 1952 and 1970; this trend is linked to high urban growth, rapid urban expansion and the arrival of young people attracted by the type of employment available there.

Young people perceived Talcahuano as a job opportunity, attracted by the idea of progress and development in which promises of a future with more access to goods and services was possible through paid employment. One of the most critical and symbolic goods was (and remains so) housing. This fact contributed to the definition of the city character, which was quietly taking shape on the basis of foundations such as the arrival of population attracted by industrial activity.

Table 4. Percentage of Population Over 65 Years per Municipality. 1952, 1970 and 1982

























Source: INE 1940, 1952 and 1970.

Then, the city of progress shows different signs and creates a series of important symbols. This is about a city that grows under a new way of thinking not only of economy, but also of urban life: the city became the icon of a new way of life. Paid employment creates new habits, new ways of living, new opportunities and new needs such as housing. In the city of progress is assumed the condition of being under construction in terms of the transformations that emerged during the first period, it was the beginning of a change within the sociodemographic characteristics of population.

The city of development: the open economy stage

The consolidation of the conurbation is one of the largest urban processes that emerged during this period; this process showed a clear dual structure Concepción-Services/Talcahuano-Industry (including port activities) linked to the minor nodes of Penco –ceramic industry-, Lirquén –port services- and Chiguayante and San Pedro as areas of residential expansion growing in importance in relation to services activities38. The main elements that affected the structure of the city during this period can be summarized as follows:

• At the beginning of the period the import-substitution model was in crisis, this, together with the political crisis, triggered the implementation of an open economy model that left the national industry without protectionist elements39.

• Complementing the new development model, the National Policy of Urban Development was enacted in 1979, this initiative established that urban land was not a scarce resource, applied flexible planning systems with minimum state intervention, eliminated restrictions and defined procedures to allow the natural growth of urban areas according to market trends40. In this context, the Concepción Master Plan and the respective plans were voted in 1982, as a consequence, the conditions for land use and construction became more flexible41.

• There was a fishing boom in the eighties; extractive fishing (especially the pelagic scad fishing) became one of the pillars of Chilean economy, with Talcahuano-San Vicente, and Coronel on a smaller scale, as a center of attraction for investment42.

• Lozapenco S.A. filed for bankruptcy on November 22, 1990 due to non-cancellation of debts and severance packages and delays on the payment of pension contributions; as a result, thousands of people in the area lost their jobs43.

• During the second half of the nineties, the fishing industry was affected by the scarcity of scad and the lack of tools to control marine species in the long-term.

• The improvements in highways circa 2000 strengthened the urban grid over which the city expanded, firstly with rail and tram lines and then with the construction of highways and roads (or "routes"), generating urban growth and defining the conurbation; these are the bridges that connect and mobilize people and industries from the downtown area to the south; it is worth mentioning the Biovías transport plan and the inter-port road44.

The significant growth of the real estate market during the nineties gave birth to an important and rich housing supply in Concepción, expanding the urban area towards sectors that were not included in territorial planning instruments45.

It is important to point out that each of the analyzed municipalities experienced, or are still experiencing, industrial activity, such as CCU, Albano, Caprice and Nobis in Concepción; Huachipato, Petrox (known today as Enap Refinerías Bíobío), Cementos Bíobío, Petrodow and Inchalam in Talcahuano; textile industry such as Machasa in Chiguayante; paper industry (today Norske-Skog Bíobío) in San Pedro de la Paz; and Compañía Refinería de Azúcar de Viña del Mar (Crav), Vidrios Lirquén (Vipla), Fábrica Nacional de Loza, Fanaloza (later known as Lozapenco), COSAF, El Refugio coal mine, the Port of Lirquén and shoe factories in Penco.

In sociodemographic terms, the situation was as follows:

a) Socio-educational level

Figure 2 shows that by 1982, the population with the highest socio-educational level lived in the downtown area of Concepción. Indeed, better-off districts were located around Plaza Perú or Universidad de Concepción. In addition, the "Lonco" district, located in the road to Chiguayante, stands out as another area of high socio-educational level.

Figure 2: Socio-Educational Distribution, 1982.

This sector presents important assets in relation to land value such as being surrounded by native woodland and the views of Bíobío River; likewise, the Chiguayante-Concepción-Talcahuano road facilitates the access to nearby urban centers46, thus increasing the value of land and concentrating higher socio-educational groups. In contrast, lower socio-educational groups were located in rural or peri-urban areas.

By 1992, the general socio-educational structure remained unchanged, showing the same spatial structure. However, this structure grew in complexity by 2002, when a district in San Pedro, located in the opposite bank of Bíobío River, began to concentrate high-status groups at the same level as that of the central area of Concepción, as shown in figure 3. Despite gathering high-income groups in a relatively central area of the conurbation, all municipalities had one district above the average as far as the socio-educational level was concerned.

Figure 3. Socio-Educational Distribution, 2002

In this sense, districts with high socio-educational levels, such as Chiguayante in Lonco, San Pedro de la Paz in San Pedro and Los Acacios, represent better-off areas of the city; this fact is related to the differences regarding land value and the growing homogeneity of social groups living in these areas.

Figure 4: EAP Distribution, Industrial Sector, 1982

Despite these particularities, data shows a significant continuity of socio-educational spatial structure at district level in Greater Concepción. In this sense, by 2002 there were no significant shifts of better-off population towards peri-urban areas, or at least this was a new process that was not recorded in data collected from this census. Field data indicates that housing estates of high quality, most especially gated communities (Lomas de San Andrés, Lomas de San Sebastián and San Pedro, to name just a few), began to emerge in peri-urban areas during the first decade of the XXI century. The expression of this process in the 2012 census remains to be seen.

b) Population engaged in industry and services

According to data retrieved from INE, 10 percent of the population living in the analyzed area worked in the industrial sector by 1982. Figure 4 shows that there is a complex distribution of population engaged in industry. Likewise, there is an emergence of concentration areas in the north-west of Concepción as well as in the downtown area of Talcahuno and Penco. All municipalities but the center of Concepción, Lonco and some rural districts showed high concentration levels of industrial workers.

By 1992, the concentration pattern of industrial workers remained complex in the north-west of Concepción, Penco and Talcahuano; the far south of Chiguayante was also added to this structure. By 2002, the districts of Concepción stopped concentrating people engaged in industry as they began to definitely establish in Talcahuano (Hualpén), San Pedro (La Boca) and Chiguayante (western area), as Figure 5 shows.

It is worth noting that during this period there was a sort of inverse spatial relationship between the socio-educational level and the proportion of people engaged in industry.

In relation to services, it is worth mentioning the presence of clear continuity patterns recorded in the three analyzed censuses. The presence of population engaged in services across the conurbation appears as an important factor; however, the concentration of people working in the services sector focused in downtown Concepción during the three periods. Notwithstanding, the results of the 1992 and 2002 censuses show that the spatial pattern of this variable goes along the distribution of socio-educational levels, which were high in Lonco and San Pedro.

Figure 5: EAP Distribution, Industrial Sector, 2002

c) Population ageing

From a broad view of the last three censuses results, it is observed that ageing population focuses in the downtown area of Concepción (Intendencia, Liceo de Hombres, Laguna Redonda, Plaza Perú). On the other hand, Isla Quintana (Tumbes Peninsula) showed the lowest ageing level due to the presence of the Navy Base.

The overall behavior shows that the conurbation tends to follow the demographic ageing processes experienced by the country and other metropolitan areas: a general increase in elderly population and concentration of this group in central urban areas, which are closer to services.

In general terms, with the exception of a couple of cases, the distribution of districts that proportionately have more population older than 65 years matches those of higher socio-educational level.

The city of development, more than experiencing a (permanent) transformation process, tends to gradually accentuate a spatial segregation process in which certain neighborhoods began to consolidate according to sociodemographic features: socio-educational categories with higher levels of education tend to concentrate on certain neighborhoods that do not match those in which industrial workers live. At the same time, this condition configures a city on expansion, a city that looks for new areas for the new settlements. However, there was another important process that emerged, which was the rise of the services sector as the main and more distant activity in relation to industry as far as economically active population was concerned.

The city of development began to distance from industry, provided accommodation for services and followed the ageing pattern, especially in central areas. This leads to rethink of those aspects contained within the development concept. In other words, development is generally seen from a material perspective. In this context, this period probably concentrates the main increase in infrastructure, especially in road and transport areas47. In addition, new building projects and investments changed the aspect of the city in terms of visibility: there was an emergence of shopping malls, housing estates in areas next to Carriel Sur airport and more educational infrastructure. However, this period also witnessed a gradual increase in the differences among people regarding not only sociodemographic, but also income, place of living and vulnerability aspects48.

These signs allow the discussion on the development concept and its spatial correlate over time. While there have been important changes in favor of the population such as the increase in GDP, access to basic services, improvements in terms of nutrition, education and health among other elements that compared to the fifties constitute a definite step forward, the future of the city and the way of inhabiting it do not represent progress when thinking about sustainability or occupation that ensure improvements regarding quality of life. After all, the events occurred on February 27, 2010, revealed that the most affected sectors were those that, apart from being vulnerable in relation to the exposure to natural risks, presented important social vulnerability.

Discussion and conclusions

Continuity and change elements within the socio-spatial structure of the conurbation:

By 2002, data regarding socio-educational level tended to change when higher-status groups shifted towards San Pedro de la Paz, a non-peripheral area. In this case, the main element of change was the municipality of Concepción as the residence of industrial workers. During this period, this township lost relevance when it came to concentrating people engaged in industry, who by 1992 still lived in some districts; however, this municipality had almost completely lost its industrial character by 2002.

It is not surprising, then, that transformations after the eighties implied a series of changes within the economic base and the structure of regional economy. The emergence of fishing and forestry industries became relevant in Talcahuano and other municipalities located within the region. On the other hand, the application of the neoliberal model had consequences such as the change in the occupation pattern of urban areas. This situation led to spatial reorganization.

In addition, Talcahuano, which initially was a municipality focused on services, began to concentrate industrial workers from 1952, creating a character that remains today; this role was transferred to Hualpén, an area that was recently declared municipality due to its demographic growth derived from the industrial activity of Talcahuano.

In this sense, despite the fact that some authors state that there are defined roles for each of the municipalities in Greater Concepción, one of the main characteristics that stress the structure of the system is the functional diversity of each township49. Then, it is possible to verify industrial activity in residential municipalities such as San Pedro de la Paz, Chiguayante and even Concepción.

However, in the context of this research, it is worth noting that the demographic structure, as the expression of a vocation or character of a city built around industry, has shown important variations related to population shifts that leave distinctive marks disregarding the presence of industrial activity. In this way, Concepción is no longer an industrial municipality and Talcahuano is more a manufacturing than a port area and despite having industries, San Pedro de la Paz and Chiguayante are clearly residential municipalities.

Available data suggests important considerations from an analytical point of view. It appears to be relevant the fact that the city that contains Greater Concepción, as a large metropolitan conglomerate, is different cities at the same time and in different times. From a conceptual point of view, this is the essence of a territory: to change and being the expression of its social dynamics over time. However, when it comes to analyzing the social geography of the city, understanding its structure and how it changes over time do not depend only on sociodemographic approaches. In this case this is not enough, not only because data offers a limited picture of reality, but also because there are a series of less visible but even more important elements that go along sociodemographic statistics: the course of strategic decisions on the city are subject to discursive practices such as those related to development plans or communal and intercommunal master plans, to name just a few.

The spatial analysis of variables and indicators shows an interesting spatial relationship among socioeconomic level, proportion of people engaged in services activities and population older than 65 years. This relationship is consistent with similar situations recorded in other Chilean cities such as Valdivia, Osorno and Puerto Montt50. Additionally, the variable that presents an inverse relationship is the proportion of people engaged in industrial activities.

In this context, it is important to point out the complexity of the distribution patterns of variables within the urban space of Greater Concepción as they do not seem to be related to other metropolitan areas. Moreover, the analysis of collected field data does not account for current processes that are being experienced in the conurbation such as suburbanization, vertical growth and occupation of risk and environmentally-valued areas; these phenomena were detected on the field research. Subsequent research should analyze changes that may alter the continuity elements detected until 2002, thus probably revealing a new stage within the development of the city.

Social geography of Greater Concepción: reflections on the city making process against the development discourse

Sociodemographic data shows part of the progress that can be achieved in relation to the social geography of the city. It is possible to refer to socio-spatial morphology and descriptively suggest the evolution of the shaping processes of the city. However, it is important to understand that the information offered in this paper acquire a broader sense when combined with city making analysis in relation to strategies, plans and discourses in favor of development. This is why observing development, city and progress discourses, as well as the ways in which the city articulates itself according to the dynamics that give meaning to it over time, requires basic information to understand the evolution of this process.

Analyzed data shows a mobile city that is changing according to the transformations in the characteristics of its population, which strictly speaking is the base of the city. From our point of view, observing the city as a static idea is an error that should be discussed. This is not about eliminating vocations, seals or distinctive marks of cities; rather, accepting that cities, as an expression of the state of society, generate responses to discourses that determine different ways to understand residential habitat. This is why determining the transformations within the demographic structure of the city, as well as the way this entity organizes the urban space from changes in production patterns, decisions of instruments and the area that defines the spatial relationship between residence and workplace, creates a condition of inhabiting that enables the analysis of mobility, travel times, complementary activities and the role of the city within urban inhabiting. The idea is to understand the city beyond its material condition and observe what lies behind each transformation, intensity and element that changes the evolution of the city at each historical point of time. Development discourses are part of this process, so are productive vocations, plans, strategies, etc.

In this case, the set in motion of large discourses such as the development one, which emerged during the second half of the 20th century and the one that was the result of opening up to markets (neoliberalization) post eighties, generate responses from the city; not only at morphological and sociodemographic levels, but also in what regards to the idea built around them. In this case, data allows the analysis of this layer of social geography of the city. Such a layer shows what it is going on with the population, their localization and the sociodemographic response. This approach to social geography is also useful to understand that some ideas regarding Greater Concepción are not as true as they seem to be.

However, major changes occurred during the last decade such as new housing estates, new intra-urban migration processes and the effect of the February 27, 2010 earthquake, are relevant in the fieldwork, but they need to be methodologically corroborated in the 2012 census.

As a corollary, at least two cities can be analyzed over time in this paper: the first one is referred to as the city of progress, characterized for being the reflection of major transformations derived from the set in motion of the development discourse during the second half of the 20th century; these transformations included remarkable demographic changes such as the increase in people engaged in industrial activities, a population that maintains low ageing rates and the beginning of an internal rearranging process that gives each city their own character. Likewise, this is the city that regards industry as the symbol of process and the space where housing emerges as a longed-for dream and the need of the new city.

The second city is the city of development; this is one that gained consolidation over decades, being the eighties the span of time that witnessed an important economic transformation and rearrangement of population as the result of political, social and economic changes. There are important transformations in the social geography that was born during the fifties, setting differences that included the concentration of certain population segments in defined areas within the city, emerging the characteristics or marks on each municipality, even if they are not exclusive. The city began to separate from industry and got closer to services. The territory is built over certain relevant distinctions. Development became evident not only in relation to breakthroughs and material achievements, but also in negative externalities and the unexpected symptoms of development such as water and air pollution.

The city of progress promises a glorious future; conversely, the city of development reveals the unseen difficulties of progress. In this line, sociodemographic changes are just a sample within this complexity.



1FONDECYT Project 1090248 “Footprints and territorial dynamics: imaginaries of development and transformation practices of environment in Greater Concepción”.

5 INE. 2007.
6 INE. 2002.
7 Soja, E. 1999; Di Méo, G. 1998.
8 Aliste, E. 2011.
9Azócar, G., Sanhueza, R. y Henríquez, C., 2003.
10 Aliste, E. and Almendras, A.2010.
11 Hernández, H. 1983.
12 Góngora, M. 1981.
13 Turmo, J. and Morales G. 2007.
14 Almeyda Arroyo, E.1955.
15 Ilabaca, P. 1995.
16 Aliste, E. and Almendras, A. 2010.
17 Franck, S. and Pérez, L. 2009
18 Hernández, H. 1983.
19 Di Méo, G. and Buléon, P. 2005.
41 Guevara, J. 2007.
21 Soja, E. 1999.
22 Aliste, E. 2011.
23 Hiernaux, D. and Lindón, A. 2006.
24 Braudel, F. 1997.
25 Di Méo, G. and Buléon, P. 2005.
26 Pérez, L and Salinas, E. 2007.
27Mattos, C. de, 2002.
28 Font, A. 1997.
29 Pérez, L. and Hidalgo, R. 2010.
30 See the contributions of Hernández, H. 1983; Pacheco, A. 1997; Mazzei, L. and Pacheco, A. 1985, among others.
31 See the contributions of Almendras, A. 2009; Aliste, E. and Almendras, A. 2010; Smith, P. and Romero, H. 2009; Mardones, M. and Vidal, C.2001; Rojas, C., García López, M, Muñiz, I. 2009, among others.
32 See the contributions of Pérez, L. and Salinas, E. 2007; Baeriswyl, S. 2007; Núñez, F. 2007.
33 Echeñique, A. Rodríguez, C. 1990.
34 Muñoz F. 2011.
35 Pérez, L. and Salinas, E. 2007.
36 Almendras, A. 2009.
37 Franck, S. and Pérez, L. 2009, pág.140.
38 Núñez, F. 2007.
39 Muñoz F. 2011.
40 MINVU. 2006.
41 Muñoz F. 2011.
42 ASIPES. 2010.
43 Bravo, F. 2004.
44 Pérez, L. y Salinas, E. 2007.
45 Pérez, L. and Hidalgo, R. 2010; Muñoz, 2011.
46 Pérez, L. y Salinas, E. 2007.
47 Pérez, L. and Salinas, E. 2007.
48 Pérez, L. and Hidalgo, R. 2010.
49 Baeriswyl. S. 2007.
50 Contreras, M. 2009.

Received: 14.12.11

Accepted: 12.08.12

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