Prosperity and Social Inequalities: Montes Claros, How to Plan an Intermediary City in Brazil
According to international statistics, nearly 50% of the world’s urban population live nowadays in cities of less than 500,000 inhabitants. These small and medium-sized cities play a role of intermediation between rural regions, local economy and more extensed urban networks, with three spheres of influence: micro-regional, national and international. In many of these “intermediate cities”, the main problem to reinforce them in their action is a lack of financial and human resources for managing the city in a comprehensive way, in order to tackle the demographic and spatial extension of these urban settlements, and avoid an increase of social segregation and fragmentation of territory. The example of Montes Claros, in the State of Minas Gerais, Brazil, helps us understand how a city of nearly 400,000 inhabitants, at the center of an economically prosperous region, tackles these issues through a current process of urban planning, having to take into account its historical, social and spatial context. Like most Brazilian and Latin American cities, Montes Claros-which acts as a transit hub at the State and national levels-is a rapidly growing intermediary city that has seen continued economic growth over the past two decades. However, this industrial and business growth has not resulted in a more inclusive distribution of the urban population. Considering the resulting growth from rural migration and new urban residents, the urban area of Montes Claros remains fragmented territorially, with neighborhoods more or less well equipped and served by public transport depending on the socio-economic status of their inhabitants. The current process of urban planning raises many issues, among them three crucial elements to improve in order to re-introduce planning as appropriate approach and instruments able to guide the decision makers towards the future of a city and its region: a medium and long-term vision for Montes Claros, its hinterland and the Northern region of Minas Gerais; a biased perception of Montes Claros in which only the dense areas in the city center are taken into account, with suburban areas still disconnected from the rest of the city and poorly integrated; a participatory process of urban planning involving all stakeholder and population, from the diagnostic till the definition of priorities in terms of urban policies, strategies and investments.