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Latin Am/Caribbean & Urbanization UMN Global Spotlight 2010-2012

This means funding opportunities for faculty and students along these thematic lines. See: http://www.international.umn.edu/spotlight/grants.php

Global Spotlight is the Office of International Programs' biennial focus on a region of the world and a pressing global issue. In 2010-2012, the focus is on the Latin America and the Caribbean and the issue of the Impact of Urbanization.

Why Latin America and the Caribbean?

Latin America and the Caribbean encompass a diverse region comprising 48 countries* and approximately 515 million people. Over the past ten to twenty years, this area of the world has experienced significant economic, social, and political advances. This region boasts a long and complex tradition of literary and cultural production that has had a worldwide impact through the books of Nobel Prize-winning authors, such as Gabriel García Márquez and Pablo Neruda, and new musical forms, such as salsa, samba, reggae and, more recently, reggaetón. Environmentally, it comprises more than 30 percent of the world's total renewable water resources and more than 30 percent of the world's forest area. The region is currently the U.S.'s third-largest trading partner.

Undoubtedly, the region continues to face a variety of challenges, such as persistent social and economic inequalities. While access to education and health care has improved, it varies widely by income, ethnicity, and gender. Indigenous groups--which have sizable populations in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, Mexico, and Guatemala--continue to experience ethnic discrimination and human rights abuses; indigenous movements are increasingly engaged in the struggle for indigenous rights. In addition, the region faces a number of challenges from natural disasters. According to the United Nations Development Program, Latin America and the Caribbean is the "second most prone region to extreme flooding, landslides, earthquakes, and droughts." Climate change intensifies the possibility of drought and increasing desertification in one-third of Latin America.

The region's close connections with the United States are readily apparent. Currently, there are 47 million Latinos in the U.S., constituting 15.4 percent of the population and by 2050 it is expected that one out of four people in the United States will be Latino. In Minnesota the overall numbers are lower; 4.1 percent of the total state population is Latino. The Latino presence in the Twin Cities dates back to the late 19th century with the arrival of Mexican immigrants to the West Side of St. Paul. Currently, 72 percent of the Latinos in Minnesota are of Mexican origin, but there is also a growing population from Ecuador and other parts of Latin America. In 2005 Mexican and Ecuadorian consulates were established in the Twin Cities.

University of Minnesota faculty in a variety of fields conduct research and are involved in partnerships with Latin American colleagues and institutions on diverse areas of research and scholarship, including human rights, language policy issues, migration, agriculture, economics, architecture, education, public health, and medicine.

* as categorized by the United Nations

Why Urbanization?

For the first time in human history, the majority of the world's population lives in urban areas. Almost 3.5 billion people--or 50.5 percent of the world's population--live in cities, compared to only 30 percent in 1950. The rate of urbanization will continue to grow as 180,000 people move to cities each day. By 2050, it is estimated that two-thirds of the world's population will live in cities, and only five countries will have growing rural populations.

But there are disparities in this explosive growth. Some countries are almost completely urban (such as Belgium, Kuwait, and Singapore), while others are mostly rural (Cambodia, Uganda, and Trinidad and Tobago). Africa and Asia remain mostly rural, and even by 2050 are expected to be much less urbanized than other major areas. Within Asia, however, China has seen rapid urbanization, more than doubling the number of people in cities from 19 percent in 1980 to 47 percent currently. Asia also contains the largest number of "megacities" with populations of 10 million or more. Today, there are 21 megacities around the world and 33 "megacities in waiting" with 5 to 10 million residents. Despite the rise of mega-cities, more than half of urban dwellers live in cities of 500,000 people or less.

Migrants look to cities as a source of jobs and income, education, and health care. While the social and economic benefits can be great, these newcomers often do not find the opportunities they were looking for and quality of life indicators may suffer. Poverty is now growing faster in cities than in rural areas, and one billion people live in urban slums. All of this movement to cities leaves behind rural communities facing difficult issues such as declining and aging populations, separated families, and fewer hands to till the soil and run businesses. These problems are not unlike those experienced in the United States as people flocked to urban centers at the turn of the 20th century.

The University of Minnesota has the resources and expertise to address the many challenges and opportunities of urbanization--from economics, education, public policy, and transportation to healthcare, food, safety, and architecture. Faculty, staff, and students are engaged across the campus and with partners around the world to meet these 21st century needs.

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