Academic journal article The Geographical Review

The Changing Location of Trade and Services in Guadalajara, Mexico, 1994-2004

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

The Changing Location of Trade and Services in Guadalajara, Mexico, 1994-2004

Article excerpt

Geographers and other scholars have long noted differences in the spatial distributions and locations of retail business, services, and housing between the Latin American and Anglo-American city (Griffin and Ford 1980). A fundamental difference has been the strength of the central business district (CBD) in the Latin American city, in what usually is a historic colonial core. For centuries these centers were the place for elites to live and the location for vendors of higher-order goods and services. Cultural practices persist to maintain these downtowns as vital economic service and retail centers (Figure 1). They continue to function as the central place to serve surrounding rural hinterlands. Mexican cities adhere to this Latin American pattern of thriving urban cores that control commerce and political power.


In addition to strong CBDS, Mexican cities tend to maintain a dense urban environment with a low-rise profile. Commercial land uses, services, and even small industrial workshops are interspersed throughout residential neighborhoods. Most retail businesses are still small mom-and-pop establishments (Tilly 2006). Lower rates of automobile ownership, less purchasing power, cultural norms for smaller housing, and preference for daily shopping at small retail establishments have kept most Mexican cities compact, with a variety of functions available at a walking scale.

Most North American cities, in comparison, have experienced suburbanization since the beginning of automobile mass consumption. Whether employers followed the labor force out of the central city (Jackson 1985; Stilgoe 1987), or the relocation of employment occurred along with, or in advance of, the population (Walker and Lewis 2001), the result is low-density suburban sprawl. Responding to consumer buying power in the suburbs, and also acting as a driving force that perpetuates suburban sprawl, large shopping malls and big-box shopping centers have become important retail nodes and landscape elements in U.S. cities. Central cities have maintained many white-collar jobs, as seen in the landscape through the iconic skyscrapers that define most U.S. skylines (Ford 1994), and many have rebounded since the mid-1990s by remaking themselves into hip entertainment districts. Today even big-box stores that previously preferred large suburban malls have begun to locate in more pedestrian-friendly, urban environments. In spite of this urban revival, however, most CBDS have lost the overwhelming dominance in retail and services that they had in the early twentieth century.

In a change to the long tradition of a dominant Mexican CBD, many Mexican cities now emulate the North American pattern of sprawl, especially in larger metropolitan areas. Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city, is a prime example, replete with wide suburban arterials, gated residential projects, commercial strip centers with large grocery stores, and high-end suburban shopping malls anchored with North American and European retail stores (Cabrales Barajas and Canosa Zamora 2002; Harner 2007). The introduction of the suburban shopping mall began as early as the 1960s in Guadalajara, and various forms of these retail centers became more common in the 1990s, both in Guadalajara and throughout Mexico (Fromson 1992; Arreola and Curtis 1993; Wasserman 1996). In particular, Walmart--now Mexico's number one private employer--and other supercenter grocery stores are changing both the consumption habits of urban Mexicans and the spatial arrangement of cities such as Guadalajara. (1)

Whether beneficial or not, fundamental change is occurring in the scale and location of commercial businesses and services in urban Mexico. Tension exists between the strength of the historic downtown core and the rapid suburbanization of these businesses. The contradiction has not been resolved by research that either reinforces the strength of the historical urban core or emphasizes the rapid shift to suburban commerce (Fromson 1992; Ford 1996; Scarpaci 2005; Herzog 2006). …

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