Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Searching for a Better Life: Peri-Urban Migration in Western Para State, Brazil

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Searching for a Better Life: Peri-Urban Migration in Western Para State, Brazil

Article excerpt

While rural to urban migration has contributed significantly to the increased urbanization of the world, that process has not always been as clear and permanent as it first appears. In many low- and middle-income countries, including Brazil, employment in cities for people with low skills is often unstable, and government services and living conditions are frequently inadequate. Many rural to urban migrants therefore find that the cities they have been attracted to do not offer the resources and opportunities they seek. Consequently, many migrants circulate between the rural and urban zones, following economic opportunities (Waters 1997; WinklerPrins 2002a; Padoch and others 2008; Zhu and Wenzhe 2010), or resettle in the peri-urban interface (PUI) zone as we describe below.

According to Brazil's latest census, 84 percent of its population lives in urban centers, compared with 55 percent in 1970 (Brazilian Institute for Geography and Economics [IBGE] 2008). At 73 percent, the Brazilian Amazon (most of IBGE's "Regiao Norte") today is less urbanized than the national average, but has increased substantially since 1991 when it was only 55 percent (IBGE 2000; IBGE 2008). This percentage continues to grow as more small farmers abandon agriculture and seek wage labor in urban areas (Walker and others 2009). In Amazonia, growing numbers of former smallholder farmers are choosing the PUI zone over cities as ultimate migration destinations (Browder and Godfrey 2006; MacDonald 2010). This paper considers why migrants are choosing to resettle in this zone by examining the trend in western Para state, in northern Brazil, near the city of Santarem (Figure t).

Researchers and analysts have long regarded rural and urban as distinct zones, with the urban fringe serving as a temporary transitional zone without lasting significance (Simon 2008). This distinction was always more rigid than reality, but recent rapid urban growth as well as advancements in transportation and communications technology, as well as externally driven macroeconomic adjustment policies have made this dichotomous distinction increasingly problematic (Simon, McGregor, and Thompson 2006). The PUI refers to the urban fringe that is characterized by change but is an ongoing part of an urban area. It is defined as the "zone of (dynamic) transition or interaction between urban and rural areas; usually used in the context of rapidly urbanizing poor countries" (Simon 2008, 170). The specific structure and function of PUIs differ from city to city depending on city size, population demographics and dynamics, transportation challenges, and conflict over jurisdiction between urban and rural authorities (Allen 2003; Simon, McGregor, and Thompson 2006). These factors complicate the collection of comparative population datasets and other variables, however, and scientists continue to rely on dichotomized rural and urban growth datasets (Simon 2008).

PUI zones receive mainly two types of migrants: wealthier urban migrants looking for a more rural lifestyle and cheaper accommodation, and poorer rural people searching for work and education for their children (Douglas 2008; Simon 2008). While vulnerable to being engulfed by the city's expanding reach, many PUI zones retain rural qualities such as low crime rates and access to abundant natural resources, including enough space for home gardens, all of which allow residents to engage, at least partly, in resource-dependent livelihood practices, which are important for cultural identity as well as subsistence (Brook and Davila 2000; Slinger 2000; WinklerPrins and de Souza 2005; MacDonald 2010). Using findings from a qualitative case-study, this article focuses on the second type of PUI zone migrants in western Para: rural to urban migrants who found urban life to be less satisfactory than anticipated, and therefore chose to resettle in a PUI zone rather than return to their rural origins.

PEOPLE AND MIGRATION IN THE BRAZILIAN AMAZON

The Amazon region, though never densely settled, has a long history of human occupation (Roosevelt and others 1996). …

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