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Understanding the Guadalajara metropolitan area

With a population of almost five million people, the Guadalajara metropolitan area is Mexico’s second largest metropolis.

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For the uninitiated, it can be a testing experience trying to fathom its geography, multitude of neighborhoods, major transport arteries and jigsaw puzzle of streets.

But up until the end of the 19th century, Guadalajara extended only a short distance outside today’s central zone.  It only started to expand under the stewardship of President Porfirio Diaz, who promoted the construction of elegant, foreign-owned mansions on Avenida Vallarta.   

At this time, Zapopan, Tlaquepaque and Tonala were towns in their own right, separated from the bustling state capital by rolling fields and woodland.

The dynamic growth of the metropolitan area kicked off in the 1950s and 60s, when suburban developments began to flourish. Neighborhoods such as Chapalita and Providencia attracted the middle classes, while those of more modest means tended to settle in the ever expanding eastern sector of the city.

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The construction of the first commercial mall,  Plaza del Sol, in 1969, signaled a major turning point for the city, launching the surge in suburban growth in the municipality of Zapopan, a trend that has kept going ever since.

Meanwhile, the city began to swell to the east and south, and by the mid 1970s both Tlaquepaque and Tonala had been swallowed up.

With the municipality of Guadalajara hemmed in to the north by the Barranca (Canyon) de Huentitan, by the end of the 20th century its population density had reached a zenith and developers of residential housing began to focus their efforts on outlying municipalities such as Tlajomulco and El Salto.  In recent years, dozens of subdivisions have sprung up on the highways running out of the city toward Colima and Chapala.

In the 1980s, the Guadalajara metropolitan area consisted of four municipalities: Guadalajara, Zapopan, Tlaquepaque and Tonala. Its rapid growth since then, however, provoked a reassessment, and now the metro area is considered to include eight municipalities: the four above mentioned, plus Tlajomulco, El Salto, Juanacatlan and Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos (Chapala’s neighbor).

Last week, eight metro-area mayors (presidentes municipales) were sworn in for new three-year terms.  Of these, all but Ixtlahuacan (won by the PRI) will be led by a member of Jalisco’s newest political force, the Citizens Movement (MC). On the positive side, this should help progressive and consistent policies to develop for the benefit of the entire zone.  Already agreement has been made to build a fourth Tren Ligero (subway) line that extends into Tlajomulco.  The third line, which is expected to open in the spring of 2019, connects Zapopan, Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque and Tonala.

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