Cities bring together large numbers of people in one place and have long played an important role in society. As urbanization continues to increase, an ever increasing share of the world’s population reside in cities. This overview of the America’s major urban centers gives a sense of just how much urban life varies from country to country. These urban profiles also give you a sense of the country’s culture and history. You can use these profiles as a starting point for a geography class project, history assignment or maybe research for an upcoming vacation.
#1: São Paulo, Brazil
The largest city in the Western Hemisphere, São Paulo (population 11.2 million) is also the largest city in Brazil.
History: In 1554, Jesuit priests founded a mission in the area to reach out to the area’s population. Though most of the city’s early settlers came from Portugal, the city is now home to people from all over the world including several million inhabitants of Italian background.
Motto: Non dvcor, dvco (in English, “I am not led, I lead”)
Universities and Colleges: There are more than a dozen universities and colleges in the city including the University of São Paulo, the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo and Mackenzie Presbyterian University.
Landmarks: Some of the city’s noteworthy landmarks include Museum of the Portuguese Language, Catedral da Sé, and São Paulo Museum of Modern Art.
#2 Mexico City, Mexico
As the capital and largest city in Mexico, Mexico City plays a central role in Mexican society. With a population of 8.8 million and a very high population density (15,437 people per square mile), Mexico City is also a very crowded place.
History: The first city established in the area was Tenochtitlan, an Aztec city. Following the Spanish conquest of 1521, the city was largely destroyed and then rebuilt. The city quickly expanded as an important colonial city and has continued to expand up to the present.
Culture: Mexico City is home to more than 150 museums including Museum of Modern Art and the University Museum. In addition, the city’s also has a number of music attractions such as the New World Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra.
Fun Fact: The National Autonomous University of Mexico, with more than 300,000 students, is also the top ranked Spanish speaking university in the world according to the Times Higher Education Supplement, a global ranking of universities.
#3 New York, New York
The largest city in the United States, New York is also America’s commercial center. Spanning several islands, New York (also known as the Big Apple) long served as the entry point for immigrants to the United States. Approximately two million of the city’s 8.1 million residents live on the island of Manhattan.
History: The earliest European settlement on the island of Manhattan dates back to 1614 when Dutch settlers established New Amsterdam. This settlement was conquered by the English in 1664 and was renamed New York. The city is not named after the city of York in Northern England; rather it is named after James, the Duke of York who reigned as King James II (reigned 1685-1688).
Economy: New York is home to the New York Stock Exchange, one of the largest stock exchanges in the world. The city is also home to a large number of banks, brokers and other financial companies which cluster in Wall Street, in southern Manhattan. In addition to finance, media, fashion, publishing and advertising are other major activities in the city.
#4 Lima, Peru
The fourth largest city in the Americas and the largest in Peru, Lima was once known as the “City of Kings” (“la Ciudad de los Reyes” in Spanish). The city is home to approximately one third of Peru’s population. Approximately 7.6 million people call Lima home.
History: The city was founded by the Spanish in 1535; it served as the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru. When Peru became independent in 1821, Lima was named the capital of the newly established Republic of Peru. The city suffered a great deal in the nineteenth century; during the War of the Pacific (1879–1883), Chilean soldiers destroyed a great of the city.
Culture: The city is home to the oldest university in the Americas: National University of San Marcos was founded in 1551. San Marcos predates Harvard by more than seventy five years. The city is also rich with museums including the Museum of Gold, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of the Nation, and the Museum of Italian Art.
#5 Bogotá, Colombia
With 7.6 million inhabitants, Bogotá is the fifth largest city in the Americas. In terms of land area and population, Bogotá is also the largest city in Colombia. As the capital, Bogotá is also the political center of Colombia.
History: The city’s founding is generally considered to be 1538. The earliest settlers in the area were Spanish priests; substantial immigration to the region did not occur until the second half of the nineteenth century.
Economy: Due to its location, Bogotá is a major economic center connecting Colombia to the rest of the world. Industrial production, tourism and government services are some of the major elements of Bogotá’s economy. The service sector of the economy is steadily growing in importance.
Symbols: The city’s two main symbols have obtained national importance. The national flag of Colombia, a yellow band above a red band, originated from Bogotá. The city’s coat of arms, granted by Charles I of Spain in 1548, continue to be in use in the country.
Nickname: Bogotá is sometimes known as “The Athens of South America” due to its numerous universities, libraries and other cultural institutions.
- Bogotá, http://www.colombia.travel/en/international-tourist/vacations-holidays-where-to-go/bogota-travel-guide/
- Photo of Statue of Liberty by Johan Wieland, New York September 2010, http://www.flickr.com/photos/johanwieland/5027238608/
- Photo of Lima, Peru by Rafael Matsunaga (Lima evening, HDR) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
- University of Minnesota Duluth, Aztecs – Ancient Cultures of Middle America, http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/troufs/anth3618/maaztec.html
- Photo of Mexico City Cathedral by Francisco Diez under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr
- Photo of Angel Moroní by Carlos Carvajal from BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
- Photo of Museo do Iparanga São Paulo, Brazil by Jhowcs (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Sergio Koreisha, São Paulo, http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~sergiok/brasil/saopaulo.html