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One of the main characteristics of the developing brain is that all neurons and the majority of macroglia originate first in the ventricular zone (VZ), next to the lumen of the cerebral ventricles, and later on in a secondary germinal area above the VZ, the subventricular zone (SVZ). The SVZ is a transient compartment mitotically active in humans for several gestational months. It serves as a major source of cortical projection neurons as well as an additional source of glial cells and potentially some interneuron subpopulations. The SVZ is subdivided into the smaller inner (iSVZ) and the expanded outer SVZ (oSVZ). The enlargement of the SVZ and, in particular, the emergence of the oSVZ are evolutionary adaptations that were critical to the expansion and unique cellular composition of the primate cerebral cortex. In this review, we discuss the cell types and organization of the human SVZ during the first half of the 40 weeks of gestation that comprise intrauterine development. We focus on this period as it is when the bulk of neurogenesis in the human cerebral cortex takes place. We consider how the survival and fate of SVZ cells depend on environmental influences, by analyzing the results from in vitro experiments with human cortical progenitor cells. This in vitro model is a powerful tool to better understand human neocortex formation and the etiology of neurodevelopmental disorders, which in turn will facilitate the design of targeted preventive and/or therapeutic strategies.