The Urban World,
J. John Palen
Chapter 4: Ecology and Political
Economy Perspectives
Development of Urban Ecology
Burgess's Growth Hypothesis
Sector and Multiple-Nuclei Models
Urban Growth Outside North America
The Postmodern City: The Los Angeles School
Political Economy Assumptions
Examples of the Political Economy Approach
• Sociologist Louis Wirth’s attempt to view a
city’s spatial physical structure, its forms of
social organization, its peoples and lifestyles,
and its problems empirically through three
interrelated perspective
• This chapters looks at the spatial and social
structure of the city and how it affects and is
affected by the city as a system of social
Development of Urban Ecology
• Invasion and Succession
– Viable communities are always in the process of
– Invasion of one land use or population by another
– Succession: when one group or function finally
takes the place of another
– Natural Areas: segregated urban areas that are
supposedly the result of ecological processes
rather than of planning or conscious creation by a
government unity
• Criticisms of Ecology
– The heavy emphasis on competition in traditional
human ecology, plus the nonsocial nature of some
of the variables, disturbs contemporary political
economy critics
• Role of Culture
– Ecology’s macro-level focus may fail to explain the
cultural and motivational factors in urban land-use
Burgess’s Growth Hypothesis
• From the Chicago School
• First presented in 1924
• Suggested that industrial cities grew radically
through a series of concentric zones
• This is not a model of how things are as much
as a model of how things change
Figure 4.1
Burgess's Zonal Hypothesis
Concentric Zones
• Zone 1
– Central business district
• Zone 2
– Zone in transition
• Zone 3
– Working people’s homes
• Zone 4
– Zone of the better residences
• Final Zone
– Commuter zone
• Criticized for having arbitrary divisions
• Must keep in mind that Burgess proposed a
“model” or “ideal type” of what American
cities would look like if other factors did not
Sector and Multiple-Nuclei Models
• Based of his study of 142 cities, Homer Hoyt
proposed a “sector theory”
– Used pie-shaped wedges or sectors
– Focuses attention of the role of transportation
• Chauncy Harris and Edward Ullman argued
that land-use patterns developed around what
were originally independent nuclei
– Today, the multi-nuclei hypothesis provides a
better description of the entire metropolitan area
than it does of the central city
Urban Growth Outside North
• In cities with a nonindustrial heritage, there
appears to be an inverse zonal hypothesis
– For example, in Paris, housing projects are located
in the suburbs
• Burgess’s theory does not appear to be
applicable to older European cities
– Heavy industry confined to suburbs because of
densely populated central land
The Postmodern City: The Los
Angeles School
• In direct opposition to the Chicago School
• Argues that LA, with its fragmented spatial
and social patterns is the model for the
future—the new pattern
• Critics state that this statement slips from
science into an academic boosterism that is at
odds with empirical research and critical
Political Economy Models
• Political economy advocates argue that you
have to look beyond the city to national (and
possibly world) patterns to understand
massive changes such as city declines,
suburbanization, or deindustrialization
• Focuses on the role played by human agency,
and especially the actions of the corporate
economic elites and political institutions that
do their bidding
Figure 4.2
Urbanization in the World System
Model of how macrostructures set the parameters for urban development. The image
of smaller “windows” of possible variability, instead of deterministic causal arrows, is
chosen because this figure is intended to provide a general theoretical orientation for
research (i.e., to point to the key elements), rather than pretend to provide a
verifiable model for testing.
Political Economy Assumptions
• 5 underlying assumptions taken from the work
of Joe Feagan and modified by David Smith
and Michael Timberlake
– Cities are situated in a hierarchical global system,
and global linkages among cities help define the
structure of the world system
– The world system is one of competitive capitalism
– Capital is easily moved; locations of cities are fixed
– Politics and government matter
– People and circumstances differ according to time
and place, and these differences matter
Examples of the Political Economy
• The Baltimore Study
– David Harvey stated that financial capital rather
than industrial capital determines the future of
the city
• Urban Growth Machines
– John Logan and Harvey Molotch looked at the
necessity to create a “good business climate”
– Local governments are largely in the pockets of
major economic interests, paying little attention
to local residents concerns
• World Systems Theory and Globalization
– World systems theory suggests that what happens
to individual cities is not a result so much of what
happens in their own region as to where these
cities fit into the world hierarchy of cities
– Hierarchy is based upon the economic power the
city commands
• Challenges
– The challenge of the political economy model is to
adapt what began as a neo-Marxist model to a
world that has largely abandoned Marxism