The Urban World,
J. John Palen
Chapter 1: The Urban World
• Outline:
– Introduction
– The Process of Urbanization
– Urban Growth
– Megacities
– The Urban Explosion
– Defining Urban Areas
– Urbanization and Urbanism
– Organizing the Study of Urban Life
– Concepts of the City
– Early Social Theories and Urban Change
– Summary
– Review Questions
• In 2010, the United States population
surpassed 308 million
• 4 out of 5 Americans now live in metropolitan
The Process of Urbanization
• The first villages emerged around 11,000 years ago.
• Cities have only existed for 7,000-10,000 years.
• In 1800, the population of the world was still 97
percent rural.
• In 1900, the world was still 86 percent rural.
• Civilization and civilized come from the Latin civis,
which refers to a citizen living in a city.
• The Roman civitas referred to the political and moral
nature of the community.
• The Roman urbs, from which we get the term urban,
referred to the built form of the city.
Urban Growth
• Until 1920, over half of the U.S. population
was rural. The same was true for Canada until
• Urban revolution refers to the rapid growth of
cities during the 19th and 20th centuries.
• It is estimated that by 2030 some 60 percent
of the world’s population will live in urban
Figure 1.1
Figure 1.1 Percentage of population residing in urban areas by major
area, 1950, 1975, 2005, and 2030
• The United Nations uses the term megacities
to designate places of over 10 million
• Three important facts:
– Massive urbanization in a very recent
phenomenon, even in the West.
– Over 95 percent of future urban growth will occur
in cities of the developing world.
– About half the urban residents in developing
countries live in slums (currently 1 billion).
Figure 1.2
Population growth by region, 1900-2020
The Urban Explosion
• Urban growth first accelerated cumulatively
during the 19th and 20th centuries.
• Important reasons for European population spurt
Declining death rates
The beginning of scientific management of agriculture
Improved transportation and communication systems
Stable political governments
The development of the Industrial Revolution
Defining Urban Areas
• There are about 30 definitions for urban population,
with various and overlapping criteria used.
• The United Nations accepts each nation’s definition of
what it considers urban
• Gesellschaft: larger-scale “societal” or formal role
• Gemeinschaft: more intimate-scale “community” or
primary relationships
• Worldwide, the percentage of the population living in
urban places varies from 10 percent in Burundi to 100
percent in Qatar, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
Urbanization and Urbanism
• Urbanization: the number of people in urban
areas; the process by which rural areas
become transformed into urban areas
• There is a limit to the urbanization possible,
but the practical limit for the size of cities or
metropolitan areas is not yet known.
• Urbanism: refers to the social patterns and
behaviors associated with living in cities
Organizing the Study of Urban Life
• Human ecological approach: broadly concerned with how
the ecology of the city developed, particularly the
interrelationship and interdependence of organisms and
their environment
• Political economy: an approach widely used by urban
scholars that gives less weight to ecology and look more
toward the explicit political and economic decisions made
by multinationals and political institutions to explain
population changes
• Cultural, sociocultural, or social psychological approach:
focuses on how the experience of living in cities affects
people’s social relationships and personalities
Concepts of the City
• Urban Change and Confusion
– Systematic empirical examination of cities and city
life only began recently.
• Rural Simplicities Versus Urban Complexity
– Fighting the stereotypes
Early Social Theories and Urban
• European Theorists, including Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile
– Typologies:
• Ideal Type: a model; a logical construct i.e. Weber’s contrast of “traditional
society” and “rational society”
– Assumptions
• The evolutionary movement from simple rural to complex urban is unilinear
• Modern urban life stresses achievement over ascription
• The supposed characteristics of city life apply not just to specific groups or
neighborhoods but to urban areas as a whole
• The Chicago School
– Associated with a group of scholars, including Robert Park and Louis Wirth,
connected with the University of Chicago during the 1920s and 1930s
– Converted sociology into an established academic discipline and an emerging