Urbanization

Topic: Demographic Shifts And Social Change

Urbanization is the process of a population shift from rural areas to cities, often motivated by economic factors.

Urbanization is the process of a population shift from rural areas to cities. During the last century, global populations have urbanized rapidly:

  • 13% of people lived in urban environments in the year 1900
  • 29% of people lived in urban environments in the year 1950

Another term for urbanization is “rural flight. ” In modern times, this flight often occurs in a region following the industrialization of agriculture—when fewer people are needed to bring the same amount of agricultural output to market—and related agricultural services and industries are consolidated. These factors negatively affect the economy of small- and middle-sized farms and strongly reduce the size of the rural labor market. Rural flight is exacerbated when the population decline leads to the loss of rural services (such as business enterprises and schools), which leads to greater loss of population as people leave to seek those features.

Urbanization occurs naturally from individual and corporate efforts to reduce time and expense in commuting, while improving opportunities for jobs, education, housing, entertainment, and transportation. Living in cities permits individuals and families to take advantage of the opportunities of proximity, diversity, and marketplace competition. Due to their high populations, urban areas can also have more diverse social communities than rural areas, allowing others to find people like them.

Cities are dynamic places—they grow, shrink, and change. The fact of urban growth is undeniable: throughout the twentieth century, cities have grown rapidly. The growth machine theory of urban growth says urban growth is driven by a coalition of interest groups who all benefit from continuous growth and expansion. In some cases, that growth has been poorly controlled, resulting in a phenomenon known as urban sprawl. Urban sprawl entails the growth of a city into low-density and auto-dependent rural land, high segregation of land use (e.g., retail sections placed far from residential areas, often in large shopping malls or retail complexes), and design features that encourage car dependency.

Recently in developed countries, sociologists have observed suburbanization and counterurbanization, or movement away from cities. These patterns may be driven by transportation infrastructure, or social factors like racism. In developed countries, people are able to move out of cities while still maintaining many of the advantages of city life (for instance, improved communications and means of transportation). In fact, counterurbanization appears most common among the middle and upper classes who can afford to buy their own homes.

Some have suggested that suburbanization and urban sprawl is driven by consumer preference; people prefer to live in lower density, quieter, more private communities that they perceive as safer and more relaxed than urban neighborhoods. Such preferences echo a common strain of criticism of urban life, which tends to focus on urban decline (also referred to as urban decay). According to these critics, urban decay is caused by the excessive density and crowding of cities, and it drives out residents, creating the conditions for urban sprawl.

As cities evolve from manufacturing-based industrial to service- and information-based postindustrial societies, gentrification becomes more common. Gentrification occurs when members of the middle and upper classes enter and renovate city areas that have been historically less affluent while the poor urban underclass are forced by resulting price pressures to leave those neighborhoods for increasingly decaying portions of the city.

As cities evolved from manufacturing-based industrial to service- and information-based postindustrial societies, gentrification became the next evolution of a cities lifespan. Gentrification occurs when members of the middle and upper classes enter and renovate city areas that have been historically less affluent while the poor urban underclass is forced by resulting price pressures to leave those neighborhoods for increasingly decaying portions of the city.

Cities have responded to urban decay and urban sprawl by launching urban renewal programs. Urban renewal programs attempt to counter urban decay and restore growth as well as to make cities more pleasant and livable.


Key Points

• Urbanization may be driven by local and global economic and social changes, and is generally a product of modernization and industrialization.

• Urbanization has economic and environmental effects. Economically, urbanization drives up prices, especially real estate, which can force original residents to move to less-desirable neighborhoods.

• Recently in developed countries, sociologists have observed suburbanization and counterurbanization, or movement away from cities, which may be driven by transportation infrastructure, or social factors like racism.

• Suburbanization may be driven by white flight.

• Counterurbanization refers, broadly, to movement away from the city, which may include urban-to-rural migration and suburbanization.

• Counterurbanization has created shrinking cities and attempts to better control urban growth.

• Urban sprawl results when cities grow uncontrolled, expanding into rural land and making walking, public transit, or bicycling impractical.

• Critics of urban life often focus on urban decay, which may be self-perpetuating, according to the broken windows theory.

• Urban renewal attempts to counter urban decay and restore growth.


Key Terms

Suburbanization: A term used to describe the growth of areas on the fringes of major cities; one of the many causes of the increase in urban sprawl.

Rural flight: A term used to describe the migratory patterns of peoples from rural areas into urban areas.

Industrialization: The development of industries in a country or region on a wide scale.

Urbanization: The physical growth of urban areas as a result of rural migration and even suburban concentration into cities.

Counterurbanization: A demographic and social process whereby people move from urban areas to rural areas.

Gentrification: A shift in an urban community toward wealthier residents and/or businesses and increasing property values; often resulting in poorer residents being displaced by wealthier newcomers.

White flight: The large-scale migration of whites of various European ancestries, from racially mixed urban regions to more racially homogeneous suburban areas.

Counterurbanization: Counterurbanisation is a demographic and social process whereby people move from urban areas to rural areas.

Urban decline/Urban Decay: The deterioration of the inner city often caused by lack of investment and maintenance.

Urban growth:An increase in the urbanized land cover.

Urban renewal: Urban renewal refers to programs of land redevelopment in areas of moderate- to high-density urban land use.

Urban sprawl: Refers to the unrestricted growth in many urban areas of housing, commercial development, and roads over large expanses of land, with little concern for urban planning.



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