Economic Geography

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Economic Geography


Natural Resources. Europe possesses natural resources that were necessary for industrialization, especially navigable rivers and coal basins. In the early phases of industrialization the latent energy in flowing rivers was harnessed to power some of the new machines of the burgeoning textile industry, such as the water-frame. Later, when steam power was employed, the energy from burned coal was tapped to create the steam that powered the all-important railroads and steamships. Coal basins with the mineral close to the surface and thus readily mined were prevalent in Midland England, northeastern England, southern Wales and Lowland Scotland in Great Britain. On the Continent, coal basins were found along the France-Belgium frontier, in

the Ruhr Valley in western Germany, in southeastern Germany, in Czechia (Czech Republic), and in eastern Ukraine. Europe was also rich in iron ore deposits, many of which were located close to the coal basins. As industrialization shifted from the light industry of textiles to the heavy industry of iron and steel in the middle of the nineteenth century, coal, the lifeblood of industry before the advent of oil in the twentieth century, was now also put to the use of smelting iron in the production of steel.

Demography. In 1650 Europe contained about 18 percent of the world’s population; if neo-European North America is added, the percentage is 19. However, by 1900 Europe itself possessed 24 percent of the world’s population and 29 percent with neo-European North America and Australia. Europe itself had increased in population from one hundred to four hundred million, thanks mainly to the drop in death rates because of improvements in health care, nutrition, and sanitation. Measures of economic productivity and imperial power from 1650 to 1900 added further to the theme of the revolutionary advance of Europe with industrialism. In the English Midlands, Birmingham emerged as the major heavy industrial center, producing iron and steel. Manchester was the cotton textile center, and Liverpool emerged as the major Atlantic port for the region. All had been small towns before 1800. The same change occurred in Glasgow in Scotland. On the other hand, London, already huge before industrialism, grew strongly (almost quadrupling) between 1750 and 1850, in part because of the emergence of light industry. The same pattern occurred on the Continent a generation after Britain. By 1850 half of the population of Britain lived in cities, whereas northern continental states like Prussia and France reached that threshold only about 1890 and 1930, respectively. Southern and eastern European states including Russia would be a generation later in achieving this level of urbanization. This situation was a result of large rural-to-urban and small city-to-large city migration. Only by the twentieth century did large cities reproduce themselves through natural increase (greater birth than death rates). As a result, many rural districts and small cities shrank, especially when loss through overseas migration is added. With changes in transportation the urban landscape of Europe, like that of North America, became more sprawling and differentiated in land use and class areas. The railroad encouraged expansion and differentiation between cities from the early nineteenth to the early twentieth century, while first the omnibus and horsecar, then the trolley and subway, moved masses of people within cities. Factories tended to locate near the downtown, although some settled in select suburban areas

with access to railroads. Social status eventually became correlated with how far one lived from downtown with its unpleasant industrial effluvia, unless one resided on the major avenues.

Industrial Concentration and Railroads. Since the sixteenth century the economic center of gravity in Europe had shifted away from the Mediterranean regions and toward the northwest quadrant. Industrialization after 1780 accelerated this shift, and as railroads were constructed in the second half of the nineteenth century, the economic preponderance of northwestern Europe (northern France, Great Britain, and Germany) became overwhelming. The concentration of rail lines demonstrates this fact vividly. In 1850 Britain was the unquestioned and almost unchallenged industrial leader in Europe, but for the next sixty-five years Germany feverishly closed the gap and eventually surpassed Great Britain in industrial production. The German population soared and, paralleling this growth in human capital, railroad mileage multiplied dramatically as pig iron, steel, and, toward the turn of the century, electrical production skyrocketed. It is no accident that these three great industrial powers—Germany, Great Britain, and France—were leading combatants in the first industrial war, World War I. Although there were industrializing regions in southern and central Europe, they remained behind the northern and western European nations.

Industrial Cities. According to the great urban historian Lewis Mumford, the Industrial Revolution had two phases—the paleotechnic, or early, and the neotechnic, or later. The paleotechnic period spanned the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and was the age of coal, iron, and steam. The neotechnic phase was the age of electricity and the internal combustion engine powered by gasoline derived from oil and occurred during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. According to Mumford, the paleotechnic city was “insensate” offensive to the senses because of air and water pollution as well as acrid smells and excessive noise. As he wrote, “from the 1830s on the environment of the mine ... was universalized by the railroad. Wherever the iron rails went, the mine and its debris went with them.... The rushing locomotive brought noise, smoke, grit into the heart of the towns.” In these industrial “Coketowns,”

as realist author Charles Dickens had named them in his novel Hard Times (1854), the permanent insecurity of the working class was a constant characteristic. These men, women, and children were confined to filthy, overcrowded and diseased slums in city centers while the upper middle class escaped, generally upwind, to the suburbs.

Haussmann’s Paris. In the nineteenth century several attempts were made to renew older cities that had recently industrialized. A significant case was the transformation of Paris during the Second Empire of Louis Napoleon (1852–1870). The emperor’s urban planner was Baron Georges Haussmann. The baron’s task was to create wide boulevards through the city to link the many new monuments that were gracing new public squares that were mostly located in middle-class sections of the city. The new boulevards served military as well as aesthetic purposes. In working-class neighborhoods where barricades had been erected in the revolutionary years of 1830 and 1848, the wide boulevards served as efficient highways for the swift movement of troops to quell unrest before it could spread. In addition to building monuments and boulevards, Haussmann also constructed a new sewer and water supply system to reduce the breeding grounds for disease (cholera epidemics had swept Paris in 1832 and 1849). Water now came from canals hundreds of miles long originating in Champagne in eastern France instead of from the polluted Seine River. In twenty years Haussmann’s transformation of Paris converted it from a nearly medieval city of irregular and narrow streets to the modern one of geometrically regular, straight, and wide avenues. During these two decades from 1850 to 1870 the city nearly doubled in population, from about one million to two million people. Natural increase of the population of Paris was negligible. One-half of the increase was from immigration from the provinces of France, while the other one-half was from annexation of predominantly working-class suburbs, most of which were slums.

Impact of Haussmannization. Haussmann’s transformation was creatively destructive. Entire neighborhoods were demolished to make way for the ninety miles of boulevards. So vast was this building project that one-fifth of all Parisian workers were employed in construction. As highways cleared territory, many industries were forced to relocate to the suburban ring outside of Paris, leaving the new center of Paris a relatively clean locale for the middle class to enjoy. Luxury apartments, bourgeois homes, and hotels for tourists sprang up, and property values in the city doubled. The working class was not so fortunate. Their neighborhoods of crowded tenements and cottages, if they escaped the wrecking ball, largely remained slums. Overall, the dramatic transformation of Paris from 1850 to 1870 benefited the middle class much more than the working class.


David Harvey, Consciousness and the Urban Experience: Studies in the History and the Theory of Capitalist Urbanization (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985).

Paul M. Hohenberg and Lynn Lees, The Making of Urban Europe, 1000–1950 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985).

David P. Jordan, Transforming Paris: The Life and Labors of Baron Haussmann (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

David Landes, The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969).

John Merriman, A History of Modern Europe: Volume Two, From the French Revolution to the Present (New York: Norton, 1996).

Lewis Mumford, The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects (New York: Harcourt, Brace … World, 1961).

Mumford, The Culture of Cities (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1938).

Mumford, Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1934).

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