Cities and Urban Life
CITIES AND URBAN LIFE
CITIES AND URBAN LIFE. The names that come immediately to mind when one thinks of early modern cities are for the most part capitals or court cities or major colonial ports. They were grand places, of which much remains and, although smaller than they are today in both area and population, more populous than any city Catholic Europe had known in the Middle Ages (Orthodox Constantinople and Muslim Cordoba may have exceeded half a million inhabitants). However, only a small fraction of the urban population of Europe—itself a fraction of the total—lived in any of them. So we shall first examine a more common type of town, which can tell us what life was like for townspeople and rural visitors alike.
Scattered over the map of Europe were literally thousands of these ordinary towns, ranging from fewer than 1,000 inhabitants to perhaps 20,000, anything larger being reckoned a fairly big city. How many we cannot really say. A legal definition of a town or city depends on the grant at some time of a charter. A functional definition implies a minimum population, an organized periodic market, or a range of occupations besides farming, forestry, or fishing. Even with better and more comprehensive data than we have, different places would qualify as towns according to the criterion chosen. In fact, students of Europe's urban system and its evolution over three centuries have adopted thresholds of at least 5,000 inhabitants. To the extent that large cities fared better than small ones in our period, leaving out the latter exaggerates the growth of the urban share.
How large a share of Europe's population was urban? This varied between regions, and so does the precision of our estimates in this prestatistical era. Most scholars agree that barely one in ten Europeans lived in a sizable (>5,000) town in 1500—as many as one in four in Flanders and in northern Italy, far fewer in most of northern and eastern Europe. Still, adding the smaller towns and those people who spent some time in a town, perhaps one in five persons experienced urban life as more than a visitor. Growth in the urban share was concentrated in regions that were underurbanized in 1500, while those with a high initial share actually became less urban. England stands out from the rest of Europe in the later eighteenth century because the mass urbanization associated with the industrial revolution was under way by 1760 or so. However, the European urban proportion changed little for the period as a whole, with any increase almost within the bounds of uncertainties in measurement.
THE SMALL CITY
What was the "typical" small town like? It was enclosed by a wall, and since building a wall was no small task, a growing town would put up with a lot of crowding before expanding the enclosed area. Conversely, losing population freed up space on which to graze animals or bleach cloth. The town plan could take many forms, a rough circle with four gates and two main roads crossing in the center being common, a neat design, such as a rectangular grid, less so. The plan, the style of the houses, and many other aspects of life had not changed much since the Middle Ages, when the town was founded, nor would highly visible changes take place until well into the industrial age, if then. The churches, the market—a hall or an open place—and a guildhall or town hall were the dominant structures while a few larger dwellings such as a monastery, a noble house, or a ruined castle stood out from the rest in terms of size and style.
The population included officials of the municipality and the territorial authority, either lord or king. Local gentry might also reside in town all or part of the year. Clergy were numerous, especially in Catholic countries, and bishops could still rule cities. Most characteristically urban were craft occupations, often combined with retail trade. Master and journeyman now represented a fairly permanent status, more like modern-day employer and employee. Given the difficulties of travel to a larger city, the town might house a few professionals, such as an apothecary, a notary, and a barber surgeon. The largest category of working people, however, was made up of servants, day laborers, and apprentices—enough servants, in fact, that many larger towns had a female majority. Housekeeping was labor-intensive, as were transport and construction, though they employed mostly men.
Women, many of the unskilled, and those who were not native to the town were denied citizenship. The status of citizen or burgher was valued even though self-government was often limited to an elite of merchants, nobles, and officials. Wealth or important skills could procure citizenship, most easily during recovery from some demographic catastrophe. The other outsiders, tolerated and indeed indispensable for many rough tasks, were, like the undocumented aliens in many Western cities today, hard to keep track of. They were less likely to marry and more likely to die at an early age than were citizens. They also had less claim on assistance and protection, mostly dispensed by the church, than the native-born paupers, orphans, and infirm of the town.
Trades still clustered on particular streets although people might also live in neighborhoods defined by extended families, clans, or loyalty to a powerful man. The center of town was considered desirable (in bigger cities the wealthy were laying out whole districts for their elegant new houses), while the suburbs, outside the walls, lacked status. The countryside, on the other hand, furnished a whole string of necessities, from laborers and wet nurses to food, wood, straw, raw materials, and carting services. In turn, farmers found in town a market, credit, and a range of consumer goods to buy. Burghers earned income from rural property and mortgages, and rich ones often acquired a country estate as a means of entry into the aristocracy (an alternative was to purchase a suitable royal appointment).
Day to day, the town's inhabitants dealt with one another, with the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside, and with those who passed through—peddlers and merchants, pilgrims and gypsies, soldiers and entertainers. But the larger world also impinged, more and more as time went on. A wider range of goods became common, including both colonial products and manufactures. Protoindustrial production could pit town against country, or merchants could enlist both to make and sell goods such as watches, textiles, or cutlery.
The spread of markets presaged the modern or capitalistic economy. But the wider world also affected our prototype town in the distant person of the sovereign, who regulated markets and demanded loyalty, service, and taxes. Since the king might farm out tax collection, and noble privileges and dues persisted, while the church also demanded payment of tithes, etc., the fiscal situation was almost always complicated and contested. Still, a hierarchy of administrative centers developed, with the royal capital at the apex and our little town a basic element. To sum up, towns played a critical role in the structuring of early modern society through both states and markets, coercion and commerce.
PERIODS OF GROWTH AND STAGNATION
Small towns grew in the sixteenth century when Europe finally regained (and surpassed) the population reached before the fourteenth-century crisis marked by the Black Death. Ports flourished along with market centers as the Atlantic Ocean joined the inland seas (Mediterranean, North, Baltic) and Europe's rivers as highways for trade. While regional and royal capitals changed relatively rarely, major ports competed strongly for leadership in commerce and finance. In the north, Bruges gave way to Antwerp and later to Amsterdam and London, while in the south, Genoa and Venice battled for supremacy, with Barcelona and Marseille also contesting for their share. Overall, however, the once-dominant Mediterranean was losing out to the Atlantic–North Sea region. Cities such as Bristol and Glasgow, Bordeaux and Nantes, Hamburg and Lübeck, Lisbon and Seville benefited from trade with the New World, whereas most Mediterranean ports stagnated after 1600.
By 1580, the urban renaissance showed signs of a slowdown. Small towns and free cities, such as Frankfurt and Cologne in Germany, saw their prosperity diminish. The turmoil of the next seventy years, centering on wars of religion, would concentrate growth in a relatively few large royal capitals (successful ports did not multiply their inhabitants to the same degree). Paris and London would at least double in population and surpass the half-million mark. Naples, despite weak trade, kept on growing. Newer capitals grew even faster in this period and the half century following. Madrid barely existed before it became the capital in 1567; by 1750 it had 123,000 souls. Berlin tripled its population after welcoming Huguenots expelled from France in 1685; and in 1703 Peter the Great began to drain a swamp for the Russian capital named after his patron saint. Similar stories can be told about Vienna, Stockholm, The Hague, court cities in Germany, and some subcapitals of empire, such as Brussels and Milan. On the periphery, colonial gateways such as Dublin, Charleston, and Lima combined trade with control by the home government.
The cycle turned again in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. With population growing, agriculture intensifying, and the first new industrial towns springing up, smaller places regained their share of urban growth. Even this reversal, however, did not stop many very small market centers from losing urban functions to nearby larger ones.
THE CAPITAL CITIES
How did a city grow so large merely because the monarch established her or his capital and court there, and what was life like in such a city? In this era of strong monarchy, the capital drew the many who served the sovereign directly. To rule is first of all to tax; hence there was a considerable fiscal apparatus. Senior judiciary and military officials also remained close to the seat of power. Elite military units—"household troops/regiments"—protected the monarch against riots and insurrection, which flourished in big cities, culminating in the Paris revolution of 1789.
Absolute monarchy meant a court, and many nobles added a house in the capital to their country residence. Of course, this additional source of expense added to the financial pressure on the nobility. Louis XIV of France consolidated his power by handing out a variety of pensions and profitable positions and requiring the candidates to stay at court. The more time they spent in Paris (where many nobles actually lived) or Versailles, the more need there was for royal patronage, and the more vital it was to stay around.
The system relied on pomp, ceremony, and festivities, so a court city needed a big working population "backstage." From pastry cooks to fencing masters, carriage makers to performers, lawyers, seamstresses, and chaise bearers, conspicuous consumption provided lots of employment. Along with individual craftsmen working to order, workshops near the demanding clientele produced an increasing range of manufactured luxury goods. Aristocrats and those who aspired to the aristocracy from all over soon looked to Paris or London for their furniture, clocks, ceramics, and bronzes. Monarchs also sponsored royal manufactures for porcelain, tapestries, and carpets or for military goods, where scale of production was important.
So much for the skilled trades. An army of servants, porters, and laborers helped craftsmen do their work and helped the rich get through their festive rounds. Of course, even the most lavish court did not fully dominate a city of several hundred thousand. The same groups we encountered in our small town formed a community of burghers that mostly stood apart from the goings-on of the aristocracy. They merely had less voice, whether in governing the city or in determining its outward appearance. Finally, big cities attracted a substantial underside of society: shady characters who offered forbidden pleasures or peddled banned literature, stealthy or violent criminals, beggars and paupers.
The menials had a big job keeping dirt and congestion from overwhelming the city completely. Huge amounts of food and fuel had to be brought in, and considerable tonnages of waste removed. Potable water was in perennially short supply although water itself might be too abundant. Disease and fire were ever-present dangers. London experienced both in the 1660s but rose again, bigger and busier than ever. However, grandiose plans to rebuild with straight and wide avenues after the Great Fire were shelved. Like most cities, London retained its narrow, winding, sewerless streets. Crowding was the rule, with rickety stories piled on top of leaning houses.
The blunt truth is that investment in urban amenities and infrastructure, particularly in the splendid baroque capitals, badly failed to cope with the numbers who flocked in. In fact, a constant stream of migrants was required, not only to fuel growth but to make up for a substantial natural deficit. Many urban dwellers, clerics and servants for example, remained unmarried, and death rates, for infants and adults alike, were always high and subject to sharp peaks during epidemics. Did this flow stimulate the surrounding countryside or rob it of vital forces? Historians can't agree or at least find examples of both.
The occasional monumental construction, broad boulevard, or elegant new neighborhood of "hotels" or "city-palaces" (often at the western, or windward edge of the older districts), should not deceive us. Mud, dirt, darkness, and pollution were the lot of most people, not just the very poor, and so were crowding, violence, and disease. Yet many came and stayed, preferring the stimulating dangers of the big city to the calm and relative safety of the smaller town or the farming village.
The urban share of the population may not have risen much, but European arts and letters—from the Italian Renaissance, to Dutch painting and Italian music, to the salons of Paris and the coffee-houses of London in the Enlightenment—became resolutely urban pursuits. Even the great country houses were designed and furnished in a fully urban style, and when the early Romantics looked to nature, it was very much from the point of view of city people. Yet unlike politics and culture, the big economic change on the horizon would not originate in the metropolitan cities, though it would eventually transform them. Even before 1800, the industrial revolution was actually being hatched in the countryside. However, cities would continue to dominate commerce and finance, as well as science and education, and in the nineteenth century industry would vastly expand existing towns and create sprawling agglomerations unlike any city before.
Finally, a word about technology. Early modern advances in production or transportation did little to change urban life. The horse remained supreme on land; building techniques did not change; and medicine remained largely powerless. However, two sets of inventions did make a difference to cities. The diffusion of printing and paper put books, newspapers, broadsides, and pamphlets in easy reach of town dwellers and facilitated literacy and schooling. Clocks and watches changed attitudes toward time and quickened the pace of social life and business.
See also Amsterdam ; Antwerp ; Barcelona ; Berlin ; City Planning ; Cologne ; Hamburg ; London ; Lübeck ; Madrid ; Naples ; Nuremberg ; Paris ; St. Petersburg ; Seville ; Versailles .
Abrams, Philip, and E. A. Wrigley, eds. Towns in Societies: Essays in Economic History and Historical Sociology. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1978.
Braudel, Fernand. Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century. 3 vols. New York, 1982–1984.
Clark, Peter, ed. Small Towns in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1995.
Clark, Peter, and Bernard Lepetit. Capital Cities and Their Hinterlands in Early Modern Europe. Aldershot, U.K., 1996.
De Vries, Jan. European Urbanization, 1500–1800. Cambridge, Mass., 1984.
Epstein, S. R., ed. Town and Country in Europe, 1300–1800. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2001.
Hohenberg, Paul M., and Lynn Hollen Lees. The Making of Urban Europe, 1000–1994. Cambridge, Mass., 1995.
Langton, Jack, and Göran Hoppe. Town and Country in the Development of Early Modern Western Europe. Norwich, U.K., 1983.
O'Brien, Patrick, ed. Urban Achievement in Early Modern Europe: Golden Ages in Antwerp, Amsterdam, and London. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 2001.
Tilly, Charles, and Wim P. Blockmans, eds. Cities and the Rise of States in Europe, A . D . 1000 to 1800. Boulder, Colo., 1994.
Paul M. Hohenberg
"Cities and Urban Life." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cities-and-urban-life
"Cities and Urban Life." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved July 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cities-and-urban-life
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The earliest cities were created more than 5,500 years ago in Mesopotamia. Those and other ancient cities were few in number and by twenty-first-century standards had small populations, primitive housing, and simple technology. However, cities brought enormous changes in human society. Over the years cities have existed, only a minority of the human population has lived in them; nevertheless, cities have been the locus of political, economic, cultural, and environmental changes that have transformed life on Earth.
Scholars studying cities identify many significant transformations in them. This section summarizes five perspectives on these changes.
One perspective contends that city characteristics (i.e., high population density, diversity) cause city people to behave as they do. For example, increased occupational division of labor is associated with the shift from village to city. This important element of the urban transformation is usually explained by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim’s “dynamic density” principle: when many people try to survive in a concentrated area they specialize and refine the work they do to avoid direct competition with others, avoid redundancy, and improve the quality of their products or services. Similarly, cities are filled with strangers who have few preexisting bonds of loyalty, trust, or obligation. To enable them to better deal with each other, city life relies extensively on written contracts, laws, and courts to enforce them.
Likewise, Georg Simmel explained city-dwellers’ social behavior with inherent qualities of cities. He observed that compared to people from small towns, urbanites are reserved, blasé, aloof, calculating, more attuned to fashion, and engaged in “extravagances of mannerism and caprice” (Simmel 1969 p. 57). This, he argued, is because large cities are filled with people and things that generate a plethora of cacophonous, threatening, and contradictory images and messages. Urbanites’ traits previously mentioned are useful screening and coping devices they use to avoid those disconcerting stimuli and maintain a semblance of sanity and individuality.
Louis Wirth’s 1938 article “Urbanism as a Way of Life” epitomizes the notion that city characteristics produce a particular urban pattern of social life. He defined a city as “a relatively large, dense, and permanent settlement of socially heterogeneous individuals” (Wirth 1969, p. 148), and derived numerous social interaction patterns as consequences of population size, density, and diversity. Wirth proposed that in cities bonds of kinship and neighborliness weaken; tradition and familial authority attenuate and are only partially replaced by formal control mechanisms. Although individuals gain greater personal freedom and both social and spatial mobility are common, city residents’ social relations are segmented, impersonal, anomic, and imbued with “a spirit of competition, aggrandizement, and mutual exploitation” (Wirth 1969, p. 156). Wirth also indicated that as cities dominate their hinterlands, business corporations in them become more cut-throat and soulless, and cities’ subareas become “a mosaic of social worlds” (Wirth 1969, p. 155) with stark contrasts between nearby neighborhoods’ socioeconomic level, ethnic composition, housing, businesses, and land uses. Finally, Wirth suggested that in cities individual people count for little, have difficulty knowing how they fit in or what is really in their own best interests, and therefore they become susceptible to mass movements or charismatic leaders. Wirth’s portrait of urban life suggests that social problems and alienation are inherent elements of large modern cities.
Other perspectives, including Herbert Gans’ Urban Villagers (1962), contradict Wirth’s. One counterresponse is a “rediscovery of community” perspective arising from many empirical studies in cities and suburbs. Together these studies suggest that the depersonalized, alienated, contract-driven urban world of attenuated local and familial bonds described above is an overgeneralization and is contradicted by the continued existence of close-knit neighborhoods and strong group ties in parts of many cities.
This rediscovered community perspective claims Wirth’s “urbanism as a way of life” has not swept community from every corner of the metropolis. It contends that the kinds of people (i.e., their socio-economic level, life-cycle stage, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socio-political values) living in a neighborhood has a greater effect on social life in it than does the place’s population size, density, and heterogeneity. Depending upon the kinds of people in an area (i.e., their needs and interests) they may work to create or maintain an active local community life, or they may let it languish and disappear. Also, community institutions preserve or build strong personal relations in city or suburban neighborhoods. Certain stores, religious institutions, “third places” (e.g., bars, coffee shops), or social clubs become the ground from which community ties grow. These are supplemented by personal networks such as those established in chain migrations to cities or by local community activists.
Another perspective on city life emphasizes underlying economic processes, inequalities, and the distribution of power. The key contention here is that the most powerful causal forces in a city are not inherent qualities of cities, but instead are conflicts of interests among the city’s economic classes, land ownership laws, and land use decisions that serve certain groups’ interests. The first analysis of urban poverty, Friedrich Engels’ mid-1840s study of working-class sections of England’s industrial cities, illustrates this perspective. Engels argued that neither of these cities’ two salient features—(1) huge differences in living conditions between a small upper class and a huge impoverished class of factory workers; and (2) disintegration of society into isolated individuals—is caused by anything inherent in large cities. Instead, he contended that these are produced by the capitalist economy, which causes brutal competition, exploitation, lowered wages, and unstable employment in these cities. Engels also said that the upper class controlled decisions regarding land use. This enabled them to arrange that cheap low-quality housing for workers is far from the better neighborhoods of the rich, guaranteeing the affluent would not have to see or be threatened by the squalor, unhealthy conditions, and misery of factory workers’ slums.
For much of the twentieth century the Engels/Marxian perspective was eclipsed in urban studies by the influence of Wirth and an urban ecological perspective embodied in Ernest Burgess’s concentric zone model (and revisions by geographers’ sector and multiple nuclei models). It contended that in any era cities develop a characteristic socio-spatial structure produced by the era’s primary mode of transportation, construction technology, local topography, and, most importantly, economic competition for prime urban locations among individuals, groups, and businesses with unequal purchasing power. Segregation of immigrants and racial-ethnic minorities was attributed to a desire for living near others with similar culture and low economic standing, which prevents them from living in cities’ better neighborhoods.
By the 1970s the ecological perspective received criticism for the meager attention it gave to racism as causing urban racial ghettos and underestimation of the role of powerful government and private interest groups in making urban transportation and land use decisions. Researchers with critical perspectives developed explanations showing how cities are influenced by globalization, “growth machines,” “place entrepreneurs,” public-private partnerships, and institutionalized norms regarding gendered and racialized space. The city, in Mark Gottdiener and Ray Hutchison’s “sociospatial” perspective, no longer is the large dense dominant heart of the metropolitan area, where the skyscrapers, theaters, and museums are located; instead the city is a vast “multinucleated metropolitan region” containing dispersed centers and realms (e.g., “edge cities”) that perform most economic and cultural functions the central city once performed. In this perspective the strongest creators and modifiers of the new metropolis are government programs that subsidize suburbanization, real estate industries’ land use decisions, and cultural innovators (in architecture, design, advertising, or arts) who craft new forms, symbols, and desires for the metropolitan public.
Today’s largest metropolitan areas are in Asia and Latin America. Of the twenty with the highest populations, only New York, Los Angeles, Moscow, and London are in Europe or the United States. Since 1970 Asian and Latin American cities (Seoul, Shanghai, Mexico City, Sao Paulo) and African cities (Cairo, Lagos) have grown tremendously due to internal migration. Migrants pour in largely because governments’ and large corporations’ attempts at economic development disrupt local subsistence patterns in the countryside (e.g., conversion to capital-intensive agriculture, resource extraction). With insufficient housing and sanitation to absorb so many migrants, overcrowding and pollution are serious problems. Newcomers in rapidly growing Latin American and African cities have taken over land and created impoverished squatter settlements. Urban population growth outpaces these cities’ supply of jobs. This oversupply of workers causes low wages and results in enormous informal economies, with their attendant problems. Cities in Asia’s newly industrialized countries (e.g., Korea, Singapore) are marked by the development of global corporations engaged in manufacture, commerce, financial services, and technology. These businesses’ profitability and power enhance cities’ standing among world cities and turn sections of them into cosmopolitan centers. Moreover, their executives and white-collar workers expand the ranks of the cities’ upper and middle class and generate demand for goods and services provided by lower paid workers. Nevertheless, these mega-cities, like those of Latin America, remain places with a small middle class; huge gaps exist between the living conditions of the small privileged class and the poor population.
Cities in the United States face problems so severe that many observers believe they will never regain the prominence they had from 1900 to 1970. Due to suburbanization, initially by affluent whites and later by middle-class blacks and immigrants, only 30 percent of the U.S. population lives in cities. In many large cities most residents are African American or Latino, and often neighborhoods have highly concentrated poverty. With this demographic shift, political clout in legislatures moved from cities to more conservative suburbs. Old cities in the Northeast and Midwest deteriorated. With deindustrialization many cities lost well-paying manufacturing jobs, which were not replaced with sufficient well-paying service industry jobs. City residents experienced high unemployment, cuts in city services, poor schools, and high crime rates. Older neighborhoods saw disinvestment by federal housing policy, which funneled money and new construction into white suburban areas, and by private lending and insurance companies, which “red-lined” city areas, making it more costly for families and businesses to move into or upgrade city neighborhoods. Ironically, federal programs that did make large investments (highway construction, public housing, urban renewal) in cities from 1950 to 1970 have been criticized as doing more to destroy than improve city neighborhoods.
Since 1990, many cities experienced some revitalization, population increase, and reduction in poverty concentration. Federal policy closing large public housing projects and creating mixed-income areas (HOPE VI) is partly responsible for this. Additionally, efforts by community development corporations (assisted by private foundations and city government) have improved housing and safety in some city neighborhoods. Revitalization also occurs with gentrification, as affluent people buy and renovate cheap housing close to the center of a city and then move in or sell to other affluent residents. While this process enlarges cities’ middle class and brings new businesses (improving the tax base), it can displace the less affluent. Where gentrification is extensive it reduces low-cost housing and can put the poor at greater risk of homelessness. Although the cities’ situation may not be as bleak as in the late 1980s, the problems are by no means resolved. In fact, many are appearing elsewhere, especially the older ring of suburbs near cities’ boundaries.
SEE ALSO Sociology, Urban; Suburban Sprawl; Towns; Urban Renewal; Urban Sprawl; Urban Studies; Urbanity; Urbanization
Gans, Herbert. 1962. The Urban Villagers. New York: Free Press.
Gottdiener, Mark, and Ray Hutchison. 2000. The New Urban Sociology. 2nd ed. Boston: McGraw Hill.
Logan, John R., and Harvey L. Molotch. 1987. Urban Fortunes. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Simmel, Georg.  1969. The Metropolis and Mental Life. In Classic Essays on the Culture of Cities, ed. Richard Sennett, 47–60. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Wellman, Barry, and Barry Leighton. 1979. Networks, Neighborhoods, and Communities: Approaches to the Community Question. Urban Affairs Quarterly 14 (3): 363–390.
Wirth, Louis.  1969. Urbanism as a Way of Life. In Classic Essays on the Culture of Cities, ed. Richard Sennett, 143–164. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
"Cities." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/cities
"Cities." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved July 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/cities
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Europe during the Renaissance developed a thriving urban society. In this era, city life made a break with that of the countryside; the peasants and townspeople had less in common and were less dependent on each other for food, trade, and defense. Renaissance cities served as economic as well as cultural centers, where the new scholarship, art, and literature thrived. The most densely urbanized parts of the continent were northern Italy, the Low Countries (modern Belgium and the Netherlands), southern England, northern France, and southern Germany. The continent's largest urban centers were Venice, Florence, Amsterdam, Paris, and London. All of these cities had diverse social groups, including a merchant class, a wealthy aristocracy, skilled artisans, and the poor, a class that included migrants from the countryside.
The physical appearance and layout of cities varied greatly from one region to the next. Most had fortifications, such as towers and walls, and gates that were used to control the flow of traffic and closed at night. Within the walls, palaces, cathedrals, and town halls rose highest above the streets and squares. Cities were divided into neighborhoods, most of them identified with a particular economic activity. Some cities had a large population of farmers, who lived within the walls but worked in fields just outside, or else held plots of open, cultivable land at the city's edge.
Within the walls, a broad range of social classes met on the streets. Dress distinguished the rich from the poor, the working class from the men and women of leisure and those connected with the courts. The crowds included itinerant peddlers, foreign merchants and, in university towns, students from far and wide, who formed an often-unruly faction tending to disturbances and disorder. With chaotic, unplanned street systems, Renaissance cities were choked with foot and vehicle traffic, and many city-dwellers lived in crowded, unsafe, and unsanitary homes, built high above the street. In the Middle Ages, these conditions had forced many outside and into the street during the day, making the medieval town a scene of public spectacle and entertainment. In the Renaissance, public life and entertainment began moving indoors, and took the form of musical concerts, plays, dances, gambling houses, and other diversions.
While medieval nobles and princes had ruled feudal towns independently of monarchs, many Renaissance cities had elected assemblies and councils that governed their affairs. The larger city-states in Italy, such as Milan, Florence, and Venice, also had authority over a surrounding region, including smaller cities and towns. These cities established separate authorities to deal with public health, sanitation, fire prevention, public hospitals and charity wards, policing, tax collection, and defense. An important trend in the Renaissance was the loss of autonomy by provinces and their capitals—the old medieval patchwork of small principalities—as national monarchies consolidated their power in capital cities, such as Paris, Madrid, and London. The local princes who had held sway in their autonomous and fortified cities lost both power and importance, while the artisan and merchant classes gained prestige with the establishment of guilds, mutual protection societies, and increase in trade.
Religious, social, political, and professional clubs knit the urban population together. Confraternities were secular associations meant to carry out the works of the church. Political groups formed to contend for power; guilds worked for the interests of artisans, merchants, and artists. Academies brought together noble patrons, scholars, and students, for the exchange of ideas. All of these groups had their bylaws and elected leaders, and carried out a vital function for ordinary individuals, who were powerless to effect change or further their interests on their own.
The Protestant Reformation—the rebellion against the Catholic Church initiated by Martin Luther—had a drastic effect on Renaissance urban life. The Reformation divided many towns along religious lines. Protestants reduced the role of the church in civic life, ended any civic authority of the clergy, ended monastic life, and made worship more a private and personal affair. Catholic regions kept their sense of religious brotherhood, public festivals and holidays, and the regular assembly of Mass. To enforce Catholic orthodoxy, the church established inquisitions in many regions to root out heretics and apostates, enforcing a uniform religious faith with the use of prisons, torture, and public executions.
The cities were nodes of exchange, in a system of trade that was expanding rapidly with the improvement of communication and transportation. Certain cities had industrial specialties, such as textile making in the Low Countries, ironworking in the Rhine valley, and banking in northern Italy. Port cities were centers of maritime industries: shipbuilding, warehousing, sail making, rope making, and provisioning armaments. In some cities professions were performed within certain nationalities and ethnic groups; throughout Europe the Jews were limited in the professions they could follow, often herded into walled ghettoes, or prohibited from cities altogether.
Toward the end of the Renaissance, economic stagnation took hold in southern Europe as trade shifted to the north and costly wars drained treasuries and the cities of men and material. Although Spain drew an immense amount of money from its colonies in the Americas, its ambitious kings bankrupted their realm through costly wars in Italy and the Low Countries.
Heavily taxed and with their productive members levied into the royal armies, the cities of Spain saw their industries and commerce decline. The Thirty Years' War devastated cities in central Europe and Germany, while Venice and Genoa had to deal with the rising Ottoman Empire, whose corsairs and navies were closing the Mediterranean to European merchants altogether.
Nevertheless, the crowded, walled city had become a fixture in the landscape of Europe, and continued to draw immigrants from the countryside. Urban population would continue to increase after the Renaissance, and the city's role as a center of education, the arts, and an economic and cultural exchange between nations would remain.
"cities." The Renaissance. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/arts-construction-medicine-science-and-technology-magazines/cities
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- urban attitudes and actions.
- a densely populated urban area, usually a large city surrounded closely by smaller ones.
- a city inhabited by people of many different nations; a city of international importance. —cosmopolite , n. —cosmopolitan , n., adj.
- a densely populated area of continuous extent containing many cities and towns that are separate administrative units.
- the state or quality of being a megalopolis or like a megalopolis; the phenomenon of the formation of a megalopolis. —megalopolitan , adj.
- the development and growth of slums or substandard dwelling conditions in urban areas.
- the views of those who prefer to live in suburbs. —suburbanist , n., adj.
- a joining together of several towns to form a single community, as in ancient Greece. —synoecy , n. —synoecious , adj.
- the views of those who prefer to live in cities. —urbanist , n., adj.
- the study of urban affairs and problems. —urbanologist , n.
- the study of and concern with the special practices and problems of city life.
"Cities." -Ologies and -Isms. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cities
"Cities." -Ologies and -Isms. . Retrieved July 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cities
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
CITIES. SeeUrbanization .
"Cities." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 23, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cities
"Cities." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved July 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cities