views updated Jun 08 2018


I. Forms and FunctionsLewis Mumford


II. The Modern CityGideon Sjoberg


III. Metropolitan GovernmentRobert C. Wood


IV. Comparative Urban StructureTheodore R. Anderson



Although the city as a form of human settlement dates back to the beginnings of civilization, it long escaped scholarly scrutiny; and its very definition is still under debate. Lévi-Strauss’s attack on the ambiguities of “totemism” would apply equally to the term “city,” but with less justification, since the city has undergone many changes without losing its architectural and institutional continuity. Meanwhile, new urban functions have modified and sometimes supplanted those that were originally formative. Morphologically, some of the changes in the structure of the city correspond to the different phases in any organic development. Since English lacks a neat vocabulary to distinguish the succession of urban forms from embryo to adult, their purely quantitative aspect is best rendered in German: Dorf, Kleinstadt, Mittelstadt, Grossstadt, Millionenstadt. In English, eopolis, polis, metropolis, megalopolis,and conurbation have been proposed as an equivalent series, with regional city and regional urban grid as possible emergent forms.

An adequate description of the city must not deal merely with structure, process, stage, and purpose but also with certain identifying characteristics reflected in layout and architectural symbolism. The city is both a collection of architectural forms in space and a tissue of associations, corporate enterprises, and institutions that occupy this collective structure and have interacted with it in the course of time. The size and complexity of the city bear a direct relation to that of the culture it assembles and passes on. Hence the inadequacy of attempts to define the city by a purely quantitative measure—area, density of occupation, range of communication—while passing over at least equally significant qualitative indications.

Admittedly, there is a point at which a village or a country town, by sheer accretion of numbers, may take on some of the characteristics of a city; but there is another point at which a metropolis, by unregulated congestion and expansion, loses its characteristic capacity to attract and integrate its varied components and turns into an amorphous mass, dynamic but increasingly dispersed and disorganized. In fifth-century Greece or thirteenth-century Europe, cities of two thousand were common and those of a hundred thousand rare; but in both, an institutional nucleus regulated and limited growth, as in a cell. Today a closely settled area containing tens of millions of people and covering thousands of square miles has been misidentified as a city and given the name “megalopolis” (Gottmann 1961). Such terminological inexactitude reveals a failure to understand the unique function of the city as a container and transmitter of culture. Only a more careful reading of the city’s historic development will provide a sounder concept.

Research and study . Except for Aristotle’s Politics and a few scattered essays, such as that of Giovanni Botero (1588), almost the sole appreciations of the city’s essential role have been confined to utopian literature, from Plato and More to Buckingham and Bellamy, although local chronicles and histories of uneven value have abounded. Among the few studies of the city that appeared during the nineteenth century, Fustel de Coulanges’ The Ancient City (1864), Adna Ferrin Weber’s The Growth of Cities in the Nineteenth Century (1899), and the monumental Life and Labour of the People in London (1889–1891), by Charles Booth and his associates, remain notable. Possibly the earliest sociological analyses of the city, Patrick Geddes’ papers for the Sociological Society, did not appear until 1905.

Early in this century, Werner Sombart and Max Weber, following studies of the medieval city by Hegel, Preuss, and others, attempted a general theory of urban development. Somewhat later, in the United States, Park and his associates (1925) and Wirth (1938) adopted an ecological approach to the city, but they tended to regard the contemporary American metropolis as a universal climax formation (Burgess 1927). Meanwhile, the French human geographers, led by Paul Vidal de la Blache and Jean Brunhes and supplemented by Kurt Hassert, Maximilien Sorre (1952), and Robert E. Dickinson (1951), opened an investigation of the underlying geographic-economic factors in urban development. In urban history Emil Kuhn’s early study of the Greek city (1878) stands out among such comprehensive monographs as Ferdinand Gregorovius’ work on Rome in the Middle Ages (1859–1872), Pompeo G. Molmenti’s work on Venice (1880), and Marcel Poëte’s work on Paris (1924–1931). Yet so completely had the city dropped out of political and historic discourse that in Arnold J. Toynbee’s A Study of History (1934–1961) only a few passing references to the city appear. Since 1930, however, this neglect has been overcompensated for by a spate of sociological and economic treatises on urbanization, without sufficient further clarification of the problems surrounding the city’s origin, nature, and historic transformations.

Archeological background . During the last century, excavations in the Near East have furnished the first clues to the origin of cities. These show that in the earliest stages of urban growth forces were at work similar to those more amply documented in the rise or resurgence of medieval Western cities. While the city’s formation is contemporary with the introduction of cereal crops and therewith a storable food supply and a surplus population, Robert J. Braidwood and Bruce Howe (1962, p. 142) point out that “the way to urban life did not lie within exactly the same environmental zone as that in which the village-farming community made its first appearance.” Such cities as have been uncovered owe their discovery to the fact that their public buildings were constructed of brick or stone; and it is chiefly by the monumental scale of these buildings that the city can be identified as a new collective artifact, multiplying by the fourth millennium, if not before, in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus Valley.

The studies of V. Gordon Childe (1936), Charles Woolley (1954), H. W. Fairman (1949), Kathleen Kenyon, Henri Frankfort (1948), Robert M. Adams, Richard E. Wycherly, and Roland Martin carry the emergence of the city into Egypt, the Near East, and the Aegean, with Mortimer Wheeler making a beginning in the Indus Valley and various other scholars, including Wheeler, working on Roman cities. But Childe’s still widely accepted interpretation of a fourth-millennium urban revolution in the Near East (1936) does not account for early Jericho and its still undiscovered neighbors; nor does it account, as he realized, for the formation of Peruvian, Aztec, and Mayan cities, which presented significantly similar religious and political features but lacked many of the geographic advantages and technical inventions that Childe and others posited as necessary. Unfortunately, too little archeological work has been done in Iran, India, and the Far East, to say nothing of Africa and South America, to give a full account of the rise, growth, and spread of cities. What is more serious, the critical moment in the emergence of the city antedates the written record. Possibly more will be learned about the origins of the city by extrapolating backward from the fullest known urban remains to their original components, how-ever remote in time and space from any fully formed city.

Historic beginnings

At the outset, two common impressions must be discarded; namely, that the city came into existence by a natural extension or concretion of village settlements or, alternatively, that the crossing of trade routes and the rise of specialized industries brought the city into existence as an economic convenience and detached it completely from its rural matrix. Mark Jefferson’s observation as geographer that city and country are one thing, not two things, is supported by evidence from early Mesopotamian cities that their original population was composed largely of peasants who worked in the nearby fields or were drafted for forced labor on walls, dams, canals, and other public works. The village does indeed reappear within the city as the neighborhood group, sometimes composed of emigrants from the same rural background; but no enlargement of this village pattern or growth of the market could produce the complex of institutions that form the city proper.

The rise of the city was accompanied by other innovations, which the city helped to foster: systematic astronomical observation, the development of writing and arithmetic, the creation of monumental buildings and sculptures, the lifetime division and specialization of labor, and the compulsory organization of work in great “labor-machines” under central direction. But the over-all formative influence seems to have been the fusion of the surviving power-directed paleolithic hunting culture with the stable, life-oriented—but somewhat routinized—neolithic culture, whose culminating feats in domestication provided a surplus of manpower available for military exploits and public works on a scale never before even imaginable. These factors were recognized by Childe, but he left out the agent that brought them together within the city: the institution of kingship, which turned the earlier hunting chieftain into the all-powerful, semidivine representative of a cosmic deity, whose word was law (Frankfort 1948).

Documentary evidence from the founding of Memphis in ancient Egypt (Pritchard [1950] 1955, pp. 4–5) to the planning of St. Petersburg in the eighteenth century establishes the fact that cities were instituted as centers of royal and priestly power; and the first act of a king was the construction or the rededication of a temple to serve as the home of the god that ratified and sanctified his claims to absolute authority. In other words, the city first took form as a Zwingburg, or control center, rather than a market or a manufacturing center; and it is hardly an accident that the pre-dynastic Narmer palette in Egypt contains not only one of the first representations of a city, sometimes dubiously identified as a fortress, but likewise a symbolic representation of the king as a destroyer of cities. This ambivalent magnification of the creative and destructive potentialities established through urban concentration has remained constant throughout the city’s history.

The actual core of the ancient city, corresponding to the organizing nucleus in a cell, was the citadel or little city: its formidable walls enclosed the temple, the palace, and the granary or store-house and incidentally protected the ruling group from assault by the surrounding inhabitants. This implosion of religious, scientific, political, military, and economic power within a symbolic collective container gave the city immense advantages over smaller and more loosely organized communities. The latter were accordingly subject to unscrupulous attack and exploitation, through raiding expeditions, taxation, and irregular tribute, well before more equitable market relations and codes of law became common. As against these negative features, the city was likewise a sacred precinct, the home of a god, itself a small-scale model of the universe, where law and order prevailed over chaos and where a common bond of association united a large population with varied cultural, occupational, and linguistic backgrounds (Éliade [1949] 1958, pp. 367–385; MÜller 1961).

I first put forth this interpretation of the origins and nature of the city in an Oriental Institute symposium (Symposium 1960, pp. 224–242) and developed it further in The City in History (Mumford 1961, pp. 3–54). Although it has not yet been critically examined, still less generally accepted, it helps account for both the enlargement of human potentialities in the city, from the earliest period onward, and also for the perversions and destructions that have persistently plagued urban development. In addition, this theory gives a clue to the emergent functions and purposes of the city—both those that have been taken over by its political successor, the territorial state, and those that can still function only within the concrete urban container and await further development.

Urban components

Many of the institutions that were assembled and enlarged in the city were already widely distributed in more modest forms in simpler settlements. The earliest evidence of the attractive nucleus of the city as a ceremonial center lies in paleolithic burial places and sacred caves or grottoes: both often constituted the sacred core, as at Athens, of far later urban foundations. But many urban structures derive directly from the neolithic village, such as collective storage facilities for food; permanent hearths and houses in close proximity; open spaces for seasonal rituals, dances, and political assembly; and workshops for fashioning pots, tools, and images. Even long-distance trade, essential to a city’s economic growth and social intermixture, is in evidence in the obsidian industry of Jarmo (fifth millennium b.c.). In the city the functions of the household (eating, drinking, sleeping) are translated into a specialized form: even sexual intercourse becomes professionalized in the house of prostitution (Braidwood & Willey 1962).

While the above traits have a village origin, a large group of other structures and institutions derive directly from the citadel. From the castle or palace come the military fortification, the barracks, the parade—also the park, the zoo, the museum, the law courts, the prison, the offices of the bureaucracy, and the hotel. From the temple comes the wall, possibly serving as a religious symbol before it became a military necessity, and the theater, the astronomical observatory, the library, the school, the university, and the hospital. The market, the workshop, the storehouse, and the bank come from both village and citadel; but when they achieve independence they first settle outside the wall, near river or harbor. From associations within these groups, craft guilds, merchant guilds, and burial societies emerge.

To describe the city in quantitative terms without reference to its institutions and their continued interaction is to ignore the most important role of the historic city: its assemblage and integration of these varied components, both public and private, both controlled and voluntary. Not the least significant part of the city’s development since the Middle Ages in western Europe has been the multiplication of voluntary municipal organizations, churches, hospitals, guilds, almshouses, grammar schools, colleges, and, since the nineteenth century, a multitude of special-purpose clubs and societies. The classified telephone directory of any big city reveals, under the head of clubs and associations, how extensive this function has now become. By the scope of such enterprises, rather than merely by the volume of its commerce and industry or by the mechanization of its municipal services, the modern city distinguishes itself from its ancient urban prototypes. The fact that the scattering of population today over unlimited sub-urban areas reduces the possibility of forming such specialized associations is not the least disturbing factor in the breakdown of the modern metropolis.

Urban forms

Once the nuclear institutions of the city had crystallized, they constituted an urban model that, with various additions and subtractions, all subsequent forms of the city have followed. Two characteristic forms of city development were present almost from the beginning; and, properly interpreted, they help solve the problem of distinguishing the city from other types of human settlement. The first form, dominant until the seventeenth century a.d., is that of the classic container: an imposing mass of monumental buildings, usually protected by a wall and surrounded by closely built residential quarters, workshops, minor shrines or temples, and markets, threaded by alleys, streets, or processional ways, the whole area enclosed by one or more heavy walls, moats, and canals and entered only through massive gates (Woolley [1954] 1964, pp. 107 ff.). Such a city might cover a dozen or many hundred acres (Frankfort 1950).

But another, looser form, in which the magnet prevails over the container, is also visible. This open form, which possibly characterized the pyramid age in Egypt, appeared later in the Acropolis cities of the Aegean and the ceremonial centers of Meso-America. Here, priestly authority, rather than royal coercion, provided protection and controlled economic activities, giving dominance to the temenos, or sacred precinct. The population that served this area and periodically gathered there was distributed in neighboring villages, suburbs, and country estates. This open urban pattern preserved the institutional order of the citadel but by its salubrious spaciousness escaped the serious sanitary disadvantages of the closely built type. When war was in abeyance, as during the Augustan era of Rome, this more open urban plan often flourished.

In both urban forms, the original village component has persisted in the residential quarter or neighborhood unit—sometimes fully differentiated, as in ancient Mesopotamian cities, in late medieval Venice, or in contemporary British New Towns. Where the means of transport and communication are adequate, the separate parts of the city may even form distinct units or zones, spatially isolated as in the islands of Venice: Torcello (burial), Murano (glass industry), and Lido (aquatic sport). Thus, when the archeologist says that to be dispersed is not to be urban in the true sense of the city, he is arbitrarily ruling out a type of city that has had a long history and is again taking a new form today.

While these polar forms present contrasting spatial patterns, their institutional contents and their functional role are the same. Both urban types serve for the assemblage, storage, interchange, transmission, and further development of material products and symbolic cultural goods while widening the scope of human association through the continued interaction of functions and activities in time as well as in space. The superposition of many different functions and purposes within a limited common area not only provides a favorable basis for cooperation, communication, communion—and control—but also multiplies the number of chance meetings and encounters that challenge and enrich more orderly institutional routines. Although the concentration of cosmic and temporal power, rather than the diffusion of culture, was the original motive force for the city, it is now becoming clear that the cultural by-product has increasingly become the best reason for the city’s long, if checkered, existence. This emergent function of the city still remains to be consciously explored and more systematically provided for.

Nucleation, specialization, and integration. The original constellation of urban institutions remains visible in the layout of historic cities: acropolis and agora; Forum Romanum and Palatine Hill; the cathedral, the castle, and the market place; the mosque, the palace, and the bazaar; and the New England meeting house, the town hall, and the common are just so many historic permutations of the organizing nuclei that brought the city into existence. It is by these attractive institutions at the center, rather than by its outer walls or other boundaries, that the city can continue to be identified. The many possible combinations of these institutions and buildings and their different expressions in plan and architecture give each city a marked individuality, indeed a collective personality. But the archetypal city, as distinguished from specialized enclaves like monasteries, garrison and factory towns, or residential suburbs, tends to completeness and balance, with a mixture of sexes, age groups, and occupations large enough to carry on the principal political, religious, educational, and economic activities that characterize its culture. The assemblage and architectural embodiment of all these functions and institutions within a limited area constitute a complete city.

Although the city is distinguished by its orchestration of a diversity of social and cultural activities, sometimes one of its nuclear functions may be dominant: witness religious centers like Nippur, Mecca, and Benares; recreation or health resorts like Epidaurus or Bath; and industrial towns like Sheffield or Essen. But under the continued growth of such specialized urban centers, the undeveloped or suppressed functions tend to reappear, if only because the increase in numbers calls for many subsidiary occupations and services. If the great capitals, like Babylon, Rome, Athens, Baghdad, Peking, Paris, and London, have dominated the history of their respective countries, it is because they were capable of representing and passing on a larger portion of their total culture.

The role of the city as a container and transmitter of culture could hardly have been envisaged by its early founders. There is indeed no single urban activity that has not been performed successfully in isolated units located in the open country. But there is one function that the city alone can perform, namely the synthesis and synergy of the many separate parts by continually bringing them together in a common meeting place where direct face-to-face intercourse is possible. The unique office of the city, then, is to increase the variety, the velocity, the extent, and the continuity of human intercourse.

The greater the quantity of cultural artifacts and symbols accumulated, the more important becomes the city’s function of organizing them and making them available for further use. Since writing and reading long remained the monopoly of a privileged minority, the city so far from being dependent upon the written record, as archeologists have sometimes assumed from their coincidental origin, has actually served until now as a concrete substitute for it. By attracting a varied population, the city transmuted and preserved ritual, dance, music, oral tradition, and, above all, occupational skills that would otherwise have remained isolated and undeveloped—possibly lost. This office remains important, despite the invention of the printing press, the camera, the tape recorder, and the computer. The cultural storage capacity of a city of only 100,000 population far exceeds that of any computer, if only because every human organism records and stores large areas of experience that cannot be reduced to quantitative symbols and programmed or transmitted to others except by direct human contact. Whether any complex culture can endure for long without maintaining a large number of integrated urban structures and substructures of sufficient capacity remains to be seen.

The city as a material artifact

In origin, the city is a Stone Age container, the largest of neolithic containers; and many of its original physical features, including the size of its house lots and the width of its streets, remained relatively constant, with only small variations, for thousands of years. The chief physical disabilities of the historic city were repeated destruction in war and failure to cope with the hygienic and sanitary problems of living in close quarters. Continued occupation of the city depends upon the systematic disposal of garbage, excrement, rubbish, and the dead. Success in providing a sufficient amount of space both within the house and within the city so as to limit the spread of diseases and in obtaining a sufficient amount of uncontaminated water for human consumption, personal hygiene, and industrial use is still far from realization even in technologically advanced countries. The bigger the urban unit, the more difficult the problems of environmental pollution have usually been. Today the lethal exhausts from factory and motorcar (to say nothing of nuclear fall-out and atomic wastes) have partly counteracted improvements in sanitation.

Some necessary inventions were, at an early date, brought into service for the occupants of the citadel: piped water, pavements, baths, and water closets or private toilets were available there thousands of years before they were passed on to the majority of urban inhabitants. But industrial towns grew up in nineteenth-century England without provision for drinking water or sanitary privies; and although later municipal ordinances have resulted in local gains, with a marked improvement in the survival rates of children, the cleansing of the city has only shifted the problem to the rural and the aquatic environment, whose pollution and spoilage constitute another problem, greatly aggravated by middens of industrial waste, bottles, cans, and motorcars.

During the nineteenth century, radical changes in industrial production, transportation, and communication altered the dimensions of the city and the tolerable density of population. With the introduction of sewers, water and gas mains, electric conduits, and underground public transportation, underground utilities competed for capital investment with the hitherto self-sufficient architectural shells. Meanwhile, the universal introduction of the paved street and permanent ways needed for rapid vehicular transportation facilitated the further extension of big cities, and by turn the railway, the electric streetcar, and the private motorcar widened the area within daily commutation distance of the center. This change was accompanied in the nineteenth century by the progressive abandonment of the wall and the seventeenth-century fortification as a means of military defense. Only by functioning as social magnets have the larger metropolitan centers survived.

Although the last century was marked by largescale urbanization, the only significant change, apart from that of increasing scale, population, and intensity of congestion, lay in a widespread countermovement in which the upper economic groups took the lead, creating new suburban communities on an open pattern and restoring many aesthetic and hygienic features, including recreation space, that the city lacked. Such open building outside the city, which sacrifices the social benefits of the city for a healthier environment, goes back to the very beginnings of the city; it seems a spontaneous attempt at homeostasis, restoring necessary biological conditions that excessive urban congestion has destroyed. The notion that this is a purely modern phenomenon, a more or less automatic by-product of rail or motorcar transportation, runs contrary to ancient historic evidence. But a new factor has indeed appeared during the last two decades—a breakup of the central nucleus itself, with shopping centers, research centers, industrial parks, and even business offices establishing themselves as independent semifeudal enclaves in the megalopolitan intervals. This tendency, abetted by new methods of instantaneous communication, rapid transportation, and message storage, has led to sundry radically different pictures of the future form and function of the city.

Urban prospects

Until recent times one of the most conspicuous restrictions on the city’s development was its confinement to a small fraction of the world’s population. Yet this was a factor of safety, since it left a biological and cultural reservoir capable of restoring destroyed cities and replenishing populations decimated by sterility, disease, and war. Maximilien Sorre (1952) has estimated that even in the twentieth century four-fifths of the inhabitants of the planet still live in villages. Since the nineteenth century, however, this ratio has been reversed in such highly industrialized areas as Britain and the Low Countries; and a more general reversal of the historic ratio, with 90 per cent of the population dwelling in urbanoid areas if not in recognizable cities or metropolises, is theoretically in prospect.

Various recent urban studies confidently extrapolate this trend, as if the factors now in operation will continue indefinitely, unchecked by any appraisal and correction. This assumption ignores a growing body of contemporary evidence, supporting earlier historic observations, that uncontrolled urban expansion and congestion upset the ecological balance and produce most of the typical disorders noted in any overcrowded animal colonies, with an arrest or perversion of sexual activities, lapse of necessary social functions, together with suicidal desperation and aggression—although the animal failure to reproduce is not so far in evidence, except in the increase of homosexuality. In turn, the cultural changes thus brought about affect suburban and rural areas, with similar manifestations of crime and mental disease. Even without the possible cataclysmic arrest of growth through nuclear extermination, this process of continued urbanization may prove self-limiting.

Dispersal and concentration . On the prospective development of the urban community, two schools are beginning to emerge, although they are linked in different ways with a third, which believes that by continued patchwork—so-called urban renewal—the existing cities can and should be kept in being, even though many of their chief economic supports are being withdrawn and the population needed to maintain them is being dispersed or being replaced by automatic machines. The first school, the dispersionists, holds that the focal, synergizing functions of the city are either unnecessary or can now be performed without regard to topographic situation or any coherent assemblage of urban institutions and structures. Insofar as they would retain the existing urban structures, this school would treat the city as a disposable container, with its structures as transitory as their contents; no longer is it to be a means of maintaining continuity beyond the passing generation. Holding that only contemporary knowledge or culture is significant, this school believes that with the mechanical-electronic storage of messages, along with instantaneous communication and supersonic transport, the city as a unifying cultural center has lost its reason for existence. At most, the surviving components of the city will be scattered over the landscape, in specialized, spatially isolated, and unrelated enclaves.

Those who extrapolate existing tendencies may as an alternative concentrate upon the intensified congestion of existing metropolitan centers, despite the exorbitant cost of the mechanical equipment necessary to maintain even minimal transportation and communication activities. The grounds for concentration have been stated by Le Corbusier (see Jeanneret-Gris 1924) and Jane Jacobs (1961); those for dispersal have been presented by Jean Gottmann (1961), E. A. Gutkind (1962), and, more circumspectly and constructively, by Christopher Tunnard and Boris Pushkarev (1963). The highway building, housing, and urban renewal programs sponsored by the United States government since 1948 have dedicated enormous sums to both tendencies; and hence, so far, the predictions on which these plans have been based have been largely self-fulfilling.

Regional integration . The inertia of political and economic forces now favors both of the schools described above. In opposition to these almost automatic processes stand the urban integrationists: a school originated by the founder of the garden city movement, Ebenezer Howard (1898); furthered by Raymond Unwin, Henry Wright, Sr., Clarence S. Stein (1951), and Frederic J. Osborn (1946; 1963); and abetted by the regionalism of Geddes (1915), MacKaye (1928), and Mumford (1938; 1961). This school was a generation in advance of rival doctrines in recognizing the factors that were promoting both metropolitan congestion and exurban dispersion—particularly, fast motor and air transport and instantaneous communication. But instead of regarding their forecasts as instructions to promote the existing tendencies and increase their tempo, they took them as warnings and, while showing how the new resources of science and technics could be utilized to improve the whole ecological pattern, sought to invent alternatives that would do justice to the unique role of the city.

The case for regional integration rests on two bases. That which has to do with the historic foundations of the city has already been outlined; but this in turn leads to the perception that the original pattern that favored the one-sided domination and magnification of a limited number of self-contained cities must be replaced by a more complex system fashioned on more organic lines and capable of wider diffusion. At our present state of cultural complexity, the integrationists hold that there is need for a hierarchical urban order that is composed of cellular units and organs, restricted in size and arranged in an ascending series, and that has stable intermediate units not only receiving directions and obeying orders but initiating actions and answering back in a give-and-take relation (Simon 1962).

While keeping the individual urban units limited in size and area—providing for growth by continued colonization instead of dispersion or congestion —the total effective coverage of a regional system composed of such units will be greater than that of the largest metropolis. Such a hierarchical pattern of small and large units, with the part reproducing the pattern of the whole and closely linked with it, has operated with unparalleled political success in the Roman Catholic church for almost two thousand years; and currently, it has been duplicated in the national lending library system in Britain, in the national film library system in Canada, in the organization of the state university of California, and, on a mechanical level, in the organization of the national telephone systems and electric power grids. For the integrationist school, the restriction of the constituent urban units and the organization of the whole into larger units are complementary processes. In such an organization, the advantages of both urban concentration and regional dispersal would be retained, and further growth and differentiation could take place without maximizing waste and disorder.

In this concept for controlling future urbanization by reconstituting the city, the many functions that were once clumsily handled by the physical massing of structures and populations will be “etherealized” over a much wider area. The preservation of a permanent rural matrix (both cultivated and wild) is an integral part of this new urban order. In this new model, individual cities, ranging ideally in size from 30,000 to perhaps 300,000, would be part of a regional grid embracing urban populations of an order of ten million and still containing smaller units serving purely rural or wilderness needs. This general pattern was first sketched out in the Report of the New York State Commission of Housing and Regional Planning (1926) and has been carried further in a report by the New York State Office for Regional Development (1964). By proposing to use the very mechanical and electronic agents that the dispersionists regard as a substitute for the city, the integrationists would reorganize our present technical resources so as to enable the city to perform its main historic task—the transmission of culture and the education of men.

Lewis Mumford

[See alsoCentral place; Community; Planning, Social, article onregional and urban planning; Region; Urban revolution; and the biographies ofBooth; Childe; Fustel de Coulanges; Geddes; Park; Sombart; Vidal de la Blache; Weber, Max; Wirth.]


Booth, Charles et al. (1889–1891) 1902–1903 Life and Labour of the People in London. 17 vols. London: Macmillan.

Botero, Giovanni (1588) 1956 A Treatise Concerning the Causes of the Magnificency and Greatness of Cities. Pages 225–280 in Giovanni Botero, The Reason of State and The Greatness of Cities. London: Routledge. → First published as Delie cause della grandezza della città.

Braidwood, Robert J.; and Howe, Bruce 1960 Prehistoric Investigations in Iraqi Kurdistan. Oriental Institute Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilizations, No. 31. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Braidwood, Robert J.; and Howe, Bruce 1962 Southwestern Asia Beyond the Lands of the Mediterranean Littoral. Pages 132–146 in Robert J. Braidwood and Gordon R. Willey (editors), Courses Toward Urban Life: Archeological Considerations of Some Cultural Alternates. Chicago: Aldine.

Braidwood, Robert J.; and Willey, Gordon R. (editors) 1962 Courses Toward Urban Life: Archeological Considerations of Some Cultural Alternates. Viking Fund Publication in Anthropology, Vol. 32. Chicago: Aldine. → The contents of this volume result from a symposium held at the European headquarters of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Austria, July 3–11, 1960.

Burgess, Ernest W. 1927 The Determination of Gradients in the Growth of the City. Pages 178–184 in American Sociological Society, The Progress of Sociology. Publications, Vol. 21. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Childe, V. Gordon (1936) 1951 Man Makes Himself. Rev. ed. New York: New American Library.

Cities. 1965 Scientific American 213, no. 3. → The entire issue is devoted to cities.

Dickinson, Robert E. (1951) 1962 The West European City: A Geographical Interpretation. 2d ed., rev. London: Routledge.

Dickinson, Robert E. 1964 City and Region: A Geographical Interpretation. London: Routledge.

Egli, Ernst 1959 Geschichte des Städtebaues. Volume 1: Die alte Welt. Zurich: Rentsch.

Éliade, Mircea (1949) 1958 Patterns in Comparative Religion. New York: Sheed & Ward. → First published as Traité d’histoire des religions.

Fairman, H. W. 1949 Town Planning in Pharaonic Egypt. Town Planning Review 20, no. 1:32–51.

Frankfort, Henri 1948 Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society and Nature. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Frankfort, Henri 1950 Town Planning in Ancient Mesopotamia. Town Planning Review 21, no. 2:99–115.

Fustel de Coulanges, Numa D. (1864) 1956 The Ancient City: A Study on the Religion, Laws, and Institutions of Greece and Rome. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. → First published as La cité antique.…

Geddes, Patrick (1915) 1950 Cities in Evolution. New ed., rev. Oxford Univ. Press.

Gottmann, Jean (1961) 1964 Megalopolis: The Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press.

GregoroviuS, Ferdinand A. (1859–1872) 1894–1902 History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages. 8 vols. London: Bell. → First published as Geschichte der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter.

Gutkind, Erwin A. 1962 The Twilight of Cities. New York: Free Press.

Gutkind, Erwin A. 1964 International History of City Development. Volume 1: Urban Development in Central Europe. New York: Free Press.

Howard, Ebenezer (1898) 1951 Garden Cities of Tomorrow. Edited, with a preface, by F. J. Osborn. With an introductory essay by Lewis Mumford. London: Faber. → First published as To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform.

Jacobs, Jane 1961 The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House.

Jeanneret-Gris, Charles É.] (1924) 1947 The City of To-morrow and Its Planning, by Le Corbusier [pseud.]. London: Architectural Press. → First published as Urbanisme.

Kuhn, Emil 1878 Über die Entstehung der Städte der Alten: Komenverfassung und Synoikismos. Leipzig: Teubner.

Lavedan, Pierre 1926–1952 Histoire de I’urbanisme. 3 vols. Paris; Laurens. → Volume 1: Antiquité: Moyen âge. Volume 2: Renaissance et temps modernes. Volume 3: Éipoque contemporaine.

Mackaye, Benton 1928 The New Exploration: A Philosophy of Regional Planning. New York: Harcourt.

Molmenti, Pompeo G. (1880) 1906–1908 Venice: Its Individual Growth From the Earliest Beginnings to the Fall of the Republic. 6 vols. Chicago: McClurg. → First published as La storia di Venezia nella vita privata dalle origini alia caduta della repubblica.

MÜller, Werner 1961 Die heilige Stadt: Roma quadrata, himmlisches Jerusalem und die Mythe vom Weltnabel. Stuttgart (Germany): Kohlhammer.

Mumford, Lewis 1938 The Culture of Cities. New York: Harcourt.

Mumford, Lewis 1961 The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects. New York: Harcourt.

New york (State) Commission of Housing and Regional Planning 1926 Report of the Commission of Housing and Regional Planning to Governor Alfred E. Smith. May 7, 1926. Albany, N.Y.: Lyon.

New york (State) Office for Regional Development 1964 Change, Challenge, Response: A Development Policy for New York State. Albany, N.Y.: The Office.

Osborn, Frederic J. 1946 Green-belt Cities: The British Contribution. London: Faber.

Osborn, Frederic J.; and Whittick, Arnold 1963 The New Towns: The Answer to Megalopolis. London: Hill.

Park, Robert E.; Burgess, Ernest W.; and Mckenzie, Roderick D. 1925 The City. Univ. of Chicago Press.

PoËete, Marcel 1924–1931 Une vie de cité: Paris de sa naissance à nos jours. … 3-vol. text and 1-vol. album. Paris: Picard.

Pritchard, James B. (editor) (1950) 1955 Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. 2d ed., corr. and enl. Princeton Univ. Press.

Simon, Herbert A. 1962 The Architecture of Complexity. American Philosophical Society, Proceedings 106: 467–482.

Sjoberg, Gideon 1960 The Preindustrial City: Past and Present. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Sorre, Maximilien 1952 Les fondements de la geographic humaine. Volume 3: L’habitat. Paris: Colin.

Stein, Clarence S. (1951) 1957 Toward New Towns for America. Rev. ed. New York: Reinhold.

Symposium on Urbanization and Cultural Development in the Ancient Near East, University of Chicago, 1958 1960 City Invincible. Edited by Carl H. Kraeling and Robert M. Adams. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Toynbee, Arnold J. 1934–1961 A Study of History. 12 vols. Oxford Univ. Press.

Tunnard, Christopher; and Pushkarev, Boris 1963 Man-made America: Chaos or Control? An Inquiry Into Selected Problems of Design in the Urbanized Landscape. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

Weber, Adna F. (1899) 1963 The Growth of Cities in the Nineteenth Century: A Study in Statistics. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

Weber, Max (1921) 1958 The City. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → First published as Die Stadt.

Wirth, Louis 1938 Urbanism as a Way of Life. American Journal of Sociology 44:1–24.

Woolley, Charles L. (1954) 1964 Excavations at Ur: A Record of Twelve Years’ Work. London: Benn.


The literature on the nature of the modern city is marked by disagreements. Social scientists not only employ a variety of theoretical orientations when interpreting the city’s ecological and social structure but utilize diverse research procedures as well (Sjoberg 1965). Just as significant are the conflicting descriptions of the contemporary city or the divergent images of the ongoing changes therein—a problem on which most of our attention centers.

Theoretical orientations. The study of the city, notably urban ecology, has been the focus of considerable debate between those scholars who believe that impersonal or “materialistic” forces shape its destiny and those who contend that sociocultural factors are the prime sources of change.

The first group traces its heritage back to the Chicago school—to Park (1916–1939) and Burgess (1923) in particular. Although Park recognized the existence of a moral order, he argued for the primacy of subsocial (or impersonal) forces in shaping man’s spatial and temporal order. He drew heavily upon social Darwinism and the idea of the struggle for existence (the basis of Park’s emphasis upon competition), whereas Burgess relied more upon classical economics in explaining the city’s spatial structure.

Out of this group have emerged the neoclassical ecologists, represented by such prolific writers as Duncan and Schnore (1959) and Gibbs and Martin (1959). The former utilize the concept of “the ecological complex,” which involves the study of the interrelationships among environment, population, social organization, and technology. For Gibbs and Martin the notion of “sustenance activities” becomes the key explanatory variable. Another view of the city that developed out of the writings of the early Chicago school culminated in the work of Wirth (1938) and Redfield (1941). Here the city—generally contrasted with the folk society (particularly by Redfield)—is seen as generating secularization, secondary group relations, tenuous social norms, and the like.

Standing somewhat between the proponents of impersonal forces and those who emphasize the more strictly sociocultural ones are sociologists such as Shevky and Bell (1955), who explain the changing urban scene in terms of stages of economic growth. Still another set of writers employs technology as the key explanatory variable. Some of them stress tools and energy per se, while others (like the author) believe that ideas, including those of science, must be viewed as an integral part of technology.

In sharp opposition to those who hold the impersonal or subsocial interpretation of the city are those who, sharing the view of Weber (1921), utilize cultural values as the primary variable. Firey’s study of Boston (1947) has been the most influential sociological work in this tradition, although his argument has been elaborated upon and modified by Willhelm (1962). Still other scholars working within the sociocultural perspective have stressed social structure, with social power becoming the primary variable for explaining the patterns within urban communities [see Community, article onthe study of community power].

Adherents of each of these theoretical traditions have carried out research that has been utilized by scholars of other persuasions. Even so, technology, cultural values, and social power appear to be the most useful variables for interpreting or predicting the changing patterns within the modern city— that is, one built upon the industrial and scientific revolution. But disagreements arise not merely over what variables should be given priority for purposes of analysis; sociologists also differ in their description and interpretation of the city’s ecological and social patterns. To highlight the divergent images of the modern city we shall examine the tendencies toward centralization and decentralization and toward differentiation and “dedifferentiation” within the past few decades.

Centralization and decentralization

The tendencies toward centralization and decentralization are observable on both local and national levels. These social processes have several dimensions—the political-economic sphere being one of the most significant.

Changes in urban centers. The process of decentralization on the local level has been called “suburbanization” or “urban sprawl.” Since World War II, notably in North America but in western Europe as well, there has been a marked growth of population outside of, rather than within, the central city. The pressures toward and reasons for this decentralization have been analyzed at considerable length. Modern technological advances (especially the automobile and the highway), along with the political and economic decisions of national and local governmental units (for example, regarding the tax structure), have supported and in turn been supported by a value system that idealizes the suburban way of life.

This outward flow of population has been associated with a decentralization of numerous economic activities, including some in manufacturing and the retail trade. Moreover, this movement has led to various political struggles—for example, over the kinds of governmental systems that can best manage the metropolitan area. The decentralization process has proved so disruptive that some planners, social scientists (e.g., Greer 1962), and government officials have in a sense “given up” on the city as a viable unit of social organization and on occasion speak of its “withering away.” Although the decentralization of population and of certain functions is likely to continue (in some industrial orders it has still to reach full bloom), it is unlikely to lead to the demise of the central city—barring a nuclear holocaust.

Students of the city have generally downgraded the counterforces that are serving to sustain the central city. A number are worthy of special attention. First, a traditional value system or ideology continues to attach meaning to the central city as the locus of major social activities. This value system is perhaps most clearly defined in societies such as that of Japan and those of western Europe, where the tradition of the preindustrial city has stressed a socially dominant central core; yet this ideology also exists in nations that do not have a feudal heritage. In the face of pressures to decentralize, some groups cling to the traditional image of the central city and exert pressures to sustain its historical role.

Moreover, the very structural changes that have encouraged decentralization have also given rise to an organizational revolution that fosters certain kinds of centralization. Hoover and Vernon’s study (1959) of the New York metropolitan area supports the proposition that managerial or administrative functions must to a degree concentrate in a limited area. Managers, whether in the public or the private sector, must sustain personal face-to-face relations in order to cope effectively with sensitive social issues, even in industrial cities dominated by the mass media. Although some sociologists believe New York is a unique case, it is clear that similar patterns have emerged in London and in other European cities. For as the economy is increasingly automated, the administrative functions assume ever greater significance within the city’s political economy. Thus, Los Angeles—the symbol of the decentralized, automobile-dominated city—has begun building skyscrapers in the central city to house the expanding administrative apparatus. And a recent study of Chicago predicts a considerable increase in managerial functions within the downtown area during the next few decades (Nelson 1964).

Related to the expansion of managerial activities has been a vast proliferation of educational and scientific organizations. Although a number of these are locating outside the central city, many institutions of higher education and a variety of scientific laboratories are being built within the city center. In a number of nations the so-called revitalization of central cities has been directly related to the expansion of the educational–scientific complex. Modern Boston—symbolized by a skyline that attaches prominence to educational and scientific enterprises—is a case in point. And even where educational–scientific complexes are not concentrated in the central city, they become the nucleus for a host of other functions. As in the case of managerial activities, positive gains accrue from centralization and the resultant ability of key personnel to sustain face-to-face communication.

Although it is assumed that modern leisure-time pursuits encourage decentralization, clear countertrends exist. Not only are urban universities rallying points for the cultural arts, but in many large metropolitan complexes, especially those in North America, we can observe the construction of large-scale cultural or civic centers within the city center. Moreover, such facilities as hotels have recently been constructed on a grand scale in Europe, Japan, and North America. These cater not only to the leisured and affluent classes but also to professional and administrative personnel who hold large-scale gatherings such as conventions.

High-rise apartment houses of the luxury sort are also increasing in the downtown areas of North American cities. There is some evidence that many members of the upper class have clung to the downtown areas of the major metropolises. Although they may have country homes, they continue to keep up residences in the city center.

Fundamental to the centralization–;decentralization flux within industrial cities is the struggle to sustain or rebuild public transit systems in the face of the proliferation of the automobile and the highway. Even in the United States, where most fiscal policies (including the tax structure) have fostered an automobile culture, counterdecisions are emerging. And if a substantial degree of centralization is necessary to sustain the industrial complex as suggested above, we can anticipate continuing pressures in favor of mass transportation in the United States (see Dyckman 1965), western Europe, and elsewhere.

In general, then, contradictory structural requirements within the broader society account for various countervailing tendencies—some toward centralization and some toward decentralization. Yet we can advance a more specific hypothesis: the changes within industrial–;urban centers are leading not to the central city’s demise but rather to its continued dominance. The functions that have emerged—managerial, administrative, and cultural—are those that have been gaining ascendancy and will continue to do so in tomorrow’s industrial—urban community. Thus the central city continues to reflect the functions and activities that command priority within the industrial order. The dominant economic, political, and educational bureaucracies have a vested interest in maintaining some control over, and integration of, the rather diffuse and complex metropolitan area, particularly the central city therein. Even symbolically —in terms of high-rise office buildings, hotels, etc.—the central city has sustained its traditionally dominant position.

Local and national decision making. The strains between the decentralization and centralization processes appear not only on the local level but on the national one as well. Research in this area has been carried out by ecologist–demographers such as Duncan (Duncan et al. I960); their attention, however, has been focused on industrial activities, largely within the framework of classical economics. In contrast, the emphasis here is upon the loci of decision making on the part of local and national bureaucracies, with the assumption that the classical economic model is of only limited value.

In the area of local and national decision making, considerable variation across nation-state systems can be discerned. Yet if we compare the United States and the Soviet Union, it is apparent that they are becoming more alike (rather than more different) in terms of their local and national decision-making patterns. A degree of autonomy and a modicum of national control are both essential to the maintenance of an industrial–urban order.

In the United States, what is essentially a decentralized system has become more centralized: since the 1930s local communities have lost some of their traditional autonomy. Centralization has not only been made possible as a result of the great advances in mass communication but, with the greater division of labor, it is actually required if the tasks of specialized functionaries who live and work in different cities are to be coordinated— especially during economic and political crises. Also, the local community has found it more and more difficult to finance needed functions without federal subvention. On the other hand, the Soviet leaders began with a strong commitment to centralized planning. However, especially in recent years, they have had to permit local authorities a degree of freedom in dealing with the special problems of their communities; thus the demands of efficiency and rationality have led to increased decentralization.

In all industrial systems the local urban center performs certain essential functions: as an educational or training center; a base for sustaining political authority, and as a locus for the production and exchange of goods and services. Thus national political decisions are, for example, re-shaped to fit local conditions. Knowledge of the relationships between the local and national systems, especially in the legal sphere, is unfortunately limited. Yet it seems clear that if the national government’s power is to be accepted as legitimate by the local urban center, and if its laws are to be enforced, it must gain the support of the local leadership.

A major dilemma arises from the difficulty of specifying just what is the optimum balance between local community autonomy and extracommunity controls. This balance varies not only along the political and economic dimensions but also among industrial–urban orders, depending upon the latter’s value orientations. Moreover, all industrial–urban systems appear to enjoy considerable leeway in achieving a balance between the demands for autonomy and those for extracommunity controls.

Differentiation and “dedifferentiation”

One group of sociologists emphasizes the “cultural homogenization” of (or “dedifferentiation” in) city life and the rise of a “mass society” (Stein 1960), while another group focuses on the increased differentiation in the industrial city— particularly along occupational lines (e.g., Gibbs & Martin 1958). Indeed, industrial cities are becoming less diverse in some spheres and more differentiated in others.

Moreover, contradictory trends persist within the occupational structure itself. As scientific technology advances, new occupations demanding highly specialized knowledge emerge; yet we are also witnessing the “dedifferentiation” of large segments of the labor force. The evidence indicates that automation is destroying the need not only for unskilled and semiskilled laborers but also for skilled blue-collar and even some white-collar workers. These trends are of course complicated by the shifting tendencies in the direction of peace or of war.

Automation is perhaps falsifying traditional sociological generalizations about the industrial city as rapidly as it is displacing large segments of the labor force. We have only the most tenuous knowledge of this process that seems destined to revolutionize the urban community. But some scholars are even beginning to speak of the “postindustrial city.” Cities of the future may contain large groups of people engaged in educational activities or occupations requiring a high degree of technical competence along with a sizable percentage of unemployed workers or persons carrying out services that require less technical skill than is demanded by those occupations being displaced. At least in the short run, automation may widen the gulf between the upper and the lower occupational strata.

The assimilation of ethnic groups also gives rise to contradictory patterns. The sociologist’s traditional theoretical model of this process was constructed upon the premise of continued assimilation of ethnic groups and the homogenization of urban life. Although this may occur over decades or centuries, it is not likely to happen in the immediate future. Surely, ethnic and religious groups persist within American cities (see, for instance, Glazer & Moynihan 1963); and in such European nations as the Netherlands and Belgium, Catholics and Protestants have for decades been living side by side within urban centers without loss of identity.

Indeed, the very process of assimilation (one form of dedifferentiation) leads to a heightened form of social identity. As the American Negro and the French-speaking Canadian, for example, have sought to enhance their over-all status and thus to hasten their assimilation, they have also attained greater group consciousness. For one thing, a group must have a well-defined concept of its past if it is to formulate a clear conception of its future. And in nations with value systems that stress equality, members of ethnic groups are able to climb the economic and political ladders more rapidly by sustaining their special affiliations than by functioning as isolated individuals.

Somewhat similar patterns can be identified in the Soviet Union, where studied efforts have been made to integrate Turkic groups, for instance, into the new industrial–urban order. While these minorities have relinquished many of their former economic, religious, and educational characteristics, their traditional folk arts have been revived—thus reinforcing their cultural identity along certain lines.

The differentiation–dedifferentiation processes (along with the trends toward decentralization and centralization of both functions and population) have been associated with constant struggles by such organizations as churches and schools to adapt themselves to the changing ecological and social conditions. One has only to examine, for example, the journal Social Compass to recognize that elements within the Catholic church in various European countries are endeavoring to reshape the parish structure, traditionally oriented around relatively self-contained subcommunities. But with the increased differentiation and decentralization (both of which foster spatial mobility), these communities have lost their former homogeneity. Thus the Catholic church is seeking to create a new conception of the parish in order to sustain itself in the modern city (see Reforming the Parish 1966).

The scope of this article has been limited to decades rather than centuries. If we had contrasted the industrial city with the nineteenth-century city or with the city of the preindustrial era, we could have observed marked changes in the social structure (Sjoberg 1960). Still, if we are to understand the modern city in relation to past forms, or if we are to predict the changes within present-day industrial centers, we must recognize the presence of contradictory trends within the social and ecological structure. Only then can we resolve some of the seemingly contradictory conclusions that sociologists have drawn about industrial city life.

Gideon Sjoberg

[Directly related are the entriesPlanning, social, article onregional and urban planning. Other relevant material may be found inCentral place; Ecology, article onhuman ecology; Neighborhood; Segregation; Transportation, article onsocial aspects.]


Burgess, Ernest W. (1923) 1961 The Growth of the City: An Introduction to a Research Project. Pages 37–44 in George A. Theodorson (editor), Studies in Human Ecology. Evanston, III.: Row, Peterson.

Cities. 1965 Scientific American 213, no. 3.

Duncan, Otis Dudley; and Schnore, Leo F. 1959 Cultural, Behavioral, and Ecological Perspectives in the Study of Social Organization. American Journal of Sociology 65:132–146. → A comment by Peter H. Rossi and a rejoinder by Duncan and Schnore appear on pages 146–153.

Duncan, Otis Dudley et al. 1960 Metropolis and Region. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Dyckman, John W. 1965 Transportation in Cities. Scientific American 213, no. 3:162–174.

Firey, Walter I. 1947 Land Use in Central Boston. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Gibbs, Jack P.; and Martin, Walter T. 1958 Urbanization and Natural Resources: A Study in Organizational Ecology. American Sociological Review 23: 266–277.

Gibbs, Jack P.; and Martin, Walter T. 1959 Toward a Theoretical System of Human Ecology. Pacific Sociological Review 2:29–36.

Glazer, Nathan; and Moynihan, Daniel P. 1963 Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and the Irish of New York City. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press.

Greer, Scott A. 1962 The Emerging City: Myth and Reality. New York: Free Press.

Hoover, Edgar M.; and Vernon, Raymond 1959 Anatomy of a Metropolis: The Changing Distribution of People and Jobs Within the New York Metropolitan Region. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Doubleday.

Nelson, Robert C. 1964 Computer Changing Chicago.Christian Science Monitor July 30: p. 11, cols. 3–5.

Park, Robert E. (1916–1939) 1952 Human Communities: The City and Human Ecology. Collected Papers, Vol. 2. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Redfield, Robert 1941 The Folk Culture of Yucatan. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Reforming the Parish. 1966 Commonweal 84, no. 1.

Shevky, Eshref; and Bell, Wendell 1955 Social Area Analysis: Theory, Illustrative Application, and Computational Procedures. Stanford (Calif.) Univ. Press.

Sjoberg, Gideon 1960 The Preindustrial City: Past and Present. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Sjoberg, Gideon 1965 Theory and Research in Urban Sociology. Pages 157–189 in Philip M. Hauser and Leo F. Schnore (editors), The Study of Urbanization. New York: Wiley. → This book includes citations to a wide range of relevant literature, including bibliographical surveys.

Stein, Maurice R. 1960 The Eclipse of Community. Princeton Univ. Press.

Weber, Max (1921) 1958 The City. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → First published as Die Stadt.

Willhelm, Sidney 1962 Urban Zoning and Land-use Theory. New York: Free Press.

Wirth, Louis 1938 Urbanism as a Way of Life. American Journal of Sociology 44:1–24.


Metropolitan government refers to the political mechanisms and processes through which local public decisions are made, covering areas approximately coterminous with the territories in which modern urban economic and social systems function. Historically, the term refers to efforts in many nations to redesign established local-government institutions by reducing the number of relatively autonomous units typically existing in heavily urbanized regions (metropolitan areas) or by introducing new levels or forms of government to make certain area-wide decisions. The concept has been broadened to include analysis of the ways in which the urban political process responds to pressures generated by the expanding scale of urbanization, regardless of the formal institutional arrangements involved. In this context, the emphasis is upon the properties and behavior of metropolitan political systems, and involves the characterization of the political actors and the types of conflicts, elite structures, political communication networks, and processes of conflict resolution in these areas.

Until about 1960, most professional studies of metropolitan political organization and behavior focused on the difficulties arising in governing the new urban regions through traditional local political institutions. They regarded those institutions as in many ways obsolete and incapable of providing effective public programs; and, implicitly or explicitly, the studies advocated major governmental reform. In the 1960s, however, a considerable number of social scientists suggested that these difficulties were exaggerated and that existing arrangements were useful in minimizing social and political conflict and in providing opportunity for individual participation in community affairs. They favored less extensive and more informal adjustments.

Metropolitan areas. The principal stimulus for proposals of establishing formal metropolitan governments and the evolution of informal metropolitan political systems is the rapid and continued expansion of urbanized territory beyond the boundaries of cities originally established as defense, trade, or manufacturing cities. In Great Britain, Europe, and the American Atlantic seaboard, urban populations spilled over boundary lines of such cities and into the countryside as early as the eighteenth century. However, the most dramatic increase in scale through widespread diffusion of households, industries, and commercial centers over a large number of local governmental jurisdictions is a phenomenon of the last one hundred years.

Previously, the technological advances in the early stages of industrialization that tapped new energy sources, created new manufacturing processes, and resulted in new building techniques had encouraged compact urban development. The first modern cities accommodated urban immigrants in limited areas that displayed a great variety of land uses and high population densities. Subsequent innovations, particularly in transportation and communication facilities, made possible a countertrend to population concentration within the original metropolis. Especially in the United States, the introduction of rapid transit, commuter railroad service, and the automobile allowed residents to settle in independent political jurisdictions outside the “mother” municipality. New communication devices and new public-utility, water, and sewage facilities reduced the dependence of residences and certain industries on downtown locations. Concomitantly, the process of population and economic diffusion was accelerated by rising incomes, changes in home-construction and home-financing patterns, new social aspirations, preferences for single-family residences with more open space for children, and the promotional techniques of land speculators.

Under the impact of these forces, the large urban areas became characterized by daily movements of the working population from home to place of employment, by steadily declining urban population densities, and by a rapid growth in the urban population living outside the central city. By 1960, there were over 1,000 metropolitan areas in the world, each consisting of a principal city of at least 50,000, with adjacent administrative territorial units within commuting distance of the city and with a labor force of which over two-thirds were engaged in nonagricultural industries. The populations in these areas are judged to be inter-dependent in economic and social activity, with such consistent patterns of interaction as to constitute organized systems of behavior.

In the United States, where the process is farthest advanced, the large metropolitan area typically consists of the old core city, now made up of a selected number of industries and businesses for which a downtown location is still economically desirable, the dwelling places of low-income and minority-group families, and a relatively small number of middle-income and wealthy household units. An inner ring of suburbs caters to warehousing, lower-priced commercial establishments, marginal industries, and lower-middle-income or low-income families, often in multiunit housing accommodations. In the outer ring of suburbs, middle-income and higher-income single-family residences predominate, together with large, standardized manufacturing plants, often grouped in industrial parks adjacent to major highways.

Since World War II, some of the largest American metropolitan areas have expanded to reach one another’s boundaries. On the Atlantic seaboard, a continuous belt of densely populated urban counties six hundred miles long and between thirty and one hundred miles wide has arisen, containing five of the fifteen largest metropolitan areas in the country. Named “megalopolis” by the French geographer Jean Gottmann, this new type of urban region, interstate as well as intermunicipal in character, appears the prototype of the new physical form that urbanization is likely to take in the last half of this century.

The “metropolitan problem.” The transformation of discrete cities into metropolitan areas and megalopolises ended the coincidence between social, economic, and political boundaries of urban territory. By 1962, the 212 standard metropolitan statistical areas (SMSA) in the United States defined by the U.S. Bureau of the Census encompassed over 18,000 local governments—counties, municipalities, townships, and special districts. Nine of the 24 largest SMSA’s contained more than 250 governments apiece; the other 15 largest, between 200 and 249. The public affairs of metropolitan London were managed by the City Corporation, London County, 28 metropolitan boroughs, 5 administrative counties, 3 county boroughs, 39 municipal boroughs, 15 urban districts, and 5 special authorities. At mid-twentieth century, the metropolitan area of Rome included 100 communes, each a separate organ of local government; Montreal was surrounded by nearly 60 municipal governments; the Sydney area featured 33 municipalities and 5 shires. Throughout the world, wherever a historical tradition for autonomous local governments or highly decentralized administrative units existed, a number of separate jurisdictions carried on concurrently the public affairs of the new urban complexes.

The continuation of many separate units of local government within metropolitan areas that possess the social and economic properties of a single community constitutes “the metropolitan problem.” Especially since 1900, many observers have concluded that effective and responsible local urban government is not possible where several units possess considerable discretion in controlling land use and in financing and directing public-service programs in the absence of a single frame of political authority.

Several effects of the multigovernment pattern in metropolitan areas are considered to be detrimental to effective governmental operations.

The first is administrative and financial in character. By conventional economic calculations, local units, operating independently, cannot realize presumed efficiencies of size and scale in the provision of important public services. Major public investment programs, such as those in water supply and distribution systems, transportation, and public utilities, by the inherent nature of the function involved, appear better planned and executed when managed by a metropolitan government than when each general-purpose government maintains its own facilities. Substantial improvements in administrative direction and financial savings also seem possible in the consolidation of many operating programs, such as fire, police, and health, to prevent duplication of services and competition for personnel. Evaluated according to administrative criteria of the optimum population or area, most local service activities appear expensive and ineffective.

A second consequence of continuing the established governmental arrangements is the unequal distribution of tax revenues that occurs where property taxation is the major source of local funds. Since individual jurisdictions possess different land uses, and hence different endowments of residential population and industrial and commercial property, sizable discrepancies in taxable resources exist among them, especially in relation to demands for public services.

The central cities of metropolitan areas often appear in a particularly disadvantageous position. They are required to maintain an elaborate array of services for the daytime working population but are unable to tax these users. Moreover, their tax bases are declining relative to suburban jurisdictions and are further reduced by the large number of tax-exempt civic and educational establishments that prefer to locate downtown. Extreme differences also appear among suburbs, depending on their predominant land use. Some, with large industrial properties within their borders that require few public services, have ample revenues. Others, with large, moderate-cost residential development, must devote a much greater proportion of their valuation to supporting government programs. Hence, the quality of services and the tax effort required of residences vary widely within metropolitan areas presumed to have the attributes of a single community.

Third, effective popular participation in major policy decisions with direct impact on the metropolitan population is often impossible. Suburban residents cannot vote in central-city elections, and central-city citizens cannot officially take part in suburban civic affairs. Further, where several units exercise concurrent jurisdiction, the citizen may often find it difficult to identify and evaluate the performance of elected officials. Although within suburban communities residents frequently find opportunity for direct political participation and easy access to public officials, their opportunity to influence public decisions of metropolitan consequence made outside their immediate jurisdictions is limited or nonexistent.

Finally, the absence of metropolis-wide political authority precludes or obstructs comprehensive planning and development activities on a metropolitan basis. General-purpose local governments within the area lack the geographical jurisdiction to adjust land uses to expected changes in population and in economic activities. Special-purpose authorities undertake area-wide activities only in terms of their dominant purposes, so that their planning is restricted to certain prime functions, for example, a particular mode of transportation or the provision of a major utility. As a consequence, anticipatory action by local government in guiding the character of physical development is most frequently defensive in nature (i.e., aimed at preserving or securing patterns of development desired by the local constituency for financial, aesthetic, or social consequences) and proceeds principally through voluntary cooperative efforts. In the United States, comprehensive public policy is rarely a significant factor in determining the shape of metropolitan areas.

Metropolitan governmental reform. The identification of the political and administrative deficiencies of divided governmental authority in metropolitan areas has prompted an increasing number of efforts for institutional reform. Compared to the number proposed, few comprehensive changes in governmental structure have been achieved, but many structural and procedural adaptations have been implemented. These adjustments are customarily placed in five categories.

(1) Special districts. The most popular device used to resolve administrative and financial difficulties has been the creation of special districts with jurisdictions and responsibilities different from those of the local general-purpose units. One type of special district provides service or developmental programs for entire metropolitan areas or large parts of them. The London Metropolitan Police District, established in 1839, and the Metropolitan Sewer Commission of Boston, established in 1889, represent prototypes of these arrangements. Typically, these units are designed to carry out a limited number of programs, such as transportation or water supply, with areal requirements different from those of the general-purpose governments. They have special financial and organizational arrangements designed to allow them to operate with considerable autonomy. For example, such prominent, large American special districts as the Port of New York Authority and the Bi-state Development Agency for the St. Louis area are established by compacts between the affected states, are empowered to levy charges for use of their facilities, and are managed by boards directly appointed by state governors.

A second version of the special district is those districts which encompass much smaller areas, frequently only a segment of a general-purpose government’s jurisdiction. They have been established to meet the service requirements in rapidly urbanizing areas where the special needs of a particular portion of the population can be separately identitified. Usually, they provide utility distribution systems or refuse collection for new residential developments financed through special taxes, assessments, or levies applied only to the recipients of the services and calculated separately from general taxation. Thus, the special pressures of rapid growth upon the local public sector can be singled out and accommodated.

The special-district device, whether metropolitan or local in jurisdiction, has been criticized on the grounds that it fails to provide general-purpose government on a comprehensive basis, further complicates the pattern of divided authority, and is not democratic in character, since district officials often are not directly responsible to the constituencies served. But the effectiveness of the device in providing administrative and financial solutions to pressing service problems has usually outweighed these considerations in the minds of state and local policy-makers. Since World War n, the number of urban special districts in the United States has increased more rapidly than any other form of local government. Between 1952 and 1962, the number of special districts increased from 12,340 to 18,323.

(2) Annexation. A more straightforward proposal for metropolitan reform than the special-district approach is the annexation of newly urbanized territory by the mother city. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this practice of extending municipal boundary lines to keep pace with urban population growth was extensively used by almost every large American city. It remains a popular instrument in southwestern and middle western regions of the United States.

Although effective in maintaining the coincidence of political, economic, and social boundary lines, annexation often creates substantial financial, organizational, and land-use problems. If a city annexes relatively undeveloped territory in anticipation of new development, it may have to undertake expensive investments in capital facilities long before any sizable revenues are forthcoming from the new area, and its administrative resources may be similarly strained. On the other hand, if a city waits until urbanization has occurred in outlying places, its opportunity to guide land-use policy is reduced or eliminated. Furthermore, it risks almost certain opposition to the annexation by fringe-area residents who value their status as citizens of smaller communities and oppose the higher taxes that annexation often brings. Frequently these citizens establish separate municipalities in preference to being absorbed by the metropolis. Even when the annexation device is extensively used, the metropolis typically assumes responsibility over areas with few tax resources but heavy service requirements, while the financially self-sufficient outlying parts of the metropolitan area retain their separate identities. In older metropolitan areas, when surburban municipalities have long been in existence, the annexation approach has proved almost completely impracticable.

(3) Reallocations of functions. In Great Britain and the United States, where the pattern of local governments is one of two levels, county and municipality, and in federal systems, where local governments are legally creatures of the states, an alternative approach is to reassign local programs from one governmental level to another, or to consolidate major units. In the smaller U.S. metropolitan areas, this type of reform has sometimes taken the form of separating central-city and county functions, and sometimes of their consolidation. More usually, the readjustments have been made for specific programs.

City—county separation, adopted in Baltimore more than one hundred years ago, has the disadvantage of seriously complicating the future expansion of central-city boundaries, for it often freezes the jurisdictions of the local governments involved. Only the state of Virginia in the United States has devised a practical means for municipal expansion under the separation philosophy by empowering the state judiciary to make such decisions. Consolidation plans, most recently represented by Baton Rouge, Louisiana, frequently achieve major structural simplifications, but neither separation nor consolidation has achieved integration of governmental functions in large, multicounty metropolitan areas. A new version of consolidation, adopted in 1960 by Nashville and Davidson County, Tennessee, establishes one expandable urban service district designed to overcome the jurisdictional inflexibilities of the older plans. This device may be applicable in other areas.

At present, however, the most popular type of functional adjustment is one of piecemeal mergers of specific functions. In many metropolitan areas, public health, welfare, highway, and recreational programs have been established on a joint basis, most usually involving the central city and the county and resulting in the emergence of the county as the principal metropolitan unit. This approach generally depends on voluntary agreements arrived at through a bargaining process between municipal and county officials and is widely heralded as a means by which politically autonomous units can overcome some of the administrative consequences of metropolitan fragmentation.

(4) Metropolitan federation. Given the difficulties inherent in the special-district, annexation, and functional-reallocation approaches, many experts have come to advocate metropolitan federation as the most satisfactory way to solve the metropolitan problem on a comprehensive basis. Metropolitan federalism calls for the establishment of a government with jurisdiction over the entire metropolitan area, but with limited responsibilities; most existing local units continue to perform “purely local” functions. Usually a federated plan provides for the participation of the smaller units in the policy-making process of the metropolitan government through some formula of representation on the latter’s governing body.

The two-tier structure of government in London County, where 28 metropolitan boroughs plus the ancient City of London function alongside the London County Council, is an example of a partially federated structure. In 1963, this arrangement was extended to the other counties within the London metropolitan area, with a substantial strengthening of the powers of the boroughs; however, several important programs are excluded from the plan. New York City’s five-borough plan, adopted in 1897, had the formal appearance of a federal system for the then urbanized area, but in practice the boroughs served principally as administrative units; no further extension of the city occurred by the 1960s. Miami and Dade County, Florida, adopted a two-tier form of government in 1957, but the experiment is limited to one county within a rapidly expanding area, and only cities with populations of more than 60,000 elect representatives to the county board of commissioners.

The most complete application of the federal principle in a metropolitan area was achieved in Toronto, Canada, in 1953, by prescription of the Ontario legislature. The Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto has jurisdiction over such area-wide functions as water supply and distribution, sewerage, principal highways, public transportation, and planning in an area encompassing the central city and twelve suburbs. A metropolitan council composed of the chief executives of the suburban governments and twelve elected public officials of Toronto directs the metropolitan municipality. The old units continue to provide health, library, and welfare services, although the assumption of police responsibilities in 1957 by the metropolitan government has given rise to charges that the plan is “creeping annexation” and that ultimately full consolidation is intended.

The Toronto plan has also been criticized because of its indirect and—on a population basis— unequal plan of representation and because it was established without a popular referendum. Nonetheless, the metropolitan government’s activity in the first ten years of operation establishes it as a vigorous instrument.

(5) Nonlocal governmental arrangements. Besides the various changes and adjustments proposed or effected in the structure of loyal governments, two other lines of action have been employed to deal with metropolitan public-service and development problems. First, higher levels of government have directly undertaken some metropolitan programs and policy-making. The national governments of France and Britain, for example, operating through national ministries and departments, provide important health, welfare, housing, and public-works services without respect to local government jurisdictions. In France, the pattern of administrative organization within the departments is so constructed as to constitute a metropolitan government. The local communes are coordinated with national departments by the prefecture system: policy-making is centered at the national level; intercommunal syndicates are responsible for public works; limited participation by local communities is provided through the mechanism of departmental councils. In Britain, programs in health, education, and housing are nationalized to the degree that the policies of the respective ministries often assure uniform activities throughout metropolitan areas.

In federal systems the character of participation by nonlocal governments is more complex, for the states form an intervening level of government between national and local units. In the United States, for example, some state governments have established offices and agencies of their own to carry out metropolitan programs. New York and California have staff units of the governor’s office that deal with local and metropolitan-area problems, and the planning departments of several states give special emphasis to urban development. Moreover, many of the large metropolitan-area districts are legally state agencies, and their chief executives and directors are appointed by the governor or the legislators. Major state line agencies, such as those dealing with highways and recreation, are similarly concerned with metropolitan planning and public works.

The national government in the United States, through its housing, urban renewal, highway, health, and public-works programs, has become increasingly concerned with the need to deal with metropolitan areas on a systematic basis. Interagency collaboration at the national level is increasing, as are efforts to develop a common approach to providing assistance to the many local governments involved.

There are also parapolitical enterprises at work on the American metropolitan scene that, while not formally governments, are becoming increasingly influential in public policy-making. Such an enterprise is the metropolitan planning agency, sometimes established by formal state action, but frequently a private organization supported by civic and business organizations and “floating” in the metropolitan area without official sanction. A companion activity has been the large-scale, professional research project, financed by private foundations and staffed by academic personnel, charged with the responsibility to study the pattern of metropolitan development and often to recommend new public policies and institutions. Local government officials have also come together to form a new instrument for metropolitan action on a voluntary basis, most commonly constituting themselves as an “area council.”

The degree of formality of these organizations varies considerably, as does the scope of their interests and the character of their programs. Some are primarily discussion groups seeking solutions to common problems; some undertake fairly extensive research activities; a few have actually concluded agreements for the joint conduct of particular programs. While not committing their governments to any new formal structure, the emergence of these groups signals a growing awareness of the pressures of metropolitan growth and of the need for collaborative public action.

Metropolitan politics. While few major structural reforms of local government have taken place over the last century, the adjustments made in various areas suggest that a substantial evolutionary process has been under way.

Essentially, the rejection of comprehensive reorganization programs is due to the reluctance of the public at large and the political power structures within existing local government to relinquish political autonomy. Administrative efficiency and adequate financial resources have rarely been the main values of either the political leaders or the voters in metropolitan areas. Instead, the objectives of access to decision-making centers and of representation in policy deliberations have appeared as more important objectives. Hence, some students have emphasized that the present pattern of divided government has the important property of segregating the expanding urban population into political jurisdictions of small size and comparative homogeneity when measured by indices of income, ethnic groupings, religion, and occupation. These characteristics allow a stronger sense of community identity within the territory of each government and probably serve to minimize social conflict through the process of political isolation. Accordingly, the defeat of many plans drafted by administrative experts is explicable because they did not speak to the prime values of the major participants. Instead, they threatened the abolition of the positions of local public officials, the feeling of participation and informality of residents in the suburban jurisdictions, and the new political strength of minority groups within the central cities.

These separatist tendencies inhibit the development of formal institutions of metropolitan government, but there are also manifestations of at least embryonic metropolitan political systems. In recent years, it has been possible to identify major public figures and interest groups regularly participating in metropolitan decisions, communication networks existing among them, strategies and techniques by which they develop reasonable consensus on certain issues, and the general objectives they seek. Given the great number of governmental units involved, especially in federal nations where state and national levels participate, present metropolitan political systems are characterized by a large number of separate power centers and a substantial diffusion of influence. But with respect to decisions on transportation, public utilities, and general planning, more or less permanent coalitions of interests have appeared; it is these that account for the rapid rise in the number of special districts and parapolitical organizations. Moreover, the emergence of metropolitan planning organizations and councils of local officials suggests that developmental decisions concerning the growth and future character of the areas, in contrast with program or service decisions, are assuming new importance.

In several large American metropolitan areas, it is also possible to identify an interest-group complex committed to an area-wide perspective and approach, in contrast with those which defend traditional concepts of the appropriate role of urban government and the existing structure. These complexes are rarely powerful enough to provide widespread public support for reform, but they often succeed in introducing the metropolitan perspective into the preparation of transportation, public-utility, and land-use plans. Typically, they are most effective in modifying the behavior of professional bureaucracies within the present structure of government and in achieving some degree of cooperation and coordination among their activities.

Future developments. The present characteristics of metropolitan political systems suggest a continued expansion in cooperative arrangements among governments with large responsibilities in metropolitan areas and a further increase in governmental influence on major developmental decisions without radical readjustment in governmental form. In nations where popular approval of structural reform is not required, formal reorganization of the existing units may be achieved with some frequency. Where public referenda are required, however, a direct confrontation between pro-reform and anti-reform forces is likely to result in the former’s defeat. Powerful leaders in the metropolitan system remain motivated by goals of continued separatism and autonomy. The ideological appeal of these goals remains popular with the public at large and is reinforced by desires to maintain communities that are occupationally, religiously, and ethnically homogeneous. In these instances, the coalition of interests seeking to broaden the scope of area-wide decisions is more effective in establishing quasi-public mechanisms or in increasing the involvement of state and national agencies than in attempting to modify the existing pattern of local government.

The outlook for the metropolitan political systems is that their behavior will grow more systematic and predictable and that area-wide decisions will be more influenced by parapolitical organizations. It does not seem likely, however, that the systems will decisively alter the pattern of urban growth as established by economic and technological forces or produce new physical forms for the metropolitan area. The establishment of area-wide governments will occur only occasionally, and the values and interests that emphasize the social and political benefits of present arrangements are more likely to prevail than are those committed to the more rationalistic objectives of administrative efficiency, policy control, and resource planning.

Robert C. Wood

[See alsoLocal government; Local politics.]


Banfield, Edward C.; and Grodzins, Morton M. 1958 Government and Housing in Metropolitan Areas. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Bollens, John C. 1956 The States and the Metropolitan Problem: A Report to the Governors’ Conference. Chicago: Council of State Governments.

Bollens, John C. (editor) 1961 Exploring the Metropolitan Community. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

California, University of, Institute of International Studies, International Urban Research 1959 The World’s Metropolitan Areas. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Connery, Robert H.; and Leach, Richard H. 1960 The Federal Government and Metropolitan Areas. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Fortune, the Editors 1958 The Exploding Metropolis. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Greer, Scott A. 1962 a The Emerging City: Myth and Reality. New York: Free Press.

Greer, Scott A. 1962b Governing the Metropolis. New York: Wiley.

Hirsch, Werner Z. (editor) 1963 Urban Life and Form. New York: Holt. → Published for the Washington University Institute for Urban and Regional Studies.

Janowitz, Morris (editor) 1961 Community Political Systems. New York: Free Press.

Jones, Victor 1942 Metropolitan Government. Univ. of Chicago Press.

McKenzie, Roderick D. 1933 The Metropolitan Community. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Martin, Roscoe C. et al. 1961 Decisions in Syracuse. Metropolitan Action Studies, No. 1. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

Studenski, Paul 1930 The Government of Metropolitan Areas in the United States. New York: National Municipal League.

Tamiment Institute, New York 1961 The Future Metropolis. Edited by Lloyd Rodwin. New York: Braziller. → Essays originally published in the Winter 1961 issue of Dædalus.

U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations 1961 Governmental Structure, Organization, and Planning in Metropolitan Areas. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Vernon, Raymond 1960 Metropolis 1985: An Interpretation of the Findings of the New York Metropolitan Region Study. New York Metropolitan Region Study, No. 9. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Wood, Robert C. 1959 Suburbia: Its People and Their Politics. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Wood, Robert C.; and Almendinger, Vladimir V. 1961 1400 Governments: The Political Economy of the New York Metropolitan Region. New York Metropolitan Region Study, No. 8. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Woodbury, Coleman (editor) 1953 The Future of Cities and Urban Redevelopment. Univ. of Chicago Press.


An urban settlement fundamentally consists of a collection of dwellings and other buildings plus a sizable resident population. The buildings are permanently situated, separated from other such settlements, and are compactly arranged with respect to each other—typically in blocks separated by streets or alleys. While there is no universal agreement as to how large the population must be before the settlement is classified as urban, the minimum is usually placed somewhere between 2,500 and 10,000 people.

Large, permanent assemblies of people have arisen historically in two sharply contrasting ways. Some settlements emerge because a group of people choose to live near each other in order to realize a way of life made possible by production activities carried on elsewhere. Other settlements arise because people who work within certain production facilities wish to live in the immediate vicinity of these facilities. In general, then, the population may be permanently assembled in order to consume the products and services of labor, regardless of where they are produced, or in order to produce goods and services, regardless of where they are consumed. The words “produce” and “consume” are used in their broadest senses, including not only traditionally economic activities, such as commerce and manufacture, but also religious, military, professional, educational, and other similarly organized activities.

Examples of consumption-oriented settlements include the modern residential suburb, the traditional rural village, the ceremonial capital or “court” city, and the urban community of the elite during the social season. Examples of production-oriented settlements include the manufacturing city, the market town, and the governmental administrative center (ranging from county seat to national capital). Of course, since the production-oriented settlement has a permanently settled population, it automatically becomes the site of many consumption activities. Prior to the industrial revolution most settlements were consumption-oriented, but today the production-oriented center is the more common. The consumption-oriented settlement usually has a more coherent social organization than the site of productive activity. The population assembled for production purposes is not necessarily well integrated; indeed, it may consist of many highly diverse and even antagonistic groups who live near each other only for the purpose of production. Creating a coherent and reasonably satisfactory mode of common social living (consumption) among disparate groups assembled for production purposes is one of the major problems facing the leaders of most modern urban settlements.

Two topics are of special interest in comparing urban structures. One concerns the internal arrangement of the people and their dwellings within the settlement, and the other concerns the interrelationships between settlements in the area, region, nation, or world. These topics will be considered primarily in regard to the productionoriented settlement.

Internal spatial arrangements

Essentially, all human settlement patterns, whether single settlements or collections of settlements, display the phenomenon of centralization (Hawley 1950). In a single urban settlement the center is typically at or very near the site of the original community and is also typically at the local point of maximum access to other populations and settlements (Hurd 1903). The population of the settlement grows out in all available directions from this center, creating what is by far the most regular residential pattern found in urban places throughout the world, namely, the tendency for density (residents per unit of land) eventually to decrease as distance from the center increases. This density gradient is especially pronounced in very large cities, where densities of over 100,000 per square mile are common in centrally located neighborhoods; in Asian cities comparable densities sometimes reach 500,000. In many cities these maximum densities do not occur in the actual center of the city but rather in the area immediately adjacent to it. By contrast, densities in the peripheral areas of an urban settlement are often no more than 1,000 to 5,000 per square mile.

The concentration of residences near the center of an urban settlement is due primarily to the fact that until the twentieth century most local movement within a city was on foot. Since urban functions are relatively specialized, yet bound to one another by numerous interactions and interchanges, the entire settlement tends to be located in a relatively small area. If walking is the typical local means of transportation, the settlements area will be particularly small; moreover, if such a settlement grows, it tends to grow almost entirely by making more intensive use of already settled land. Hence, central densities become very high, while outlying districts remain almost uninhabited. In many current non-Western urban settlements walking remains the major means of local transportation. Historically, the tendency toward a sharp density gradient was enhanced by the need for protection within a wall.

At the very center of most European or American urban settlements is an area called the central business district that contains many of the major production facilities of the settlement, whether in the form of factories, office buildings, or stores. The central business district is, therefore, the place where the bulk of the urban labor force works during the day. Preindustrial Western cities and most modern non-Western cities do not possess a central business district in quite the Western sense, although most of these cities have a major central market place (or bazaar) and possibly a collection of central office buildings for administration (Seminar on Urbanization in India … 1962). In general, however, the separation of places of work from places of residence has not proceeded as far in Asian as in European and American cities, except where Western influence has been dominant. When a central business district does exist, it provides a further stimulus to the build-up of central residential densities immediately around it, since the trip to and from work must be made each day.

In the Western world the appearance of a central business district coincided with the coming of the industrial revolution, especially the appearance of the large-scale factory and of the railroad with its highly centralized terminal facilities. (Some earlier port cities exhibited essentially a central business district pattern in the neighborhood of the harbor.) Thus, the very process that gave rise to new means of local transportation which could disperse the urban residents at first had precisely the opposite effect; namely, further concentrating population through the emergence of the central business district. Recent evidence suggests that in American cities the forces tending to centralize the urban population exceeded those tending to decentralize it until the early years of the twentieth century (Hawley 1956). Since then, however, the availability of more rapid and flexible means of transportation (especially the automobile and truck) has tended to decentralize both residences and places of work. Although the density gradient by distance from the center of the city is still very pronounced in American cities, it is not as steep as it was a few decades ago (O. D. Duncan 1957) and certainly not as steep as in most non-Western cities. Indeed, between 1950 and 1960 many large American settlements actually lost population in their central cities while gaining population in the suburban and fringe areas.

In many cities in South America and Asia settlement densities remain quite high to the outskirts of the settlement and then fall very rapidly almost to zero or to the rural base. The principal reason that densities remain high toward the outskirts is that migrants have been coming to these settlements in great numbers. These migrants are unable to find housing within the city proper and so cluster around it in large numbers, often in poor and relatively temporary housing accommodations. In general, new migrants to a city tend to flow into the immediate vicinity of the center when the demand for housing has resulted in the creation of tenements, flats, and apartments in that area; on the other hand, when the central areas have not been filled with suitable types of housing units, migrants tend to remain on the periphery. In older American cities movement to the center has tended to be typical, while in other areas of the world movement to the outskirts has frequently prevailed. In recent years the tendency for recent migrants to live near the center has declined.

Distribution of population subgroups . When attention is shifted from the distribution of the population as a whole to the distribution of various categories within the population (such as the well-to-do or the racially distinct), the existence of many different patterns is evident. Urban populations are usually very heterogeneous, consisting of many different religious and ethnic groups, as well as representatives of many different socioeconomic status levels. Moreover, in many cities, especially in the United States, the population contains at least two racial groupings. In every city that has been studied, there is a tendency for people who are similar socially or racially to live together and for people who are different socially or racially to live apart.

While comparative quantitative evidence is largely lacking, it is quite likely that the tendency to segregate different population subgroups was carried very far in preindustrial cities. Although persons of high socioeconomic status were very few in number, they were very sharply socially differentiated from the rest of the population and, with their indwelling servants, occupied one section of the settlement almost exclusively. Persons of deviant religious persuasion, such as Jews in European cities, were likewise highly segregated, typically in ghettos which were walled off to further the separation. Whether the bulk of the remaining population of preindustrial cities—artisans, shopkeepers, and laborers—was also sharply subdivided and segregated is not entirely clear (see Sjoberg 1960). However, in modern non-Western cities there is substantial residential differentiation and segregation even among these groups.

Studies of selected American cities have used an “index of dissimilarity” to measure the differences between the residential distributions of various groups; their results indicate that while the dissimilarity in the distribution of various ethnic groups is almost 50 per cent, the comparable figure for the dissimilarity between Negroes and whites is about 90 per cent (O. D. Duncan & Lieberson 1959). Other segregation indices show similar results for the residential separation of racial groups in American cities. Relatively little is known about trends in this type of segregation, although there is evidence that it has been increasing during the last century (Taeuber & Taeuber 1965). It is difficult to measure the actual extent of segregation because it can take so many different forms. In American cities residential separation is likely to involve entire neighborhoods, whereas in European cities, as well as in the central areas of some large American cities, it is more likely to occur within neighborhoods—even within a block or a single building; for example, sometimes alley-fronting, cellar rooms are occupied by one group and street-fronting upper rooms by another, and there is little or no contact between them.

Patterns of segregation. Regardless of the extent to which patterns of segregation are carried, it is of interest to inquire where the various subgroups tend to live within the settlement. Four different patterns are frequently discussed. In the first pattern, persons of higher socioeconomic status tend to live near the city’s center, while persons of low status live on the outskirts of the city. This pattern is found throughout the world, except in North America and in some parts of Europe. In a sense it can be considered the classic or traditional arrangement. It may result from the fact that the elite carry on a much more elaborate social life than do the poor; in most parts of the world this social life crucially involves the use of central facilities. On the other hand, this pattern may result historically from the fact that central areas of a city are more defensible militarily than are peripheral areas (although the protection factor is no longer significant, residues of its impact may still be strong). It may also result from the migration patterns discussed earlier.

The second pattern is just the opposite of the first. The poor are concentrated in the central residential areas, while those of high status occupy peripheral areas. This pattern is found to some extent in North American cities, where it has become known as the “concentric zone” pattern (Burgess 1923). It was especially prominent in the nineteenth century, when the central business district (or some other central location) was more likely to contain several large factories employing masses of laborers, when immigrants were constantly entering these cities, and when access to transportation facilities (notably the railroads at that time) was largely restricted to the more well-to-do. While this pattern can still be found, particularly in larger American cities, it is no longer as pronounced as it was in earlier manufacturing settlements, since factories have been dispersed to some extent, and modern transportation facilities are available to most residents. Municipal laws requiring that certain health and safety standards be met in new constructions have also had the effect of reducing the supply of cheap housing for the poor in central areas by raising the cost of construction (Anderson 1962).

The third pattern is called a “sectorial” arrangement: each population subgroup occupies a sector extending from the center to the edge of the settlement in a given direction (U.S. Federal Housing … 1939). This pattern is found in some American cities and is also typical of many cities in other countries, where the sectors are often called “quarters.” It arises when a population subgroup that is already settled in a distinct location grows by adding new housing to the outer edge of its existing territory. In this way the subgroup’s population extends farther and farther outward as it grows.

The final pattern is an “island,” or localized pattern in which a subgroup occupies a territory within the settlement that is entirely surrounded by territory occupied by other subgroups. (The term “island” has not yet come into conventional usage to denote this pattern.) It is possible, of course, to visualize an island as an intersection of a sector and a concentric zone. On the other hand, it can also be visualized either as a sector that did not grow or as a sector whose spatial growth was inhibited despite growth in population. Most Negro housing areas in American cities today are of the latter type, as were many ethnic neighborhoods in earlier years. Such ethnic and racial islands are found within most of the world’s cities.

Combinations of settlements

Cities tend to arise at points where major breaks in transportation facilities occur, such as at the point of transfer from land to water transportation (Cooley 1894), and at places which are central with respect to an interacting population (Loesch 1940). They also arise at points that possess decisive local advantages for carrying out some activity which requires the assembly of large numbers of people on a permanent basis. In the early nineteenth century, for example, textile manufacturing plants were located along rivers in New England near waterfalls, because these falls provided power that was impossible to transport. Many manufacturing cities have arisen at points that provide easy access to the combination of materials required in manufacturing. Cities also tend to form and grow at locations which already contain urban populations. In particular, at any given time, the distribution of urban population is affected not only by conditions obtaining at that time but also by the location of population at some earlier time. A city that was originally (i.e., in terms of some past technology) a manufacturing center may grow and prosper, although the original advantage in the manufacturing process has disappeared with changing technology: the very existence of the population there often creates an advantage relative to other areas. The influence of population itself upon growth is represented in a simple form, for example, in the logistic curve of growth.

Within a country, individual cities grow primarily as a result of migration. Cities increase rapidly in size when many people are attracted to them, and they decline in size when many people already in them decide to live elsewhere. Cities also increase in size, though more slowly, as a result of the imbalance between local birth and death rates (see Bogue 1957).

Centralization . The growth and location of individual urban settlements is also a function of the growth and location of other such settlements in the vicinity or even at relatively remote locations. Urban life is highly interdependent, both within and between settlements. This interdependence makes the phenomenon of centralization just as important in understanding how cities are arranged with respect to each other as it is in understanding the spatial arrangements that exist within individual cities. Just as local centralization creates individual settlements, so does large-scale centralization create networks of settlements, or urban regions. Furthermore, the nature of these regions is also influenced by the efficiency of transportation services. There is a crucial difference between the local and the regional scene in this respect, however. Improvements in local transportation have tended to disperse the local population, whereas improvements in regional or long-distance transportation, on the other hand, have tended to concentrate more and more people in a small number of very large urban settlements. Roughly 25 per cent of the population of the United States lived in its ten largest urbanized areas in 1960, for example, in contrast with less than 10 per cent in the ten largest cities in 1860 (in 1860 the “urbanized area” concept did not exist, but most urban settlements were then contained within cities).

The tendency toward large-scale centralization has been augmented by another technological development. A productive activity is a city-building activity only as long as many people are required in the production process and as long as these people must be assembled in the same place to carry out the production. The industrial revolution ushered in a period when very large masses of people were assembled in factories and other industrial plants to carry out the manufacture of material goods, and for many decades the growth and development of these plants provided one of the major stimuli to the development of urban settlements. However, productivity (or goods produced per man hour expended) has increased steadily, especially in the area of manufacture, as man has increasingly learned how to substitute machine power for manpower. The result has been the shift of the main city-building impetus from the manufacture of material goods to the provision of services of one kind or another for human beings. This change is reflected, for example, in the relatively rapid growth of the white-collar segment of the population as compared with the much slower growth of the blue-collar segment throughout the industrial world. The principal spatial impact of this great technological movement has been further to concentrate the bulk of the population in a relatively few metropolitan areas. Manufacturing establishments must be distributed, in part at least, in relation to the location of raw materials, which tend to be scattered over the countryside. Service industries, on the other hand, are usually located where the people already are; hence the growth of these industries contributes strongly to the growth of pre-existing, large metropolitan areas. Thus, both increasing effectiveness of transportation and increasing human productivity, particularly with respect to the manufacture of material goods, contribute to the emergence of a relatively small number of very large urban settlements, each of which is increasingly spread over a larger and larger local territory.

The tendency for combinations of settlements to be centralized has been studied from two other major points of view. On the one hand, researchers have attempted to describe the spatial arrangement of networks of settlements. On the other hand, others have investigated the composition of cities of different sizes, with the joint objectives of classifying cities according to their functions, determining just how they are functionally interrelated, and ascertaining whether or not a “hierarchy” of cities can be established [seeCentral Place].

Regional networks. With respect to the spatial arrangement of settlements, three main regional networks have been identified: the metropolitan area, the metropolitan region, and what has been called the megalopolitan region (Gottmann 1961). Each form consists of a network of interrelated urban settlements, such that each performs relatively specialized functions with respect to the whole.

The smallest of these regions is the metropolitan area. It consists of a large central settlement and a variety of nearby smaller settlements (suburbs and satellites) which, taken together, form a relatively continuous pattern of urban settlements over the land occupied. Typically, several of the settlements in a metropolitan area have rather independent histories, merging into the same complex only as the population of the entire area grows and expands. The metropolitan area may be visualized as a single settlement, or it may be thought of as a compact arrangement of several settlements. It differs from the simple single settlement, however, in having many employment and shopping centers scattered through its territory—a phenomenon known as “multiple nucleation” (Harris & Ullman 1945).

The metropolitan region is a larger collection of urban (and rural) settlements, all of which are interrelated through relations with the metropolis that is dominant within the region. Generally speaking, the region is characterized by a series of gradients in various phenomena that are most pronounced in the central metropolis: for example, population density decreases throughout the region as distance from the metropolis increases (Bogue 1949). The tendency for individual settlements to be highly specialized also decreases as this distance increases. Furthermore, certain types of activity, such as wholesaling and banking, tend to be heavily concentrated in the metropolis, which serves as a distribution and accumulation center for the entire region. Increasingly, the metropolis also serves (at least in the United States) as an administrative center containing the headquarters of the major regional corporations and associations.

The megalopolitan region is a newer phenomenon that has not been as closely or elaborately studied to date. Indeed, there is even little agreement as to what it should be called, although there is no question that this form has really emerged in highly industrialized sections of the world. In these sections population growth has proceeded so far that many originally separate metropolitan areas have themselves tended to merge, as the outer fringes of one metropolis have interpenetrated the outer fringes of the next. In this way very extensive, relatively continuously urbanized land areas are created which contain not one massive center of population but rather many such centers. One such settlement pattern is found along the eastern coast of the United States, extending roughly from Boston, Massachusetts, to Washington, D.C., and many other similar conurbations are developing throughout the world. Much research remains to be done before the implications of this newest urban regional pattern will be properly understood.

Functional specialization of settlements . Cities in different size categories display substantial differences in their population composition, particularly with respect to their occupational–industrial composition (Duncan & Reiss 1950). There are many activities which are common to all cities, such as mechanisms for distributing food to the residents and for constructing various facilities within the settlement. Activities such as these are primarily local in character, in the sense that the persons who benefit directly from their performance are the residents of the city within which they are performed. Furthermore, since they are performed in essentially all cities, they do not tend to differentiate one city from another. Economists have called such activities service activities. On the other hand, there are also many activities which are very common in certain cities and very rare in others. The manufacture of automobiles is concentrated in only four or five American cities, for example. Insurance activities are likewise concentrated in a few cities, as are major book publishers. These activities, which tend to differentiate one city from another, also tend to be primarily regional or national in character, in the sense that the persons who benefit directly from their performance are found throughout a region or nation: that is, the products or services created by these activities are typically “exported” to other settlements (Andrews 1953–1956). While it is very difficult in practice to draw a sharp line between service and export activities, the distinction has proven of considerable value in the comparative study of cities. It underlies essentially all so-called functional classifications of cities. Export or base activities also tend to be crucial in the economic analysis of urban growth. Generally, a city’s growth depends on the extent to which it can furnish products and services to outside populations in an efficient manner.

The relationship between the city size and composition is reflected primarily in the nature of the export or base activities characteristic of different sized cities. There are two major factors which appear largely to determine the extent to which an activity is concentrated in a few cities or widely dispersed through many cities. The first is the rate at which the user needs to be supplied with the good or service. Goods and services that are ordinarily supplied on a daily basis, such as newspapers, are produced in many more cities than are those goods and services which are ordinarily supplied on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis. Thus wholesaling, involving less frequent but larger shipments, is more concentrated than is retailing, which involves more frequent and smaller shipments. Insurance can be centralized partly because the insured make only occasional demands upon the companies involved. The second major factor concerns the size of the population required to generate a demand for the good or service that is sufficient to permit its efficient provision. So-called “economies of scale” vary widely from industry to industry, as does the volume of the demand for a product within a population of a given size. Products and services which can be efficiently provided by small organizations are performed in more cities than are those which require very large organizations. Likewise, products for which a great demand exists even in a small population (side-walks) are produced in more cities than are products for which a relatively small demand exists even in relatively large populations (rockets or helicopters). Very large cities tend to be quite diversified with respect to their base activities. Most large cities serve as regional or national centers for networks of smaller cities, but for some large cities the “regional center” role is less important than are specialized production activities (Otis D. Duncan et al. 1960).

Many social scientists have considered the possibility that a hierarchy of cities (within a region or country) can be established on the basis of considerations such as functional specialization. The concept of hierarchy implies not only differentiation and specialization but also differential control. The hypothesis of metropolitan dominance, for example, is that a large city tends to control the distribution of people and facilities in a large region around it, primarily by centralizing these people and facilities so that gradients exist by distance from the center (Bogue 1949). Economists and geographers have long discussed a hierarchy of cities in respect to the accumulation and distribution of goods—a hierarchy that ranges from the farm market town to the metropolitan center. The large-scale centralization of such diverse activities as government, the new communication media, commercial corporations, and labor unions has given rise to the concept of a “mass society” in which control is exercised from a few very large centers (Vidich & Bensman 1958). In general, the hierarchical hypothesis is that it is possible to rank-order cities in such a way that cities of higher rank tend to determine the composition, growth, and character of available products and services in cities of lower rank. This hypothesis is an interesting and important one with major implications extending far beyond the scope of this article. In a general way, current evidence suggests that it is a reasonable hypothesis. However, there have been few analyses of historical trends in urban structure which are germane to the hypothesis, and thus it is very difficult to determine at the present time whether or not the extent to which a larger city exercises control over smaller cities in its region is increasing or decreasing.

Theodore R. Anderson

[Directly related are the entriesCentral place; Neighborhood; Segregation. Other relevant material may be found inCommunity; Ecology, article OnHuman ecology; Transportation.]


For an excellent and detailed bibliography of contributions in the area of comparative urban structure, see Otis D. Duncan et al. 1960.

Anderson, Theodore R. 1962 Social and Economic Factors Affecting the Location of Residential Neighborhoods. Regional Science Association, Papers and Proceedings 9:161–170.

Andrews, Richard B. 1953–1956 Mechanics of the Urban Economic Base. Land Economics 29:161–167, 263–268, 343–350; 30:52–60, 164–172, 260–269, 309–319; 31:47–53, 144–155, 245–256, 361–372; 32:69–84.

Bogue, Donald J. 1949 The Structure of the Metropolitan Community: A Study of Dominance and Subdominance. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan.

Bogue, Donald J. 1957 Components of Population Change, 1940–1950: Estimates of Net Migration and Natural Increase for Each Standard Metropolitan Area and State Economic Area. Univ. of Chicago, Population Research and Training Center, and Scripps Foundation for Research in Population Problems.

Burgess, Ernest W. (1923) 1925 The Growth of the City: An Introduction to a Research Project. Pages 47–62 in Robert E. Park, Ernest W. Burgess, and Roderick D. McKenzie, The City. Univ. of Chicago Press. → First published in American Sociological Society, Papers, proceedings of the 1923 annual meeting.

Clark, Colin 1951 Urban Population Densities. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A 114:490–496.

Cooley, Charles H. (1894) 1930 The Theory of Transportation. Pages 15–118 in Charles H. Cooley, Sociological Theory and Social Research, Being the Selected Papers of Charles Horton Cooley. With an introduction and notes by Robert Cooley Angell. New York: Holt.

Dickinson, Robert E. (1951)1962 The West European City: A Geographical Interpretation. 2d ed., rev. London: Routledge.

Duncan, Beverly et al. 1962 Patterns of City Growth. American Journal of Sociology 67:418–429.

Duncan, Otis D. 1957 Population Distribution and Community Structure. Volume 22, pages 357–371 in Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology. Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.: Biological Laboratory.

Duncan, Otis D.; and Lieberson, Stanley 1959 Ethnic Segregation and Assimilation. American Journal of Sociology 64:364–374.

Duncan, Otis D.; and Reiss, Albert J. Jr. 1956 Social Characteristics of Urban and Rural Communities, 1950. New York: Wiley.

Duncan, Otis D. et al. 1960 Metropolis and Region. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Firey, Walter I. 1947 Land Use in Central Boston. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Gottmann, Jean (1961)1964 Megalopolis: The Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press.

Harris, Chauncy D.; and Ullman, Edward L. 1945 The Nature of Cities. American Academy of Political and Social Science, Annals 242:7-17.

Hawley, Amos H. 1950 Human Ecology: A Theory of Community Structure. New York: Ronald.

Hawley, Amos H. 1956 The Changing Shape of Metropolitan America: Deconcentration Since 1920. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Hurd, Richard M. (1903) 1924 Principles of City Land Values. 4th ed. New York: Real Estate Record & Guide.

Isard, Walter 1956 Location and Space-economy: A General Theory Relating to Industrial Location, Market Areas, Trade and Urban Structure. New York: Wiley; Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press.

Loesch, August (1940) 1954 The Economics of Location. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. → First published as Die räumliche Ordnung der Wirtschaft.

Mumford, Lewis 1938 The Culture of Cities. New York: Harcourt.

Mumford, Lewis 1961 The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects. New York: Harcourt.

Schmid, Calvin et al. 1958 The Ecology of the American City: Further Comparison and Validation of Generalizations. American Sociological Review 23:392–401.

Schnore, Leo F. 1957 The Growth of Metropolitan Suburbs. American Sociological Review 22:165–173.

Seminar on urbanization in india, berkeley, California, 1960 1962 India’s Urban Future. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Shevky, Eshref; and Bell, Wendell 1955 Social Area Analysis: Theory, Illustrative Application, and Computational Procedures. Stanford (Calif.) Univ. Press.

Sjoberg, Gideon 1960 The Preindustrial City: Past and Present. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Taeuber, Karl E.; and Taeuber, Alma F. 1965 Negroes in Cities: Residential Segregation and Neighbor-hood Change. Chicago: Aldine.

Theodorson, George A. (editor) 1961 Studies in Human Ecology. Evanston, III.: Row, Peterson.

U.S. Federal housing administration 1939 The Structure and Growth of Residential Neighborhoods in American Cities. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Vidich, Arthur J.; and Bensman, Joseph (1958) 1960 Small Town in Mass Society: Class, Power and Religion in a Rural Community. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Weber, Max (1921) 1958 The City. Glencoe, IIg.: Free Press. → First published as Die Stadt.


views updated May 23 2018


In biblical Hebrew, as in other Semitic languages, a single word, ʿir (עִיר, rendered in this article as "city"), is used usually to designate any permanent settlement. In itself it gives no indication of the size of the settlement, or of the number of its inhabitants, etc., and it may even be applied to what would today be called a village or hamlet. In the poetical style of the Bible various synonyms are employed: qiryah (קִרְיָה; Deut. 2:36; 3:4; Isa. 1:26; 22:2; Lam. 2:11; et al.), qeret (קֶרֶת; Prov. 8:3; Job 29:7); the Moabite term qir (קר), which occurs as a common noun in the *Mesha Stele, is used in the Bible only as a Moabite place name or an element in such a name. Another term, occurring mainly (in the plural) in Deuteronomy and in other passages belonging to the same literary stratum, is shaʿar (שַׁעַר; "gate"), used either as a parallel to ʿir or in its stead (Isa. 14:31; et al.). The etymology of the word ʿir is uncertain, the explanations so far offered being unsatisfactory. The point at which a settlement becomes a "city" is disputed by modern students of urban culture. Nevertheless, there is a large measure of general agreement that in antiquity, including the ancient Near East, a "city" was a settled community with a socially stratified population following a variety of trades and professions, and capable of producing surpluses of food for those of its members who were not engaged in agriculture. In addition, cities possessed physical aspects reflecting the administrative, military, and religious activities of its inhabitants, as well as various manifestations of communal planning (i.e., fortifications and gates; temples, zoning of neighborhoods, etc.).

The distinction between a settlement in the pre-urban stage and a city is based on criteria about which, too, there is no complete agreement. This is only to be expected, since the growth of a city out of a pre-urban settlement (or independently of it) is the result of extremely complex economic, social, and technical developments. However, it is generally assumed that the first sign of an urban settlement is the appearance of communal building projects (first of all a temple, followed by a palace, then fortifications and the like), which for their execution require an organized labor force, directed and controlled by a ruling class in accordance with its own needs and those of the whole community. Some authorities would add other distinguishing features, such as commercial activity – the market. Since, for mainly technical reasons, no complete city, with all its historical levels intact, has been uncovered by excavation anywhere in the Fertile Crescent, full data concerning the stages of ancient urban development are lacking. It is certain, however, that the process of urbanization began in Mesopotamia at about the end of the fifth or the beginning of the fourth millennium b.c.e. The first settlement that displayed distinctive urban features (the existence of a temple) was the city of Uruk. The creators of this urban culture were most probably the Sumerians, who lived in southern Mesopotamia.

In Syria and Palestine cities came into being in the third millennium b.c.e., at the same time as a similar process of urbanization in Asia Minor. On various sites, excavations have laid bare city walls (Jericho, Ai, Megiddo, Yarmuth, and elsewhere), palaces (Ai), and religious structures (Jericho, Megiddo). Although massive city walls were found at Jericho and dated to as early as the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, there is some uncertainty whether these represent fortifications or walls designed to prevent flooding. What is certain is that by the beginning of the third millennium settlements with distinctively urban characteristics became increasingly numerous in Syria and Palestine at the junctions of highways, on the plains, in places easy to defend, and close to natural water supplies. In the first half of the second millennium the process of urbanization was accelerated, both politically and materially, by the historical upheavals of the time. This is clear both from the finds on the main archaeological sites in Palestine (Shechem, Megiddo, Gezer, Lachish, and others), and from Egyptian epigraphic sources which list tens of important cities in the region. All these were large, fortified by methods which had been previously unknown. It seems likely that the development and fortification of these cities were the work of various ethnic elements, Semitic and non-Semitic alike.

In the course of the second millennium, there gradually emerged all over Syria and Palestine a type of city known to scholars as the "city-state" or "city-kingdom," which continued in existence, with certain structural modifications and on a reduced scale, in the first millennium b.c.e. This type of city is not to be confused with the classical city-state, the Greek polis, which was quite different in origin, development, and character. The written records discovered at *Alalakh, *Ugarit, and *El-Amarna, covering most of the second half of the second millennium b.c.e., reveal several typical features which characterized the city-kingdoms throughout that period: (1) the territorial, political, and organizational dependence of the outlying settlements on the mother city; (2) relatively restricted territory; (3) monarchic-dynastic or oligarchic rule; (4) a privileged and economically powerful social elite, at first having a military character and later a much more plutocratic, mercantile one; (5) a rigid social and professional hierarchy; and (6) specific rights and obligations of the various classes.

It was "cities" of this type that the Patriarchs were said to have come upon in their wanderings. Later, it was these same cities that were apparently stormed by the Israelite tribes struggling to occupy Canaan. The Bible does not describe these cities at any length, the references being for the most part incidental and fragmentary, either because the writers had no proper information about the Canaanite city or because they wanted to adapt their descriptions of these cities to the known Israelite urban reality. The Canaanite cities appear to have made a profound impression on the Israelites, who described them as "fortified and very large" (Num. 13:28), or as "large with walls sky-high" (Deut. 1:28). Embedded here and there in the Bible is a description of a Palestinian city. The account of the purchase of the cave of Machpelah (Gen. 23) contains interesting details about the ethnic makeup of the Hebronites and their political regime, and there are similar details about Shechem in the story of Dinah daughter of Jacob (Gen. 34). Mention of a Canaanite city is also found in the description of Jericho at the time of Joshua's capture of it (Josh. 2–6). Authentic particulars of oligarchic political structure appear to be preserved in what is related about Succoth and Penuel in Gideon's day (Judg. 8), and especially in the story about Abimelech in Shechem, which contains a relatively detailed description of the city's institutions and even of its main buildings – the house of Baal-Berith, the city tower, the Beth-Millo, and the like (Judg. 9). Traces of a special federal alliance of cities, led by elders, are found in connection with the cities of the Gibeonites, who are described in the Book of Joshua as being of Hivite (Hurrite) stock.

A careful study of archaeological data, in conjunction with the relevant biblical passages, shows that, with the appearance of the Israelites in Canaan, the city-kingdom ceased to exist in the areas populated by Israelites, i.e., in the central highlands regions, apart from a few Canaanite enclaves. In fact, urbanism developed amongst the Israelites only from the 10th century b.c.e. It is also evident that the original Israelite settlements differed from the Canaanite cities in their political structure and in having larger territorial units attached to them. In the period when the tribes were struggling to occupy the territories allotted to them, the city was a part of the tribal organization and, as such, probably subject to the authority of the tribal leaders. At a later stage, with the establishment of the monarchy in Israel, the city was also brought into close relations with the central power and its administration. When the tribal divisions lost their political significance, only the ties with the central, national monarchy remained.

The political power in the city was at first wielded by the heads of the clans and of the whole tribe. There are even signs of an urban autonomy shortly before the establishment of the monarchy, as can be deduced from the account of the negotiations between the elders of Jabesh-Gilead and Nahash the Ammonite (i Sam. 11). After the foundation of the monarchy, the power and influence of the tribal representatives in the city government declined while that of the royal functionaries increased. Nevertheless, it would seem that the participation of the *elders in city government continued well into the period of the monarchy, though there are grounds for thinking that the elders among the leaders of the urban settlements were now chosen on the basis of their economic power and not on account of their family and tribal descent. This would mean that the growth of an independent urban population within the tribal framework went hand in hand with the consolidation of the monarchy. However, the degree of independence allowed to the Israelite city by the monarchy was limited by comparison with that enjoyed by the urban institutions of the Canaanite cities.

In the period of the monarchy no really significant changes occurred in the political relations between the city and the central power. On the other hand there was a marked development of the functional and economic specialization of various cities (see below). From the archaeological evidence, it would seem that the monarchy also paid special attention to raising the material standard of the city-dwellers, providing the necessary means for that purpose.

It is characteristic that the importance of the city finds no expression in the Bible, perhaps because of the stress placed on the tribal element in the Israelite nation. As already remarked, such descriptions of cities and urban institutions as are found in the Bible relate to non-Israelite cities. On the other hand, the biblical tradition does recognize the antiquity of the city, although, in contrast to the Mesopotamian traditions, it does not regard it as contemporary with the Creation: the establishment of the first city in the world by *Enoch son of Cain (Gen. 4:17) is represented as following on the quarrel between two brothers, the one a settled agriculturalist and the other a nomad herdsman. As for the Israelite cities, what is emphasized in the accounts of the conquest are their close ties with the tribal portions. This emphasis is to be found in the symbolically schematic genealogical lists of the tribes preserved in the first chapters of i Chronicles, which reflect processes of settlement and tribal movements. In these lists the urban settlements are recorded as part of the tribal structure, as sons of the eponymous tribal ancestor or of one of his descendants, side by side with clans and families: "The sons of Caleb brother of Jerahmeel: Mesha his firstborn, who was the father of Ziph; and the sons of Mareshah, the father of Hebron" (i Chron. 2:42; cf. 2:45, 51; 4:17–19; et al.). Summary descriptions of this kind may relate, at least in part, to organized settlement by clans in a city founded or rebuilt by them: "And the families of Kiriath-Jearim: the Ithrites, the Puthites, the Shumathites, and the Mishraites; from these came the Zorathites and the Eshtaolites" (i Chron. 2:53). By the same system, secondary settlements could be registered as the "sons" of principal cities: "The sons of Hebron: Korah, Tappuah, Rekem, and Shema" (i Chron. 2:43).

The close ties linking the small settlements to their nearby economic, administrative, and military center find expression in the Bible in a series of concepts which are also partly based on the tribal terminology. The above relationship is particularly evident in expressions such as "a city and its daughters" (i.e., villages: Judg. 1:27; i Chron. 2:23), "Heshbon, and all its cities" (Josh. 13:17), or "the towns of Hebron" (ii Sam. 2:3). It also explains the figurative expression reserved for the great city: "a city which is a mother in Israel" (ii Sam. 20:19). Another compound expression which likewise points to the close connection between a city and its environs is: "cities and their ḥaẓerim" (Josh. 15:57; et al.) A ḥaẓer was a group of houses or a temporary settlement close to a city, as is clear particularly from the verse "houses of the ḥaẓerim that have no encircling walls" (Lev. 25:31; cf. "and the field of the city and its ḥaẓerim" (Josh. 21:12)). Apparently, then, the "city" comprised not only the built-up area but also the cultivated fields and the pastureland in the vicinity. The line demarcating this whole urban district was called "the territory of the city" (Judg. 1:18; cf. "…as far as Gaza and its territory" ii Kings 18:8), while the district itself was referred to as the "pastureland" (Heb. migrash); "…Pastureland around their towns" (Num. 35:2, 5; cf. "and pasturelands… for the cattle…" (Num. 35:3), "unenclosed land" (Lev. 25:34; ii Chron. 31:19), or "the fields of the city" (Josh. 21:12; et al.)). As Gloria London has demonstrated (1992), during the Bronze and Iron Ages in Palestine more than 50 percent of the population were agriculturalists living in the countryside (in hamlets and/or villages). Some of those living in the small cities or towns dealt with the administrative needs of the ruler or members of the ruling class (e.g., as a scribe), or with the religious leaders (e.g., as a priest), or with the military (e.g., as a soldier). However, the masses living in the cities were employed in the sale and production of commodities.

Ecological and geo-political conditions, together with political and economic causes, resulted in the emergence throughout the Fertile Crescent of settlements of various types, differing from each other both in function and in outward appearance. In the Bible these various types of settlement appear in contexts relating to the period of the Israelite monarchy – a clear indication of the manifold activity of the Israelite kings in the economic, administrative, and military spheres, and one that is to some extent confirmed by the excavations of sites in Palestine. At the same time, it goes without saying that a city might be classified as belonging to more than one settlement type. The most fundamental and striking way of differentiating between the types of city is on the basis of the external distinction between a walled and an un-walled settlement. The original city was an administrative center and usually a military stronghold, whereas the later city was of only secondary importance. In the Bible "camps" are contrasted with "strongholds" (Num. 13:19), "fortified cities" with "unwalled villages" (i Sam. 6:18). Other expressions are "a town that has gates and bars" (i Sam. 23:7), "open towns" (Esth. 9:19), and "a city to live in" (Ps. 107:36). However, the presence or absence of a wall can only be a secondary differentiating feature of the types of city. Attention should therefore be paid to several terms which provide a clear function definition. Examples include the "store city," in which royal stocks of supplies and equipment were presumably kept (i Kings 9:19; ii Chron. 8:6; 11:11–12; 17:12; et al.); the "city for chariots," a center for the chariot corps with the necessary installations and stables (as exemplified by Megiddo where excavation has uncovered chariot-horse stables from the reign of Ahab, king of Israel) and the "city for horsemen," which may also have contained installations and stables (i Kings 9:19; 10:26; ii Chron. 8:6).

Some of the cities known from the Bible had specific functions and a special character. Such were the 48 levitical cities (Num. 35:1–8; Josh. 21; i Chron. 6:36ff.) which were traditionally set apart, usually four from every tribe, for the exclusive residence of the levites. Some scholars regard the lists of levitical cities as a utopian ideal; but a more likely explanation is that they were ritual and administrative centers in which the levites were settled as part of their integration into the state apparatus in the reign of David. In some passages six "*cities of refuge" are included among the levitical cities (Num. 35:6ff.; Deut. 4:41–43; 19:1–13; Josh. 20; 21:13ff.). The exact nature of these asylum cities is not clear. Still equally unclear is the connection between these and the levite cities. Another expression of this kind may be the term "royal city" as a synonymous name for the capital city (ii Sam. 12:26), unless it is supposed that this refers to a part of a city. The Bible does not mention all types of city, as for example "guild" cities whose inhabitants were all trained members of some craft (cf. the "city of merchants" Ezek. 17:4), and perhaps even the "city of priests" (i Sam. 22:19).

The structure, extent, population, and layout of the ancient city in Syria and Palestine at various periods are questions to which no complete answer is provided by the written sources or by excavations of the sites in the region. Obviously, there must have been considerable differences between the various cities, resulting from the topographical character of the site, from the city's function, etc., and no less from the fact that sometimes cities were built at the will of kings and did not come into being through a gradual historical process. On the basis of measurements and calculations that have been made, it can be asserted that in general the ancient cities occupied a restricted area. Even partial excavations are sufficient to show that a city covering an area of about 20 acres was considered large and comprised more than 3,000 inhabitants. Cities of medium size had from several hundred to a thousand fewer inhabitants. A few, mainly capital, cities, including Jerusalem and Samaria, had populations of as many as 10,000 or 20,000. Where the city was walled, it seems that one section of the population lived outside the walls and another inside. Many cities in Mesopotamia and Syria, and apparently in Palestine too, were divided into sectors, four of these being a common urban structure. Sometimes the inhabitants of the various quarters achieved a certain degree of administrative independence. The character of a particular quarter seems also in most instances to have been determined by the professional composition and class structure of its inhabitants.

Towering above the city, at its most easily defensible point, rose the inner fortified area, the acropolis, which was the center of government and the main military stronghold. The acropolis consisted of a complex of government buildings, including the palace of the ruler or king, the temple, the offices of the senior government officials, storehouses, and the like. This part was called the "tower" (Heb. migdal) or the "citadel" (Heb. ʾofel). Spread out around it were the quarters in which the inhabitants lived, with narrow streets winding between them. There were also a few open spaces (reḥovot in the terminology of the Bible), usually situated close to the inner side of the city gates and known as "the square at the city gate," which served as places for the inhabitants to gather and for public assemblies (Neh. 8:1; ii Chron. 32:6). The city gate itself was a meeting place for the elders and ministers, and also the place where lawsuits were heard and legal sentences executed (Deut. 21:19; 22:24; Ruth 4:1ff. et al.). Apparently it was also a center for commercial transactions (Neh. 3:1, 28; 12:39). The business of the city seems to have been conducted in markets (Song 3:2), most probably squares that were open during the day and could be locked at night (Eccles. 12:4). A parallel term to "market" is ḥuẓ ("outside," "street"), which was used specifically for international commercial transactions or as bazaar (i Kings 20:34), but is also commonly found in connection with local trade (cf. "bakers' street," Jer.37:21).


G. Buccellati, Cities and Nations of Ancient Syria (1967); McKenzie, in: ab, 10 (1959), 388–406; M. Weber, Ancient Judaism (1952); de Vaux, Anc Isr; C.H. Kraeling and R.M. Adams (eds.), City Invincible, A Symposium on Urbanization and Cultural Development in the Ancient Near East… (1960); A.L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia (1964); B. Mazar, in: vt Supplement, 7 (1959), 193–205; W. Helck, Die Beziehungen Aegyptens… (1962); J. Pedersen, Israel, its Life and Culture, 1–2 (1926); E. Neufeld, in: huca, 31 (1960), 31–53; Malamat, in: jaos, 82 (1962), 143–50; Aharoni, Land, 94ff. add. bibliography: E. Jones, Towns and Cities (1966); P. Lampl, Cities and Planning in the Ancient Near East (1968); F.S. Frick, The City in Ancient Israel (1977); A. Kempinski, The Rise of an Urban Culture: The Urbanization of Palestine in the Early Bronze Age (1978); Y. Shiloh, "Elements in the Development of Town Planning in the Israelite City," in: Israel Exploration Journal, 28 (1978), 36–51; G. London, "Tells: City Centre or Home?" in: Eretz-Israel, 23 (1992), *71–*79; A. Kempinski and R. Reich (eds.), The Architecture of Ancient Israel: From the Prehistoric to the Persian Periods (1992).

[Hanoch Reviv /

Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]


views updated Jun 08 2018

cit·y / ˈsitē/ • n. (pl. cit·ies) 1. a large town: [as adj.] the city center. ∎  an incorporated municipal center.2. inf. a place or situation characterized by a specified attribute: panic city. 3. (the City) the financial and commercial district of London, England.DERIVATIVES: cit·y·ward / -wərd/ adj. & adv.cit·y·wards / -wərdz/ adv.cit·y·wide / -ˌwīd/ adj.ORIGIN: Middle English: from Old French cite, from Latin civitas, from civis ‘citizen.’ Originally denoting a town, and often used as a Latin equivalent to Old English burh ‘borough,’ the term was later applied to foreign and ancient cities and to the more important English boroughs.

City Directories

views updated May 23 2018


CITY DIRECTORIES are books introduced in the eighteenth century compiling information on a city's vital statistics, advertising, and residential information. Philadelphia had the first of these directories in 1785 entitled Macpherson's Directory for the City and Suburbs of Philadelphia, which created a numbering system to identify all dwellings and properties in the city. Other cities followed, including New York City in 1786, Detroit in 1837, and Chicago in 1844. Published most often through private businesses or cooperatives, the directories helped city officials create a standard system of property identification that did not change until the early twentieth century, when cities created independent systems. Directories paid their expenses by selling advertising space, indicating their orientation towards other businessmen and not necessarily the public at-large. Generally these books were divided into business listings, a register of names in alphabetical order, and then residential information by street address. As the twentieth century progressed, directories began to gather increasingly detailed information about their advertisers and organized that data into specific categories. Instead of simply providing advertising space, directory publishers expanded into providing marketing and consumer data to businesses. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the expense of bound volumes led publishers to utilize computers to develop marketing information for particular clients. These companies also moved quickly to take advantage of technological advancements, such as CD-ROMs instead of bound books, and the Internet's ability to provide tailored access and information to clients. Major directory companies today such as Experian, Equifax, infoUSA, and Acxiom deal with information related to direct marketing, telemarketing, sales planning, customer analysis, and credit reference.


Glaab, Charles N., and Theodore Brown. A History of Urban America. New York: Macmillan, 1983.

Matthew L.Daley


views updated Jun 08 2018

city Cities of the Plain Sodom and Gomorrah; the original reference is to Genesis 13:12.
City of God Paradise, perceived as an ideal community in Heaven; the Christian Church. The phrase is a translation of Latin Civitas Dei, by St Augustine.
City of London the part of London situated within the ancient boundaries and governed by the Lord Mayor and the Corporation; the financial and commercial institutions located there are known as the City.


views updated Jun 27 2018

city †town XIII; town of ecclesiastical or political importance XIV. ME. cite — (O)F. cité :- L. cīvitās -āt- state, city, f. cīvis citizen (see CIVIC).

About this article


All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About content Print Topic