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Urban structure

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Urban structure is the arrangement of land use in urban areas, in other words, how the land use of a city is set out.[1] Urban planners, economists, and geographers have developed several models that explain where different types of people and businesses tend to exist within the urban setting. Urban structure can also refer to urban spatial structure, which concerns the arrangement of public and private space in cities and the degree of connectivity and accessibility.

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This is Wendover Productions. Sponsored by the Great Courses Plus. Here’s an interesting question: which city do you think is more dense—Paris, France or New York, United States? It probably seems obvious: New York, the land of skyscrapers, the Big Apple… right? Wrong. New York, in fact, has a population density of less than half that of Paris. Paris’s is 56,000 people per square mile (22,000 per square kilometer) while New York’s is only 27,000 people per square mile (10,500 per square kilometer.) To find a European city with a comparable population density to New York’s—the densest American city—you have to go all the way down to number six on the list: Lyon France (27,000 per sq/mile; 10,500 per sq/km.) New York of course has a super-dense urban core, but then around it is miles and miles of suburbia—just like almost every other American city. Paris, on the other hand, packs almost its entire population into a compact urban core. There’s also another interesting pattern that differs between the two continents: rich Americans live outside the city, rich Europeans live city center. Compare the income map of Paris to that of Philadelphia. Of course it’s not perfect, but you can definitely see a pattern. The most commonly cited reason for both these trends is the difference in age. Most European cities have existed for hundreds if not thousands of years, while all but a few American cities only gathered enough population to be called cities in the past one or two hundred years. What that means is that European cities existed when all but the super-rich had to commute to work by foot. In the middle ages, Paris had a population of two to three hundred thousand people, but you could walk from one side to the other in thirty minutes. It was incredibly densely populated. You just had to live within walking distance of work. Therefore, the rich paid more for the houses closest to the center of the city. This is a similar reason to why in historic European hotels, you’ll often see the nicest and largest rooms on the lower floors—the opposite of what you’d see today. Before elevators existed, the rich didn’t want to have to walk up as many flights of stairs. Walking distance was not only important to big cities. Small villages across Europe were almost always the same size because their population was dictated by the walkability of the surrounding fields. European farmers tended to live in small towns and walk to their fields during the day rather than the homesteading approach used in America. Therefore, villages would only be as large as the amount of people needed to work the fields within walking distance. American cities, on the other hand, began their period of rapid growth in a more modern era when decentralizing technologies were much more advanced. By the time North American cities grew larger than the distance people could reasonably walk, there was already the technological capability to create public transportation systems. The first major public transportation innovation was the steam train in the mid 19th century. This was a very expensive means of transport and was therefore only for the super rich. Interestingly, because steam trains take an enormous amount of time to reach speed, the towns that the rich commuted from, known as railroad suburbs, were generally not just at the nearest bit of countryside, but separated from the city by a few miles of countryside. The impact of railroad suburbs remains today. On the track of the old Philadelphia Main Line, there’s a stretch of super-rich communities with huge estates and country clubs from Ardmore to Malvern. The demographics just never changed from the time of the railroad suburb. A few decades later, streetcars emerged and quickly became an instrumental part of the American commute. Much like steam trains, streetcars also created new communities—this time with slightly less rich upper-middle class individuals. In Washington DC, the wealthy suburbs of Tenleytown, Chevy Chase, Bethesda, McLean, Rockville, and more all grew as a result of the streetcar. But once again, walking distance influenced geography. Streetcar commuters had to live within walking distance of a stop, so naturally there would be a radius of civilization about 20 or 30 minutes walking distance from a stop, then past that…nothing. That meant that between the lines, there was all this open space where nobody could commute from. Enter: the automobile. At first the car was only for upper class individuals especially with the distraction of the two World Wars and Great Depression, however, by the time young Americans returned from World War Two, there had been enough technological advances to make the automobile affordable for the middle class. Over 50% of households had cars by 1950. At the same time, the government was offering loans to returning veterans which significantly increased the number of americans who could afford to buy homes. Instead of buying a small central city home, this generation opted to use their new cars to commute from cheaper, nicer, and larger suburban homes. The idea was that the working parents would go downtown each day while the rest of the family would stay to enjoy the suburb. It was the perfect deal. So that whole history was absolutely true, but it doesn’t entirely explain why European cities didn't experience suburbanization as well. In Germany, for example, many, if not most, cities were bombed to rubble during World War Two. They had the opportunity to rebuild in any way they wanted, but then chose to keep their compact design. Today, the average metropolitan population density in Germany is four times higher than the US’s. At the same time, other cities across Europe that survived the war experienced enormous population influxes and still maintained their mammoth population densities. Perhaps the least commonly cited reason for suburbanization in the US is crime. It’s a bit of an ugly period in American history that we sometimes forget, but crime levels were absolutely insane in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. There are a ton of different theories for why this was—perhaps the most interesting being the that the rise in gasoline emitted lead caused lower IQ’s and higher aggressively. New York had an astronomical 2,245 murders in 1990. London didn’t even have that many in the entire 90’s decade. Violent crime rates are still consistently 10 or more times higher in the US. In 1992, a poll was conducted asking departing New Yorkers why they were moving to the suburbs, and the most commonly cited reason was crime at 47%. Cost and quality of living were way down at lower than 10% each. Crime rates are significantly lower in suburbs as they are typically havens for higher-income individuals. Europeans don’t have to worry as much about inter-city crime so they’re much more willing to live downtown. Land for suburban housing is also readily available in the US because farmers have always been quick to sell their relatively unprofitable land to developers. By contrast, In France, for example, agricultural subsidies are 12 times higher per acre of land than the US. That’s a big reason why large European cities are still closely surrounded by small farms. In many European cities, you can literally take the city bus to farms. Lastly, all sorts of energy are cheaper in the US. A gallon of gas costs as much as $7 in some parts of Europe compared to the US average of $2.20. It’s significantly more expensive to commute by car in Europe so there’s more motivation to live closer to work where either the drive is shorter or you can take public transportation. Also, big suburban homes aren’t as attractive in Europe because electricity and heating costs are higher. Suburban life really didn’t live up to expectations. Americans now spend an average of 4.25 hours per week sitting in cars, buses, or trains traveling to and from work. That’s 2.5% of their entire lives. It’s also been scientifically proven that commuting from the suburbs is linked to higher blood pressure, lower frustration tolerance, and higher rates of anxiety. Also, the suburbs are no longer the countryside havens that they once were. They’re just a continuation of the urban sprawl. Rich Americans are therefore beginning to return to the city. With lower crime rates, higher fuel costs, and an overall shift in attitude, urban cores are having a second renaissance. So that’s why we live where we do. It’s a complicated, controversial, and surprisingly political history. I hope you enjoyed this Wendover Production video. I first need to thank my amazing sponsor—the Great Courses Plus. The Great Courses Plus is a subscription on-demand video learning service where you can watch unlimited top-notch courses from Ivy League Professors, National Geographic Scientists, Culinary Institute of America Chefs, and hundreds more highly qualified individuals. If you enjoyed this video, I highly recommend the course on Cultural and Human Geography. It’s a super-interesting topic, and this course absolutely does it justice. You can watch this or any other of the hundreds of courses for free when you sign up for a 30-day free trial using the link or the link is also in the description. I also recently started a Patreon which you can go to by clicking here. There are a bunch of great rewards like early access to videos, stickers, t-shirts, and best of all, every dollar contributed over there goes right back into the channel. Aside from that, please follow me on Twitter @WendoverPro, watch my last video on the story behind the 787 and a380 planes, check out my fan-moderated subreddit at, and most of all, subscribe to this channel. Thanks again for watching, and I’ll see you in two weeks for another Wendover Productions video.


Zonal model

This model was the first to explain distribution of social groups within urban areas. Based on one single city, Chicago, it was created by sociologist Ernest Burgess[2] in 1924. According to this model, a city grows outward from a central point in a series of rings. The innermost ring represents the central business district. It is surrounded by a second ring, the zone of transition, which contains industry and poorer-quality housing. The third ring contains housing for the working-class and is called the zone of independent workers' homes. The fourth ring has newer and larger houses usually occupied by the middle-class. This ring is called the zone of better residences. The outermost ring is called the commuter's zone. This zone represents people who choose to live in residential suburbs and take a daily commute into the CBD to work.

Sectoral model

A second theory of urban structure was proposed in 1939 by an economist named Homer Hoyt.[3] His model, the sector model, proposed that a city develops in sectors instead of rings. Certain areas of a city are more attractive for various activities, whether by chance or geographic and environmental reasons. As the city grows and these activities flourish and expand outward, they do so in a wedge and become a sector of the city. If a district is set up for high income housing, for example, any new development in that district will expand from the outer edge.

To some degree this theory is just a refinement on the concentric model rather than a radical restatement. Both Hoyt and Burgess claimed Chicago supported their model. Burgess claimed that Chicago's central business district was surrounded by a series of rings, broken only by Lake Michigan. Hoyt argued that the best housing developed north from the central business district along Lake Michigan, while industry located along major rail lines and roads to the south, southwest, and northwest.

Calgary, Alberta almost perfectly fits Hoyt's sector model.

Multiple nuclei model

Geographers Chauncy Harris and Edward Ullman developed the multiple nuclei model in 1945.[4] According to this model, a city contains more than one center around which activities revolve. Some activities are attracted to particular nodes while others try to avoid them. For example, a university node may attract well-educated residents, pizzerias, and bookstores, whereas an airport may attract hotels and warehouses. Other businesses may also form clusters, sometimes known locally as Iron Triangles for automobile repair or red light districts for prostitution, or arts districts. Incompatible activities will avoid clustering in the same area, explaining why heavy industry and high-income housing rarely exist in the same neighbourhood.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Burgess E.W. (1924)"The growth of the city: an introduction to a research project" Publications of the American Sociological Society, 18:85-97
  3. ^ Hoyt H (1939): "The structure and growth of residential neighborhoods in American cities" Washington DC; Federal Housing Administration
  4. ^ Harris C D and Ullman E L (1945), "The nature of cities" Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 242: 7-17
This page was last edited on 17 August 2018, at 10:59
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