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Read the chapter and write reflection of 1000 words. Include examples and your point of view.
Unit 8 Notes: Geographies of Urbanization
Introduction to Urbanization
This week and next we shift gears to focus on cities and processes of urbanization. This week covers a historical overview of urbanization (why, when, where it has happened) and some of the different forms urbanization has taken across the globe. Next week we will look more closely at the relationship between the shape of cities, and how people live in cities. As a starting point for this week, we will define what we mean by urbanization to gain a foothold into the different ways cities have developed all over the world. In the reading this week (Robinson et al., 2016), we will see that the Industrial Revolution changed processes of urbanization in a fundamental way in the 19th century. Prior to this, cities and towns developed for different reasons and looked much different from each other. North American suburbs are themselves a rather distinctive urban form borne out of a number of instigating historical moments and contexts. Robinson et al. (2016) also discuss urbanization through different phases of ‘globalizations’, which can be understood as spatial and historical processes that have particular implications for cities. The growth and large financial headquarter cities and well as mega-cities of the global south can be understood within the framework of ‘globalizations’. Moving more towards a discussion of the future city, the online video this week (Neuwirth, 2005) challenges us to re-think what is often meant by urban and urbanization.
What is a city?
This question can be answered in many ways. In spatial terms, geographers often talk about an urban scale, which in Canada is somewhere between a region (or Province) and a neighbourhood. In population terms, cities are often defined (for example by national censuses) in terms of minimum populations and densities. Cities also have administrative descriptions, defined by official boundaries. For example, the City of Toronto is a municipal corporation within the Greater Toronto Region or GTA. The City of Toronto is the official name for this municipality but the GTA is not actually official. There is no GTA government or administrative body. Yet we usually think of the entire GTA as mostly urban, not only the City of Toronto. And some municipalities in the GTA, such as the City of Pickering, are largely rural. Is the City of Pickering (the official municipal entity) a city?
Robinson et al. (2016) offer a number of ways to define cities and towns, and their historical antecedents: cultural, social, and political hubs; economic centres; sacred centres; government centres; and so on. What gives cities their unique qualities is certainly difficult to pin down. However, what Robinson et al. (2016) suggest is that these qualities seem to stem from the complexity of urban life and diversity of urban inhabitants; the intensification of human interactions; the development of specialized services and functions; and a high concentration and accessibility of important institutions. In other words, cities are dense, intense, and diverse. The process of urbanization , therefore, needs to be understood not simply as expansion of urban areas and populations, or as an increased proportion of people living in cities, but also a series of changes that have social and cultural dimensions.
Urbanization as a Historical Process
The earliest precursors to urban settlements can traced back to the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture-based mini-systems around 10,000 BCE. The first well-developed cities can be traced to the agricultural revolution from approximately 3500 BCE in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia, and in Egypt around 3100 BCE, although as Robinson et al. (2016) note, much earlier evidence of city-like settlements can be found in many different places, including Turkey, Japan, West Africa, and South America. Geographers often cite the need for an agricultural surplus as a prerequisite for permanent settlements, such as villages and towns. Prior to this, social groupings took on a variety of forms, including stone-age hunting and gathering societies, which tended to be small and quite mobile. Many important early towns and cities were strongly fortified city-states with well-developed systems of political, economic, and religious structures. For example, Jericho, in the Jordan valley, is a city that dates from perhaps 10,000 years ago, and was likely built and rebuilt a number of times on the same site (Kenyon, 1954). Recalling last week’s subject, some of these early cities developed in conjunction with the growth of world empires, the best known of which are Egypt, Greece, China, Rome, and Byzantium (the Eastern Roman Empire centred on the ‘second Rome’, Constantinople, now Istanbul). Some scholars (e.g., Weber, 1921) have analyzed the politico-administrative functions of early cities, arguing that urbanization required an elite group able to control labour power and impose taxation through military or religious coercion, and to finance the large monuments, palaces, and other status symbols that became the core of ancient cities. So to sum up so far, the development of towns and cities were revolutionary in that they were permanent settlements of relatively large numbers of people. They were enabled by revolutions in agricultural technology and practices that produced a food surplus. They also seemed to require a strong ruling group to govern people and resources and to finance city building.
Cities associated with world empires spread throughout Europe and Asia by 1000 CE, although the decline of these empires was paralleled by declines of many cities and towns. Medieval Europe became feudal and local, and feudal kingdoms were centred on rural estates and castles rather than cities or towns, although small towns remained important as religious, education, military, transportation, and administrative centres. With the development of mercantilism from the 15th to 18th centuries, towns again emerged as important trading and shipping centres. Mercantilism (or merchant capitalism) further revolutionized the global economy and global urbanization, especially through colonialism and the establishment of colonial port towns in India, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, and many other places, and networks of other cities specializing in transport and trade. As merchant capitalism shifted to industrial capitalism in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, patterns of urbanization changed once again, with cities and towns, such as Manchester, England, becoming important industrial centres of manufacturing, and a whole network of other towns and cities, such as Chicago, became important centres of commerce and trade.
As we discussed in Unit Six, technological innovations in manufacturing and the labour process, coupled with a national-scale social welfare system of governing based on monetarism produced a particular urban form in North America, at least in industrial cities. As we will further learn next week, this form has been described by Chicago School urban sociologists (and further updated by Homer Hoyt) using an ecological model of land use with concentric zones emanating from a central business district, or CBD (Hall and Barrett, 2011). Although this pattern of urban land use is rather stereotyped and not necessarily accurate across a range of cities, it seems to describe with some consistency the pattern of industrial towns in the United States. Another important pattern of land use in North American cities, especially after WWII, was the corporate suburb, a new modernist model of residential development where corporate land developers built entirely new residential satellite communities with well-defined and separate land uses (Harris, 2004). The suburban pattern that emerged required private automobiles and a complex highway system. It also required massive government intervention for the financing and insurance of new homes. The details of these interventions will be elaborated in the next unit, but suffice it to say, post WWII government programs to stimulate home ownership, coupled with an increase in automobile ownership resulted in an entirely new urban pattern in North American cities. And as we learned in Unit Six, the economic crisis in the early 1970s for the most part dismantled the ‘golden era’ of Keynesian economics, and globalization of the economy with its international division of labour has had a severe impact on North American industrial cities such as Detroit. De-industrialization , as well as a shift to a knowledge economy has in part begun to change the way North American cities are being built. The discussion question this week asks you to contextualize what is happening in your own city or region with these broader patterns of urbanization and globalization.
Urbanization in Urban Studies
Urban studies has been dominated by the study of relatively few cites in the West, which has led to a rather narrow view of cities and how they function. The readings and video this week are intended to challenge you to think differently about cities while at the same time reflect on your own experiences. The text provides a useful overview of the history of cities, and includes in its discussion a close examination of the rapid rates of urbanization in different African countries, Mexico, Brazil, and India. In some of these examples, urbanization is a direct effect of people moving to cities from the countryside, reminiscent of 19th century urbanization and industrialization. The journal article series focuses exclusively on North American cities, and the dominant suburban pattern that has come to dominate post WWII North American cities. The very existence of a fairly consistent pattern is itself interesting to geographers, although critical scholars also pay close attention to how these cities are different and how recent changes are breaking with what have been dominant forms of urbanization and suburbanization. A growing body of research in urban geography is questioning the western focus in urban studies (and also its focus on large cities), insisting that we must look to a “world of cities” in order to better understand urbanization more broadly (Edensor & Jayne, 2011).

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