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Urban Geography

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In 1950, 30% of people lived in cities. Today, almost 60% of the world lives in cities. This is a considerable jump and is indicative of major changes in the way people want to live, work, and interact. It may sound complicated, but urban geography provides tools to understand the relationships between people and cities, including the challenges that can arise and possible solutions to overcome them. Let's explore why the study of cities is important and the different methods of understanding them.

Introduction to Urban Geography

Urban geography is the study of the development of cities and towns and the people in them. In other words, why cities were built, how they are connected, and how they have changed and will continue to change. The urban spaces we live in require coordination, study, and input from dozens of entities and possibly hundreds of residents. Why? As places experience urbanization, cities must plan and project how people will live and transport themselves, taking in information and help from many sources. Therefore, people's urban life and relationship with the built environment are essential to understand. A relationship between people and the built environment may sound strange, but all of us interact with the space we live in. If you've ever walked down a street or taken a left turn in your car, believe it or not, you've interacted with the built environment!

A city is a collection of people, services, and infrastructure that can be a center for economy, politics, and culture. Usually, a population of over several thousand people is considered a city.

Urban refers to both central cities and surrounding suburban areas. Therefore, when we refer to urban concepts, we include everything connected to a city!

Urbanization is the process of towns and cities growing. In this case, we refer to speed to explain urbanization. For instance, while urbanization is occurring slowly in Europe, many countries in Africa are urbanizing quickly. This is due to the rapid migration of residents from rural areas to urban areas for more job opportunities while urban populations have remained consistent in Europe.

Geographers and urban planners study urban geography to understand how and why cities change. For instance, people move in and create opportunities for new development, such as building new homes and jobs. Or people move out due to a lack of jobs, resulting in less development and deterioration. Concerns about sustainability have also begun to arise, as pollution and climate change are now threatening the quality of life in cities. All of these factors make and change cities all the time!

Urban Geography, Istanbul Turkey, StudySmarterFigure 1: Istanbul, Turkey, Alexxx Malev, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Key Concepts in Urban Geography

The key concepts in urban geography include many ideas and forces related to cities. To begin, the history of urbanization and cities, especially in the context of current-day globalization, can explain why cities were built and where they may develop further.

Globalization is the interconnectivity of economic, political, and social processes between countries.

Cities are connected through major patterns of political, economic, and social connectivity. Looking deeper, each city has a unique development pattern and is influenced by different factors at local and international levels. City design patterns can be understood through hierarchical levels, with each level requiring a different set of priorities. Urban data, such as census data collected every 10 years, allow planners and politicians to observe changes and project the needs of urban residents. This is especially important as the risk of climate change threatens the quality of life in the city, requiring sustainability projects and approaches to guide the next steps.

Although it sounds like a lot, these are all connected concepts! For example, when and why a city was built can explain the current design and form. North American cities were built during the expansion of the automobile, leading to more sprawled layouts and suburban development. On the other hand, European cities were built before the invention of cars and are therefore denser and more walkable. While European cities may naturally be more sustainable as fewer people own and drive cars, most people in North America do. Therefore cities must invest more to improve their sustainability measures.

For the AP Human Geography exam, it's a bonus if you can tie in economic and cultural geography. Ask yourself, how do culture and economy shape a city too?

Urban Geography Examples

The history of urbanization ranges from early settlements to current-day megacities. But how did we get to where we are now? Let's take a look at how and why cities have evolved.

Urbanization in Geography

Most cities didn't start developing until after the development of sedentary agriculture, where people settled in one place for longer periods of time. This was a shift from hunter-gatherer behavior. Early human settlements (around 10,000 years ago) usually took the form of agricultural villages, small clusters of people involved in various agricultural practices. This new way of living allowed for greater productivity and a surplus of agricultural products, which gave people an opportunity to trade and organize.

Urban Geography, Ait-Ben-Haddou, Morocco, StudySmarterFigure 2: Ait-Ben-Haddou, Morocco, a historical Moroccan city, Pixabay

Urbanization took shape in different forms depending on the region and social conditions. For instance, feudal cities in Europe (roughly 1200-1300 AD) experienced stagnation as these areas served as either military strongholds or religious enclaves, which were typically culturally and economically homogenous. However, around the same time in Mesoamerica, Tenochtitlan (now known as Mexico City, Mexico) was experiencing a thriving and prosperous period thanks to major infrastructure projects and cultural developments. This was the case for other cities in Asia, the Middle East, and South America.

By the late 1800s, trade, colonialism, and industrialization transformed cities through rapid migration and urbanization. Historically, strategic locations along coastlines and riverways (such as New York and London) are called gateway cities for their proximity to ports and the entry of products and people. With the invention of the railroad, other cities like Chicago were able to grow as people and products could move more easily.

Urban Geography, London Skyline, StudySmarterFigure 3: City of London Skyline, UK, David Iliff, CC-BY-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Steadily, megalopolises and megacities have arisen from decades of urbanization and population growth. Megacities are urban areas with a population of over 10 million residents (for example, Tokyo and Mexico City). Especially unique to the developing world, megacity counts are increasing due to high immigration and high natural population growth. A megalopolis is a whole region that has been highly urbanized and connects several cities, such as the region between São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, or the region between Boston-New York-Philadelphia-Washington, D.C. Currently, most of the world's urban growth is in areas around megacities (peripheries).

The formation of cities can be attributed to major site and situation factors. A site factor relates to the climate, natural resources, landforms, or absolute location of a place. A situation factor relates to the connections between places or people (ex. rivers, roads). Places with favorable site conditions are well-connected through their transportation options and can grow more culturally and economically, eventually experiencing population growth.

Scope of Urban Geography

The scope of urban geography encompasses most aspects of what urban planners and geographers need to study. This includes the origin and evolution of cities including models of city structure, links between infrastructure and transportation, demographic makeup, and development (ex. suburbanization, gentrification). To better understand these concepts, it's useful to create links to the historical context of when and why cities evolved. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you make those links:

  • How old is this city? Was it built before or after the automobile?
  • What kind of historical (ex. war), social (ex. segregation), and economic (ex. trade) forces influenced the development of a city?
  • As an example, take a closer look at your nearest city. How and why do you think it was built? What are the challenges it faces?

Some of these questions can also appear on the AP Human Geography exam!

Urban Geography - Key takeaways

  • Urban geography is the study of the history and development of cities and towns and the people in them.
  • Geographers and urban planners study urban geography to understand how and why cities change.
  • Cities are connected through major patterns of historical, economic, and social connectivity. Cities are becoming increasingly interconnected through globalization.
  • The formation of cities can be attributed to major site and situation factors. A site factor relates to the climate, natural resources, landforms, or absolute location of a place. A situation factor relates to the connections between places or people (ex. rivers, roads).

Sources:

  • Figure 1: Original Author: Alexxx Malev, License Type: CC-BY-SA-3.0, No changes made
  • Figure 3: Original Author: David Iliff, License Type: CC-BY-SA-3.0, No changes made

Frequently Asked Questions about Urban Geography

An example of urban geography is the history of urbanization. 

Urban geography is used for the planning and management of cities. The purpose is to understand what the needs are of cities now and in the future. 

Urban geography is the study of processes and forces that make cities and towns. 

With more and more people moving into cities, urban planning is more important than ever. Urban geography allows geographers and planners to understand how and why cities change, and to address urban needs in the present and future.

The history of urban geography started with changes in agricultural practices. As people shifted towards sedentary agriculture, smaller villages began to form. With greater agricultural surplus', populations began to increase, leading to bigger cities. 

Final Urban Geography Quiz

Question

What is urban geography?

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The study of the development of cities and towns and the people in them.

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What is a city?

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A collection of people, services, and infrastructure that can be a center for economy, politics, and culture. Usually, a population of over several thousand people is considered a city. 

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Urban refers only to the central city and not the suburban or peripheral areas.

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True

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Urbanization is

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the process of towns and cities growing.

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How do you measure urbanization?

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Speed (slow, fast)

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Geographers and urban planners study urban geography to understand how and why cities change


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True

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What is the term for the increasing connection of cities economically, politically, and socially? 

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Globalization

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Most cities didn't start developing until after the development of sedentary agriculture, where people settled in one place for longer periods of time. 

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True

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Feudal cities experienced a boom in culture and trade during the Dark Ages. 

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True

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Gateway cities are 

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Strategically located cities along coastlines and riverways, with close proximity to ports and the entry of products and people.

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Megalopolises and megacities have arisen from decades of 


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urbanization and population growth

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Most of the urban growth in the world is occurring in 

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peripheries around megacities

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A site factor is the 

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the climate, natural resources, landforms, or absolute location of a place

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A situation factor is

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the connections between places or people (ex. rivers, roads).

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Today, almost 60% of people in the world live in cities. 

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True

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Which activity is NOT associated with world cities?

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Forestry

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Which of the following types of geography is LEAST associated with world cities?

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Political geography

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Why does western Europe have so many top-ranked world cities?

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Because Europe has dominated global capitalism for centuries, many cities, such as London and Paris, have managed to maintain their top ranking since when they were the centers of global empires.

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What quinary-sector activity stands out in the rankings of the first-tier world cities?

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Decision-making at the global level

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(True or False) The more people a city has, the higher up in the world city rankings it appears.

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False. While world cities do often have large populations, many of the world's largest cities are not world cities.

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The basis for defining a world city is

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Global economic influence

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Pick the BEST answer: World cities are centers of

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Globalization

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Which statement is true?

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All world cities are megacities, but not all megacities are world cities

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(True or False) There is only one true ranking of world cities

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False - there are numerous rankings

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What city provided the basis for the sector model?

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Chicago

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(True or False) The sector model has accurately predicted the growth of US cities.

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False. The sector model failed to predict multiple downtowns and automobile transport networks.

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Which of the following is NOT a sector of the sector model?

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Suburbia

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Why does the CBD touch all sectors?

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Because the CBD in the model is the hub of economic activity.

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What are the characteristics of the High Class Residential sector?

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A single corridor from the CBD outward; expensive land; along a transport route such as a streetcar line; allows residents to travel to CBD and country without going through other sectors; physical geographic advantages; far away from pollution.

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The _____ sector pulls in recent immigrants, who when they acquire the financial means, move to the ____ sector.

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Low Class Residential; Middle Class Residential

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What was a main impetus for the development of the sector model?

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The FDR administration's focus on alleviating poverty and providing government aid during the Great Depression.

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What are the primary economic considerations in the Hoyt sector model?

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How much housing costs; how much transportation to work costs.

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Why is the factories/industrial sector located along a transport corridor?

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So raw materials can be shipped in easily and quickly, and finished products can be shipped out.

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What are the main problems in the Low Class Residential Sector?

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Racial and other discrimination, environmental contamination, poverty, health, crime, and other social problems.

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What two urban geographers devised the multiple-nuclei model?

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Chauncy Harris and Edward Ullman

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In what year was the multiple-nuclei model published?

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1945

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The following is NOT a premise upon which the multiple-nuclei model is based:

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Economic activities are arranged in sectors that can expand outward as the city grows

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Arrange these three models in chronological order from oldest to most recent: multiple-nuclei, concentric zone, sector

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Concentric zone; Sector; Multiple-Nuclei

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What two main factors distinguish the multiple-nuclei model from models proposed by Hoyt and Burgess?

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The influence of private automobiles on road networks and city growth; the existence of multiple outlying business districts in addition to the CBD

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What is the principal reason that the wholesale and light manufacturing district is located next to but not in the CBD?

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Wholesale and light manufacturing needs convenient access to transportation corridors, the CBD, and working-class neighborhoods, but cannot and does not need to pay the high cost of real estate in the CBD.

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What is Gary, Indiana's relationship to Chicago, according to the multiple-nuclei model?

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Gary is an industrial suburb of Chicago (in the Calumet district)

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(True or False) The multiple-nuclei model explains many similarities of US cities.

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True. This model describes and explains the similar patterns found in many US urban areas that are due to similar processes.

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Why is Los Angeles such as good example of the multiple-nuclei model?

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Because its expansion beyond the original core of downtown LA was largely due to the automobile and the mobility that led to the LA freeway network and the means for people to live in suburbs clustered around other downtowns.

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Why is heavy manufacturing located spatially distant from all but the lowest-cost housing areas and transportation?

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Heavy manufacturing activities drive down the cost of surrounding real estate because it creates environmental contamination and other issues that make living near it undesirable.

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What is gentrification?

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a process where middle and upper-class individuals move into traditionally working-class areas in a city, renovating or building homes and businesses which raise property values and displace original residents

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What are historical racial displacement methods that led to gentrification?

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Residential segregation, blockbusting, redlining, and white flight

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What is residential segregation?

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The process of separating neighborhoods based on race

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What is blockbusting?

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a prejudice-driven real estate practice of persuading residents to sell land or property at a loss and real estate companies resell at a higher price

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What is redlining?

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a practice in which banks deemed certain areas in cities as a poor financial risk and would not lend money to potential homeowners

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What is white flight?

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the process where white people or people of different European ancestries moved out of mixed urban areas to economically and racially homogenous suburban and rural areas

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