The History of Urbanization
Predominantly, the early United States was rural. In accordance with the 1790 census, 95% of the population lived in the countryside, leaving 5% of Americans living in urban areas (small villages.) Boston, New York and Philadelphia remained the only early areas with more than 15,000 inhabitants. The South at that time was nearly completely rural. Following 1830, urban areas grew more quickly than rural areas. The 1890's brought with it industrialization and a substantial growth in the cities. Now, 35 % of Americans lived in urban areas, primarily in the North, while the South, with exception to New Orleans and a few other cities remained rural. In fact, the number of Americans living in cities did not surpass the numbering rural areas until 1920. About half of the United States population lived in cities and approximately one quarter lived in densely populated suburbs by the year 2000 (The United States Active Center, www.theusaonline.com.)
These changes however did not happen overnight, nor did they evolve without problems. Although the movement climaxed in 1920, by 1860 cities had already become to dominate. Industrialization was the key to this explosion. The replacement of hand labor by machines, new inventions, expanding technology and advances in the transportation system via canals and railroads added to the rise of cities. Although the number of people working on farms increased until about 1916, the rise of city dwellers increased at a much faster pace (Collier, "The Rise of Cities," 9-34.)
With such a sweeping change, problems began to arise. The streets were littered with garbage; water became impure, inadequate organized police and firefighters, over crowding, crime, poverty and disease rose. As industry thrived, cities like Boston, New York City and Philadelphia soon became over crowded and dirty in comparison to the open farm land cities where cities originated (Collier, "The Rise of Cities," 35-64.) Living here was more compact, based on convenience so homes, work areas and stores where close together. Rivers and waterways began to get utilized for transportation and the shipping of supplies between communities. People were moving from the farms to cities in order to find factory jobs, which increased the city population. Factories began to pollute the air with smoke and the concern for environmental hazards of air pollution, and sewage treatment began to arise. Apartment complexes became crowded and often unsanitary due to poor fresh air circulation and lack of indoor plumbing. The unhealthy environment caused illness to spread among residents. Planners then needed to look for a solution by proposing new plans for the suburbs. The newer planned communities were linked to the cities by trains so that residents can commute to work, but live in a more 'country like atmosphere away from the pollution and disease.' In order to protect the residents of the lower income housing with the cities, planners recommended park systems to offer open green space. Planners could not do this alone. Government, albeit small, needed to step in. Through the 1890's into the 1900's, American city housing became more tightly regulated in an effort to supply running water, heat, toilets and fire protection. Conditions began to improve for the lower income families and local government began to see reform as a result of the City Beautiful Movement. With the help of Frederick Law Olmstead, this movement utilized the political and economic structure to create a city that is not only beautiful, but spacious and orderly. City planning was used to shape the physical appearance of the community and to direct urban growth.
Zoning laws were also established so that property owners would know what could be built upon in a way that the health and the safety of the residents were first priority. This was designed so that residential areas were kept away from polluting industries like landfills and factories. Zoning typically segregated land into three categories- residential, commercial and industrial. If a zone is considered residential, no commercial uses would be allowed in the area. Although zoning served to protect property value, and enhance the use of automobiles, it created less appealing cities. Planned use development later came into effect allowing cities to zone a new section of development with mixed uses to allow single family homes near apartments, offices and grocery stores so people can work and shop close to home (About.com, http://geography.about.com.)
In 1916, New York City adopted the first zoning regulations and by 1920, much of the nation upheld zoning ordinances New York is noted as the first because it was considered more of a city, but smaller villages had also begun to set up ordinances at the same time. As with anything else, zoning regulations also posed problems. The town of Euclid, Ohio passed a zoning ordinance that resulted in the devastation of 68 acres of land. The Amber Realty Company, who owned the land, sued the town for violation of the Fifth Amendment to The United States Constitution. By 1926, the Supreme Court ruled that zoning is constitutional providing that it is designed to protect public health, welfare and safety. The city of Houston, Texas is notable for its lack of zoning ordinances. (About.com, http://geography.about.com.)
In order to protect public health, welfare and safety, planners also needed to balance the natural environment with the needs of the residents. A greater increase in federal acts, new highways and the idea of owning your own home became more accessible for people in the 1940s. The construction of highways through the cities, along with urban renewal via the demolition of targeted neighborhoods, opened up a vast amount of land for development. This caused suburbs to prosper and cities to decline in the 1960s and 1970s due to the loss of businesses and the middle class tax base. Some concerns about sprawl emerged. Traffic, air pollution and loss of open space raised further concerns with an increase on the dependence of cars. A series of laws were then written to protect wilderness land areas and the government became more fully involved in the environmental planning movement. The federal government stepped in to address the environmental concerns by creating national agencies intended to develop standards that would to address environmental concerns therefore limiting pollution. Because the economy was affected, federal agencies began offering financial incentives to encourage companies and builders to implement environmentally friendly practices. During the 1980s – 2000, organizations against governmental regulations began complaining about the burdens of inflexibility, cost, social impact and loss of job growth. Smart Growth then arrived, which encouraged the economic and population growth while still protecting the environment. This approach was taken to offset the effects of sprawl by fostering growth in areas that had existing infrastructures and transforming them into walkable communities. The federal government's role however was then cut back leaving the agencies responsible for proving the environmental acts to be cost effective. Land trusts began to rise as well as many non-profit organizations formed in an effort to acquire land and preserve it for natural areas farms or forests. New Urbanism, established in the 1980s, mirrored the Smart Growth model with an emphasis on interconnected narrow streets walkable neighborhoods, public transportation and mixed use green space in order to promote cleaner air and healthier people. By 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was established to foster international agreement on targets for greenhouse gases. The 21
century then showed another shift with more people living in cities than in rural areas. This lead to urban ecological planning which looked at the city as a part of an ecosystem in an effort to diminish environmental decline. Today, sustainable planning is more of a holistic view of city and region, where leaders promote environmental, economic and social factors in their planning (Cruickshank, "Green Community," 33-38.)