Index of papers Phil Gyford: web | email
Spring 2000
World Futures

Urbanism Framework Document


PDF version


Information sources
Current Conditions
Expected future
Potential wildcards
Issues, dilemmas, choices
Key uncertainties
Alternative futures
Leading indicators


Humans first began coming together in cities about 10,000 years ago around the eastern Mediterranean and the Nile. Settlements often represented social structures in space, for example, with the more desirable housing towards the centre where most business was conducted. The center also usually contained any social construction (such as temples and government buildings) that appeared as cities grew larger and more complex.

New developments, such as the wheel, writing and better irrigation allowed society to advance and settlements to expand, with writing in particular allowing more consistent and long-lasting ideas to be passed through the generations. This period of urban history culminated with a few cities such as Rome and Teotihuacan reaching populations of perhaps 1 millions inhabitants, a total that wouldnąt again be reached until 19th century London.

The Industrial Revolution in many parts of the world created a sudden shift of its populations towards towns and cities, with the centralisation of labour that it brought.

Country Percentage of total population that is urban
England 1801: 16.9% 1891: 53.7%
USA 1800: 3.8% 1890: 27.6%
France 1846: 24.4% 1891: 37.4%
Prussia 1816: 25.5% 1895: 40.7%

Source: Peter Hall, The World Cities, World University Library, 1966.

The shift towards industrialisation usually brings about a marked move towards urban living (Norway, Sweden and Switzerland have shown, however, that industrialisation can be markedly rural).

Patrick Geddes, a pioneer of town-planning theory of the early twentieth century, pointed out that the industrial revolution began with inventions of the eighteenth century that created heavy industries dependent on coal and benefiting from being situated close together. After 1900 inventions from the previous 50 years (such as the telephone, power station, internal combustion engine, radio) became more common in general use. Geddes, along with others such as Lewis Mumford and Jean-François Gravier, thought that the industries created by these new inventions could be more free; they no longer relied on centralisation of activity, and in fact allowed greater freedom which could lead to complete decentralisation.

However, the structure of the economy was changing and while enterprises had once been financed by single people or families, the process of financing them gradually became a separate industry of its own. These new financial organisations, along with new industries that developing consumerism generated (advertising, marketing, media), saw benefits in being physically close to each other and a large pool of potential employees.

Electric trams and rail allowed workers to live further away from the centre, with trains and underground rail networks later increasing the commuting range. Workers who could afford to often began living further away from the crowded city centres. Cars and buses again furthered this trend of suburbanisation, allowing gaps to be filled in between the main fixed commuter lines. Governments later began constructing motorway networks to cope with this increased personal traffic which, along with better cars, again increased the distances people were willing to travel to work. While city centres are still the main draw, recent decades have seen the development of commercial centres further out, relying entirely on cars.

Fastest growing US cities, 1940-1990

Rank Metro area 1940 1990 Increase % change
1 Las Vegas 28,611 852,737 824,126 2,880.5%
2 Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla. 42,204 489,483 447,279 1,059.8%
3 West Palm Beach, Fla. 79,989 863, 518 783, 529 979.5%
4 Phoenix 215,034 2,238,480 2,023,446 941.0%
5 Miami-Fort Lauderdale 307,533 3,192,582 2,885,049 938.1%
6 Orlando 129,752 1,224,852 1,095,100 844.0%
7 Tucson 72,838 666,880 594,042 815.6%
8 San Diego 289,348 2,498,016 2,208,668 763.3%
9 San Jose 174,949 1,497,577 1,322,628 756.0%
10 Tampa-St. Petersburg 291,622 2,067,959 1,776,337 609.1%
11 Sacramento 238,913 1,481,102 1,242,189 519.9%
12 Albuquerque 103,534 589,131 485,597 469.0%
13 Houston 735,553 3,731,131 2,995,578 407.3%
14 El Paso 131,067 591,610 460,543 351.4%
15 Los Angeles 3,252,720 14,531,529 11,278,809 346.8%
16 Dallas-Fort Worth 936,180 4,037,282 3,101,102 331.3%
17 Bakersfield, Cal. 135,124 543,477 408,353 302.2%
18 Austin 214,603 846,227 631,624 294.3%
19 Denver 512,449 1,980,140 1,467,691 286.4%
20 Baton Rouge 138,683 528,264 389,581 280.9%



[ next page ]

Index of papers Phil Gyford: web | email