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urban ecology

  A term applied by later adherents of the Chicago school of sociologists to their study of the social and spatial organization of urban society. Although urban ecologists have paid some attention to urban systems at national and regional scales, most of their attention has focused on the internal structure of large cities.

Berry and Kasarda (1977) show that traditional urban ecology, represented by Hawley\'s classic (1950) text, concentrated on three areas of study:

{img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } adoption of concepts from animal and plant ecology to study of the human community — as in the Chicago School\'s work (see invasion and succession); {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } detailed descriptions of the natural areas of cities; and {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } investigations of the geography of social problems (such as crime and vice) in the context of those natural areas, hence use of the term ecology because the individual elements were being investigated in the context of their local societal whole.The focus since the 1960s, they argued, has been a concern with \'how a population organizes itself in adapting to a constantly changing yet restricting environment\'.

This contemporary urban ecological approach assumes that urban societies are constantly responding to shocks to their socio-spatial arrangements by seeking to re-establish an equilibrium which encompasses the area\'s functional, demographic and spatial structures. Theorists such as Duncan (1959) and Schnore (1965) identified what they termed the ecological complex comprising four interrelated variables which characterize the urban realm:

{img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } population, a functionally integrated and structured collectivity; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } organization, the system of relationships which allows a population to sustain itself within its physical and built environment; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } environment, characterized by Berry and Kasarda as \'the least well conceptualized of the variables … it has been broadly defined as all phenomena, including other social systems, that are external to and have influence upon the population under study\'; and {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } technology, comprising the artefacts and techniques developed by the community to assist in its sustenance.All four are interdependent, with a change in each having an impact on the other three. Urban ecology thus differs from traditional urban geography, which focuses more exclusively on spatial arrangement as both a causal and a dependent variable in the study of evolving social systems.

Berry and Kasarda (1977) note that all of the programmatic statements for contemporary urban ecology were written during the late 1950s and early 1960s but \'their raison d\'être no longer prevails\'. Sociologists had moved from macro-to micro-concerns, and the purpose of their 1977 book was to remind the \'sociological audience\' that \'all principles of sociological organization could not be reduced to individualistic concepts\'. The four variables in the ecological complex are necessary to an appreciation of patterns and processes of social and spatial organization, which they illustrate with a systems analysis approach.

Work continues to be done in the ecological tradition, especially focusing on patterns of population change (such as decentralization and suburbanization within metropolitan areas), but the area is not in the mainstream of contemporary urban sociology. (RJJ)

References Berry, B.J.L. and Kasarda, J.D. 1977: Contemporary urban ecology. New York and London: Macmillan. Duncan, O.D. 1959: Human ecology and population studies. In P.M. Hauser and O.D. Duncan, eds, The study of population. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 678-716. Hawley, A.H. 1950: Human ecology: a theory of community structure. New York: Ronald Press. Schnore, L.F. 1965: On the spatial structure of cities in the two Americas. In P.M. Hauser and L.F. Schnore, eds, The study of urbanization. New York and London: John Wiley, 347-98.



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