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urban geography

  The geographical study of urban areas. The literature on urban geography in English was small until the 1940s, with the first textbook appearing in 1946. There was then a major surge of interest, and scholars who termed themselves urban geographers were in the vanguard of geography\'s quantitative revolution during the 1960s and 1970s.

Early studies reflected the currently dominant paradigm. The importance of environmental determinism in the 1920s and 1930s, for example, stimulated a focus on the role of physical features — site and situation — as determinants of urban foundations and growth, and the subsequent growth of regional geography saw attention switch to the regional relations of towns and to identifying morphological regions within them — see morphology and townscape. (All of these topics are illustrated in Taylor\'s, 1946, pioneering text, and in Dickinson\'s, 1949, work on urban ecology, the latter influenced by both German and North American sources.) During the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s the growing number of those who identified themselves as urban geographers were attracted to developments in location theory and locational analysis, though Berry\'s (1964) programmatic essay indicated the continued (rhetorical at least) importance of defining formal and functional regions to the expanding sub-discipline. (Berry was on the committee which prepared the 1965 NAS-NRC report on The science of geography, which incorporated urban geography into the wider field of \'location theory studies\'. The later BASS report — Taaffe, 1970 — had \'urban studies\' as one of the four research directions selected to illustrate the \'growing research interests in contemporary geography\'.)

Urban geographers\' adoption of locational analysis, the philosophy of positivism, and the methodology and goals of spatial science was illustrated by two main strands of work in the late 1950s and early 1960s, much of it stimulated by pioneering studies undertaken at the University of Washington, Seattle (Johnston, 1997). The first concentrated on the pattern of urban settlement in a country or region, treating towns and cities as points on a map; the second, which dominated in the 1970s, focused on the internal structure of cities — treating them as areas with internal spatial structures rather than as points. In both, the goal was to identify the laws which it was believed governed the observed spatial arrangements: as Harris and Ullman expressed it in their classic (1945) paper on \'The nature of cities\' (see multiple nuclei model):

Each city is unique in detail but resembles others in function and pattern. What is learned about one helps in studying another. Location types and internal structures are repeated so often that broad and suggestive generalizations are valid.

The study of urban systems devoted much attention to testing the applicability of central place theory, especially the work of Walter Christaller. The concept of a spatially structured hierarchy attracted many empirical investigations: for example, of shopping centres within urban areas as well as of towns as central places, as exemplified in Berry\'s (1967; Berry and Parr, 1988) classic text. Studies of the functional structure and spatial arrangements of central places were complemented by investigations of shopping behaviour, to see whether people adhered to the theory\'s distance-minimizing principles (cf. retailing, geography of).

The study of the internal structure of urban areas initially concentrated on commercial districts but attention increasingly shifted to the residential areas. The main stimuli came from the urban ecology literature, especially the Chicago school\'s models of land-use patterns (see zonal model), which suggested not only that various social groups lived in separate residential areas but also that those areas were arranged in a particular spatial order. Geographers tested hypotheses derived from those models, analysing census tract data with multivariate statistical methods (see factorial ecology; social area analysis): the seminal statement (by Berry and Rees, 1969) applied these methods to Calcutta, and was the first of a range of attempts seeking to impose models developed in North America on cities in other cultural realms, with later work exploring the differences between different contexts (e.g. Johnston, 1972) and then promoting models developed specifically for them (e.g. Ford, 1996).

Many of these empirical studies, both inter-urban and intra-urban, identified disparities between the observed and expected patterns: the models did not appear very realistic, although they remained the foundations for further exploration. Their assumptions, especially those concerning spatial behaviour, came under close scrutiny, and behaviourist approaches were introduced as an alternative, much more inductive, foundation.

Research in behavioural geography at that time was not critical of the positivist philosophy and shared its goal of theory development premised on the existence of laws of spatial behaviour (as illustrated in King and Golledge\'s, 1978, text). Data were collected on the decision-making which underpins the creation of the observed patterns of central places and residential segregation: initially, they only described the outcomes (as with work on intra-urban migration) but increasingly the choice decisions were explored.

Urban geography was linked then to the study and practice of urban and regional planning, built on the premise that well-ordered and efficient cities and regions could be engineered by applying the uncovered laws of spatial behaviour and organization. By the end of the 1960s, however, the continued prevalence of issues such as poverty, deprivation, and inequality led to a questioning of that apparently rational process (cf. relevance). Urban geographers were drawn into investigating why this was so: initially, they refocused their work onto the roles of urban managers and gatekeepers as controllers of the spatial structuring of urban areas, recognizing that location decisions are made in contexts not vacuums, and that constraints are as important as choices in determining where, for example, people migrated to.

This broadening of empirical studies was followed by further realization that those who managed urban areas, and thereby constrained choices, were themselves operating in a constrained context within which their degrees of freedom were limited. Attention shifted to the nature of those wider contexts, as part of the general reaction against positivism and spatial science, and urban geographers were led by the writings of Harvey (1973), Castells (1977) and others into the field of political economy, especially those parts of it dominated by Marxian thought (see also Marxist geography; radical geography; urban); many accepted at least part of the thrust of these writings and the suggested general processes within which particular outcomes were realized (see realism).

The predominant focus of this era of urban geography was on the towns and cities of the First World. McGee (1971) pioneered work on Third World cities, arguing for models sympathetic to their cultural and historical backgrounds rather than attempts to apply \'western\', mainly Anglo-American, models (White\'s, 1984, book on west European cities illustrated how Anglocentric those models were: see also Gugler, 1988). On the Second World of the now ex-socialist states see French and Hamilton (1979), Forbes and Thrift (1987) and Thrift and Forbes (1986). (Cf overurbanization.)

The position of urban geography at the forefront of innovative work within the discipline declined somewhat after the 1970s. Many still call themselves urban geographers, as illustrated by the size of the relevant groups within the main geographical societies; there is a thriving journal of Urban Geography; and the sub-discipline is still widely taught. But many of the concerns formerly encapsulated within urban geography are now studied under different banners: the revival of political geography and the expansion of both social geography and cultural geography have attracted workers whose empirical focus is mainly urban (intriguingly, rural geography has prospered during the same period), and studies of topics such as counterurbanization are now as likely to be found under the title of population geography as within urban geography. To some extent urban geographers now respond to trends elsewhere in the discipline, refashioning their investigations of particular areas, as well as reacting to new urban issues identified by society at large; for example. Leitner\'s (1992) review identified urban geographers as responding to the challenges of either \'new urban problems\' (such as racism) or \'new developments in social theory\', such as post-structuralism and postmodernism.

Part of the reason for the declining of the vitality of urban geography is shown in the conspectus of Geography in America. The chapter entitled \'The urban problematic\' (Marston et al., 1989) begins by noting that \'over three-quarters of the American population is now urban (employing standard definitions), and almost any empirical analysis, and much theoretical conjecture, must in some way touch upon the realities or urban life\' (p. 651): everything is now urban. In addition, the subdiscipline was presented as suffering from a \'crippling historical legacy\' of outmoded approaches; in response it was \'developing a historical consciousness, has sophisticated analytical skills, and is moving into new and challenging areas of substantive research\' (p. 669). (Similarly, in the autumn 1998 issue of its Newsletter, the Urban Geography Study Group of the Royal Geographical Society — with the Institute of British Geographers — noted a \'lack of identity of urban geographers, particularly in the UK, and the lack of ability of geographers to agree on what constitutes urban geography\'.) The changed orientations of urban geographers\' research is illustrated both by recent editions of well-established textbooks — compare Short (1984) and Short (1996) — and by newly-conceived volumes (such as Hall, 1998): the spatial science material is almost entirely absent now.

The period during which urban geography flourished so strongly coincided with the dominance of what Buttimer (1993) termed the mosaic and machine metaphors in human geography, which emphasized the establishment of generalizations regarding urban patterns and the assumed processes that generated them. As these, with their associated goal of explanation via generalization, decayed somewhat in importance, to be replaced by the search for understanding through the organism and arena metaphors (stressing contextual understanding), urban areas changed their roles within geography: rather than being the focus of attention per se, they became the contexts within which cultural, economic, social and political processes and conflicts were played out. Thus, although some work published in the journal Urban Geography follows traditional themes, such as the mapping of racial residential segregation, this is rarely set in the context of a search for general laws about such topics. Rather, urban geographers concentrate on the particular features of specific places within a general appreciation of urbanization and the role of urban places in the contemporary world, studies which embrace a wide range of subject matter covering the cultural, social and political dimensions of urban life alongside the economic. No longer are urban geographers driven by what Agnew (1997) terms the \'urge to simplify cities into discrete types\': their concerns are with \'the landscape complexity\' of cities, its structuration and consequences for individual and group well-being. (RJJ)

References Agnew, J. 1997: Commemoration and criticism: fifty years after the publication of Harris and Ullman\'s \'The nature of cities\'. Urban Geography 18: 4-6. Berry, B.J.L. 1964: Approaches to regional analysis: a synthesis. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 54: 2-11. Berry, B.J.L. 1967: The geography of market centers and retail distribution. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Berry, B.J.L. and Parr, J.L. 1988: The geography of market centers and retail distribution, 2nd edn. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Berry, B.J.L. and Rees, P.H. 1969: The factorial ecology of Calcutta. American Journal of Sociology 74: 445-91. Buttimer, A. 1993: Geography and the human spirit. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Castells, M. 1977: The urban question: a marxist approach. London: Edward Arnold; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Dickinson, R.E. 1947: City, region and regionalism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Forbes, D. and Thrift, N.J., eds, 1987 : The socialist Third World: urban development and territorial planning. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Ford, L.R. 1996: A new and improved model of Latin American city structure. Geographical Review 86: 437-40. French, R.A. and Hamilton, F.E.I., eds, 1979: The socialist city: spatial structure and urban policy. Chichester and New York: John Wiley. Gugler, J. 1988: The urbanization of the Third World. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Hall, T. 1998: Urban geography. London: Routledge. Harris, C.D. and Ullman, E.L. 1945: The nature of cities. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 242: 7-17. Harvey, D. 1973: Social justice and the city. London: Edward Arnold; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Johnston, R.J. 1972: Towards a general mod el of intra-urban residential patterns: some cross-cultural comparisons. In C. Board et al., eds, Progress in Geography 4: 83-124. Johnston, R.J. 1997: Geography and geographers: Anglo-American human geography since 1945, 5th edn. London: Edward Arnold. King, L.J. and Golledge, R.G. 1978: Cities, space and behavior: the elements of urban geography. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Leitner, H.A. 1992: Urban geography: responding to new challenges. Progress in Human Geography 16: 105-18. McGee, T.G. 1971: The urbanization process in the Third World: explorations in search of a theory. London: George Bell and Sons. Marston, S.A., Towers, G., Cadwallader, M. and Kirby, A. 1989: The urban problematic. In G.L. Gaile and C.J. Willmott, eds, Geography in America. Columbus: Merrill Publishing Company, 651-72. NAS-NRC, 1965: The science of geography. Washington, D.C.: NAS-NRC. Short, J.R. 1984: An introduction to urban geography. London: Routledge. Short, J.R. 1996: The urban order: an introduction to cities, culture and power. London: Routledge. Taaffe, E.J., ed., 1970: Geography. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Taylor, T.G. 1946: Urban geography. New York: E.P. Dutton. Thrift, N.J. and Forbes, D.N. 1986: The price of war: urbanization in Vietnam, 1954-1985. London: George Allen and Unwin. White, P.E. 1984: The West European city: a social geography. London: Longman.

Suggested Reading Carter, H. 1995: The study of urban geography, 5th edn. London: Edward Arnold; New York, John Wiley. Hartshorn, T.A. 1991: Interpreting the city: an urban geography, 2nd edn. New York: John Wiley. Johnston, R.J. 1989: City and society: an outline for urban geography. London: Unwin Hyman. Knox, P.L. 1994: Urbanization: an introduction to urban geography. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.



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