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3 Tutorials that teach US Cities
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US Cities

US Cities

Author: Paul Hannan

Identify the processes and impacts of colonial settlement, urban expansion, and urban decentralization.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on US cities. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.


So today we're looking at the evolution of US cities. Now US cities really started during colonial times. And we can call these cities during colonial times colonial settlements. And what they really were, they were places where colonial powers-- so France, United Kingdom, Holland-- they established a community on land they're trying to take over. So New York is a great example that originally started as a colonial settlement. And so they're establishing this place, this city, to help them take over it, and they're using the city as a hub for mainly trade and protection.

Then cities progressed, and we had what's called urban expansion. Now urban expansion is the idea that cities are growing to cover more area. And personally, I label them as the first real cities. I don't know if other sociologists would be fair labeling them that way. But for myself, I think of colonial settlements, they don't really have the same feel. To me, they feel much more like a town with a tight small knit community. Whereas, this urban expansion is cities actually grow. Now they start to feel a lot more like what we think of as a city in the modern world, with its large populations and much more impersonal society. And this is happening just as, or prior to, the Industrial Revolution.

But the industrial pollution hits, and we have a huge explosion of even more urban expansion. And we can call that the metropolitan era, and this is where cities really grow and become big and powerful centers of society. Now that metropolitan era lasts for quite a long time. Eventually though, after World War II, we actually have the people moving away from cities. And you can call that urban decentralization.

So this hub of the city is not necessary the downtown anymore. People are moving away to the suburbs or to different smaller towns that are on the edge of the town. And as you can imagine, this movement away from the center caused a shift in power for the cities. All of a sudden, the suburbs was where the people with power and wealth resided. And the city was largely left for people without the means to leave.

Now all of a sudden, we have modern cities. And modern cities have a couple of different things going on. First off, there's this idea of the megalopolis. And what this is, is this is a really, really large metropolitan area. And what it is, is that a city is not necessarily just a city anymore, it's collected and taken over all these other cities and suburbs by it. The easiest place to really see that is probably on the East Coast where you have cities that are actually combining together, and there's not really a strong line between two separate cities. And instead, they become one area.

But it doesn't have to be two established large cities, it can be the city of Minneapolis, and how it's just now spread out. And the suburbs really consider themselves part of the city of Minneapolis. And Minneapolis, as it continues to grow, might even end up taking over some of the cities, like Rochester or St. Cloud, which are right now about an hour and a half drive away. But as St. Cloud and Rochester grow, and their suburbs continue to grow, well, they might actually come together.

Now, something else that's happening in modern societies is this idea of gentrification, and that's wealthy people move back to the city and take back over the city center. Now there are arguments for gentrification being good or bad. It's nice for a city to have a thriving downtown with condominiums and nice restaurants, so it can be a center for people to access and live in and to come together as a society.

But also, what it's doing is it's pushing out some of the poor people who live in those areas, and they're being pushed further away from the center of the city. And it sets up this really interesting clash. In many cases, you have these really thriving African-American or immigrant communities, who as a community have been a really strong focal point for their culture and for society in general. And they're being pushed out of this spot where they've been for a long time because they can no longer afford to live there. But it's not all bad. Positively, you have people from varying socioeconomic backgrounds mixing, and society becomes much less segregated with this gentrification movement.

So today's take-away message. I briefly went through the evolution of cities in the United States of America. So we started with colonial settlements, and these are places where colonial powers made a home for themselves to help take over the land before the nation of America existed. Then we had urban expansion, and this is as a country starts to grow, cities start to grow, and they take up more area, and more people live in cities. But the metropolitan area's really when we have urbanization really take off, and so now tons of people live in cities. And it's really happening in large part due to industrialization.

Then we have urban decentralization, and this is the movement away from people from the city centers, and they're moving off to the suburbs. And then now we have the modern city and the megalopolis, and that's really this is an extensive metropolitan area that has a number of cities and suburbs all together in one big group. Well, that's for this lesson, good work. And hopefully, you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Colonial Settlement

Occurs when colonial powers establish a community in a territory they have occupied.


An extensive metropolitan area containing numerous cities and suburbs.

Metropolitan Era

Refers to the time period from 1860-1950 when urbanization expanded in the United States due to historical circumstances and industrialization.

Urban Decentralization

Social movement of people away from city centers to the suburbs.

Urban Expansion

The growth of urban areas to cover more geographical area.