Wednesday, 18 April 2018


It is not an easy task to provide a definition of urban space because such a definition must consider the social parameters of its constituent parts: urban and space. The difficulty of defining urban space is enhanced if one considers that urban space is an artifact of urbanization, which is a social process that describes the manner in which cities grow and societies become more complex. A synergistic perspective of space situates the location of ‘‘urban’’ as an outcome of social and institutional forces associated with urbanization.

Urbanization is fueled by population growth and institutional expansion where people must come together in large enough numbers that they are situated in a space that makes them noticeably different from less populated human groupings. In addition, the social diversity of the people situated in the same space promotes a form of social interaction characterized by formal role relationships rather than intimate or informal (e.g., familial) role relationships. That is, as a population increases its numbers within the same space it becomes necessary for the maintenance of social order that diversity within the population be characterized by formal role relationships (Gesellschaft) rather than informal role relations (Gemeinschaft). One might say that a distinction emerges between highly populated space (urban) and less populated space (rural).
The aggregation of people within the same space serves as a social force that brings together persons with diverse lifestyles and work ethics. In most cases people migrated to the same space because of shared interests or shared expectations regarding lifestyles and work ethics. Interestingly, social contact between persons in the population sharing the same space enhances the social diversity of the population by increasing familiarity with different lifestyles and work ethics. In turn, the diversity of lifestyles and work ethics necessitates the development of institutional structures for their expression; for example, churches for religious expression and a labor market for demonstrating a work ethic.
A large and growing population, coupled with an institutional structure designed to promote centralization and social efficiency, created a context for defining urban space. Large urban centers or urban spaces can be identified in the history of societies in the world system. According to some estimates, the city of Babylon had almost a million residents at the height of its social development. Similarly, Rome had almost half a million residents at its peak, while London had about a million residents by the early 1800s. All three cities or urban spaces were characterized by a large population of residents and the operation of institutional structures for promoting social efficiency in a diverse population (e.g., collection of taxes, distribution of raw materials, and the production of work).

It centralized social life in an efficient manner resulted in an outcome that one finds today. As the number of persons sharing the same space intensified, so did the diversification of lifestyles and work ethics. In particular, the centralization of social life resulted in the hierarchical arrangement of persons based on lifestyle and work ethic. That is, class differences became visible and served to partition urban space. The partition of urban space made it possible to observe how persons sharing the same space associated with each other along class lines.
For example, in early nineteenth century Parisian society the aristocracy and growing bourgeoisie moved to the margins of the city to escape the increasing numbers of the ‘‘popular classes’’ in Paris. The access to capital and valued resources enjoyed by the upper and middle classes allowed them to situate themselves on the margin of urban space. In a sense, access to capital or valued resources served as a social force to extend the boundaries of urban space into rural space. As a result, what is often referred to as a suburb – space adjacent to or on the periphery of urban space – took rudimentary expression as the ability of persons with capital to differentiate themselves by class from persons subject to the homogenizing effects of the ‘‘popular class’’ on persons sharing the same urban space.
One finds in American society a similar phenomenon in the twenty first century. The increasing perception that urban space is pregnant with social problems such as crime, homelessness, and poverty has resulted in persons and families fleeing to space located on the periphery or within traveling distance of urban space. During the 1970s and early 1980s in the US, moving from urban space to the suburb was often characterized as ‘‘white flight’’ because it was a movement that was mostly driven by white persons and families. These were white persons and families that had accumulated equity in their homes located in urban space that permitted them to sell their homes and buy new larger homes in the suburbs. Ironically, in some cases the number of persons and families moving from urban space to the suburbs was so drastic that suburbs became mirror images of the urban space persons and families were fleeing. The suburbs have become so much like urban space that persons and families are moving into rural areas, resulting in ‘‘suburbs of the suburbs,’’ or what population experts refer to as exurbs.
In the suburbs the fight is over how to allocate public space to parks and recreation areas versus businesses and commercial interests. For example, many of the suburbs’ residents commute to work in urban centers. In order to develop a system of services that meet the needs of growing suburbs, city councils in the suburbs have courted businesses, especially manufacturers, to relocate to the suburbs in order to generate sales tax revenue and jobs, thus keeping residents in the suburbs and improving their quality of life by providing jobs that do not require commuting. The push for attracting businesses, however, comes at a cost to residents. Public space that has been designated for recreational use is used as a carrot by city councils to attract businesses. As a result, public space in the suburb is a contest between resources used by people versus economic benefits for businesses.

Thus, a city is a collection of people and institutional structures that promote the efficient interaction between persons and place. Urban space has often increased in population to the point that it serves as a synergistic force for the social construction of the suburb. Ironically, suburbs have decided that the only means for their survival is to mirror urban areas – formal social relationships and complex institutional arrangements. In turn, the suburb has served as a synergistic force to create its own alter ego, the exurb. As a result, the rapid growth of suburban populations makes it difficult to exclude the suburb from consideration as urban space because it is a product and catalyst for the social construction of urban space.

1 comment:

  1. Διάβασα την ανάρτησή σας και το πήρα αρκετά ενημερωτικό. Δεν μπορούσα να βρω καμία γνώση για αυτό το θέμα πριν. Θα ήθελα να ευχαριστήσω που μοιραστήκατε αυτό το άρθρο εδώ.Διαιτολόγος για απώλεια βάρους Βόρεια Προάστια