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Urbanization is the increase in spatial scale and/or density of settlement and/or business and other activities of an area over time. The process could occur either as an expansion of the existing population, incoming migration, or a mixture of both.

Urbanization has profound effects on the ecology of a region and on its economy. Urban sociology[?] also suggests that people's psychology changes and life styles.

The increase in spatial scale is often called "urban sprawl". It is frequently used as a derogatory term by opponents of urbanization especially for low-density urban development at outskirt of a city. Sprawl is considered unsightly and undesirable by those critics.

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Economic Effects

As to the economy, the most striking immediate effect is a dramatic increase in rents, often pricing the local working class out of the market, including such functionaries as the local employees of the local municipalities. Supermarkets and schools[?] sometimes relocate or close down due to the same financial pressure. Dramatic increases in land values also encourage further development, and may bring an increased tax revenue for local government.

In order to mitiate the process of urbanization, certain policies such as zoning or growth control or creation of an urban growth boundary are put in place, although the eventual effect of those policies sometimes turn out to be inflated land and housing prices due to a restricted supply.

When a place becomes larger in relation to other srrounding places, its industrial structure tend to change. Research in urban ecology[?] find that larger cities provide more specialized goods and services to the local market, and its surrounding areas, function as a transportation and wholesale hub for smaller places, and accumulate more capital, financial services, and educated labor force in general. This relation among places of different sizes is called the urban hierarchy[?].

Ecological Effects

Urbanization often increases the potential for wildland fires as planting and irrigation of landscaping trees and plants occurs over the years. The devestating East Bay Hills Fire in Oakland, California and Berkeley, California in 1991 was one instance where lush vegetation in a suburban neighborhood in the wildland/urban intermix resulted in a serious fire.

Urbanization, especially in the western United States, often brings people into contact with wildlife such as deer, (often hunting is not permitted and deer become quite tame) and mountain lions the natural predator of deer (and pets such as dogs and cats). As the lions become at home in the urban setting they sometimes turn to people too as a source of food. (See, for example, "Deer Draw Cougars Ever Eastward" by Blaine Harden, New York Times, Nov. 12, 2002 [1] (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/12/science/life/12COUG)). This type of events is as yet rare, but as the estimated 30,000 puma in the western United States gradually expand their range to the eastern United States, it is a source of concern.

Psychological Effects and Urban Life Style

In the field of urban sociology, the effects of urbanization on mentality and life style has been a subject of research and debate. The agreement hardly exists, though the differing views are closely related to one another. Following are the three major views.

Georg Simmel, one of the pioneers in German sociology, is considered a pioneer in urban sociology, suggesting that the increased concentration and diversity of people and ongoing activities in city puts urbanites under stress (a cognitive overload). This is considered the major cause of urban mentality - detachment from others, self-centeredness, and rational calculating mind. This understanding of urban life and urbanites are closely related to the understanding of modern society by Ferdinand Tonnies[?] and Max Weber, two of Simmel's close contemporaries. Louis Wirth[?], a member of Chicago school, followed Simmel and wrote probably the most frequently-cited paper on urbanism "Urbanism as a way of life," in 1938. His writing on the urbanism on mentality and life style remains illustrative, compared to the definition of urbanism, but among the suggested are relaxed moral restrains, increased participation in formal organization pursuing limited goals (as opposed to belonging to a community), increased role of mediated communcation. Both are more or less in line of social atomism[?], the view that modern society disintegrate communities into a soup of individuals.

The major counter-argument is found in Herbert Gans[?]'s work Urban Villagers[?], an ethnographical work on how urbanites' lives are encraved by local ethnic community[?].

Another well-known view is subcultural theory of urbanism[?] by Claude Fischer[?]. He asserts that many different subcultural groups are formed in urban areas, and residents tend to choose a limited number of them to participate, as opposed to freely floating one from another. Some of those groups are quite informal and residents may be strongly engaged, having a similar experience to the close relationship found in community.


Urbanization has in the United States affected the Rocky Mountains in locations such as Jackson Hole, Wyoming[?], Telluride, Colorado, Taos, New Mexico, Douglas County, Colorado and Aspen, Colorado. The lake district of northern Minnesota has also been affected as has Vermont, the coast of Florida, and the barrier islands of North Carolina.

In the United Kingdom, two major examples of urbanization can be seen in Swindon, Wiltshire and Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. These two towns show some of the fastest growth rates in Europe.

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Related Terms gentrification, growth management, zoning, land use, urban sprawl, modernity, urban hierarchy[?]

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