The Development of Cities

Reasons for Growth. The original settlements that grew into cities were usually built as trading centers or as forts to defend strategic locations. For this reason, most major cities are on rivers or harbors, or at the junction of important overland routes.

Early cities that developed strong military forces added to their territory, wealth, and importance by conquest. Favorably located settlements often became large and prosperous through commerce. Some, such as Athens, became centers of culture.

Some cities owe their importance to religion. Many ancient cities began as centers of worship. The city of Rome survived the collapse of the Roman Empire because it was the capital of Western Christendom. Mecca and Jerusalem owe their continued existence to the fact that they are religious shrines.

Some modern cities owe their development to the fact that they were planned and built as national capitals. Examples are Washington, D.C.; Canberra, Australia; New Delhi, India; and Brasília, Brazil. Climate is another important factor; the cities of Florida, for instance, owe much of their growth to the state's attractive climate.

The huge city of today is the creation of the Industrial Revolution. Factories were built in communities that had good transportation and were near raw materials and sources of power. Factories attracted workers, and the availability of workers in turn attracted more industry. At the same time, as agricultural productivity steadily increased, farm land and labor were released for other uses.

Cities through the Ages. The earliest cities were in Asia, Africa, and along the warm coasts of the Mediterranean. Many of these cities have long since disappeared. Some—such as Troy—have been rediscovered by archeologists.

The ancient cities of Greece and Italy had the political power of nations. ( .) Some ancient cities, such as Carthage, in northern Africa, were completely destroyed by rival powers, while others declined after being plundered by barbarian invaders in the early Christian Era. Many of the early cities, however, still exist and have been continually occupied since their founding.

In the early Middle Ages, most European cities were religious centers with little power or political importance. However, with the breakup of feudalism and the revival of trade, cities again became important. Genoa, Venice, Pisa, Hamburg, Bremen, and a number of other cities became independent states, much like the ancient city-states. ( .) With the rise of nationalism after the Renaissance, cities lost much of their political power, but continued to gain in economic importance.

United States Cities. Colonial America was largely rural. In 1750, there were only five cities with populations of more than 12,000—Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Newport (Rhode Island), and Charleston (South Carolina). Even by 1830 less than 7 per cent of the people were living in cities. Then came the period of canal and railway building, industrial expansion, and mass immigration—all leading to the rapid growth of cities. By about 1920, more than half the nation's people lived in cities. The pattern of city growth changed after World War II, however, with suburbs increasing in size much more rapidly than cities; many cities, in fact, lost population.