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The Urbanization of America

The history of planning in the United States is largely one of response to urbanization and the problems it has brought. To understand that history, it is necessary to have some sense of the main currents of U.S. urban history. This chapter will emphasize economic, technological, and demographic trends, since these, over the long term, have far more effect than discrete events like elections.

There is something of a break in the trend of U.S. urbanization around the end of the nineteenth century. For convenience, then, we will divide the discussion into two parts: an account of urbanization in the nineteenth century and another from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present.

URBANIZATION IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

In the year 1800 the urbanized population of the United States was roughly 300,000, and the total population was 5 million. Thus perhaps 6 percent of the U.S. population lived in urbanized areas. By 1900 the U.S. urbanized population was 30 million, and the total population was 76 million. Approximately 40 percent of the population lived in urbanized areas.1 From 1800 to 1900 the U.S. population increased by a factor of 15, an annual compounded rate of about 2.4 percent. However, urban populations increased by a factor of 100, an annual compounded rate of about 5 percent. In 1800 the largest city in the United States, New York, had a population of well under 100,000. By 1900 its population was over 3 million.

 
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