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(Brown 1993: pp 3527). Of course, you might well question how well that describes
the average urban dweller in the modern world.
If we agree that urban is a place-based characteristic, then we can proceed to define
an urban place as a spatial concentration of people whose lives are organized around
nonagricultural activities. The essential characteristic here is
that urban means nonagricultural; whereas rural means any
place that is not urban. A farming village of 5,000 people
should not be called urban, whereas a tourist spa or an artist
colony of 2,500 people may well be correctly designated as
an urban place. You can appreciate, then, that “urban” is a
fairly complex concept. It is a function of (1) sheer popula-
tion size, (2) space (land area), (3) the ratio of population to
space (density or concentration), and (4) economic and social
organization. As I will discuss below, the changes occurring
throughout the world might well call into question this defini-
tion that relies on non-agricultural activity as a major crite-
rion, because urban characteristics of place - especially those
related to infrastructure - are increasingly (and deliberately)
showing up in places that used to be strictly agricultural in
nature. In other words, the urban-rural divide is becoming
less obvious as the world population grows, as the fraction of humans living in cities
increases, and as technology continues to transform human society.
Urban places are now home to virtually one of every two human beings and, by
the middle of the twenty-first century, nearly two out of every three people will be
urban dwellers (United Nations Population Division 2008 ). This is a truly remark-
able transformation when you consider that as recently as 1850 only 2% percent of
the entire population of the world lived in cities of 100,000 or more people. By
1900 that figure had edged up to 6%, and it had risen to 16% by 1950 (Davis 1972 ).
Today the world is dotted by places with 100,000 or more people, and it is so com-
monplace that a city of that size is considered to be very small. “The present histori-
cal epoch, then, is marked by population redistribution as well as by population
increase. The consequences of this redistribution - this “urban transition” from a
predominantly rural, agricultural world to a predominantly urban, nonagricultural
world - are likely to be of the same order of magnitude as those of the more widely-
heralded increase in world population” (Firebaugh 1979 : pp 199).
So pervasive is the lure of urban places that governments of many developing
countries have promoted schemes to bring urban infrastructure to traditionally agri-
cultural villages, in an attempt to keep migrants from overwhelming cities that are
already crowded beyond the limits of the infrastructure. “In Vietnam the govern-
ment is attempting to promote rural industrialization through the encouragement of
sideline productions with the slogan 'leaving the land without leaving the village'”
(Rigg 1998 : pp 502). As non-agricultural work gradually soaks up a larger fraction
of a village's labor force, the social and economic life of the village changes and of
course the place becomes essentially more urban. “As the relationship between city
and countryside becomes ever more entwined, it is becoming ever harder to talk of
discrete 'rural' and 'urban' worlds” (Rigg 1998 : pp 515).
“urban” is a
that incorporates
elements of
density, social and
economic organi-
zation, and the
transformation of
the natural
into a built
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