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compiles data, roughly half use administrative consider-
ations - such as residing in the capital of the country or of
a province - to designate people as urban dwellers. Among
the other countries, 51 distinguish urban and rural popula-
tions based on the size or density of locales, 39 rely on
functional characteristics such as the main economic activity of an area, 22 have no
definition of 'urban,' and 8 countries define all (Singapore, for example) or none
(several countries in Polynesia) of their populations as living in urban areas”
(Brockerhoff 2000 : Box 1).
In the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, rural turned
into urban when you reached streets laid out in a grid.
Today, such clearly defined transitions are rare. Besides,
even living in a rural area in most industrialized societies
does not preclude your participation in urban life. The
flexibility of the automobile combined with the power of
telecommunications put most people in touch with as
much of urban life (and rural life, what is left of it) as they
might want. In the most remote areas of developing coun-
tries, radio and satellite-relayed television broadcasts can make rural villagers
knowledgeable about urban life, even if they have never seen it in person (Critchfield
1994 ). There is probably more variability among urban places, and within the popu-
lations in urban places, than ever before in human history. This variability has
important consequences for the relationship between human populations and the
environment, because populations become urban through the transformation of the
natural environment into a built environment, and as urban places evolve, the sub-
sequent changes in the built environment may well have forward-linking influences
on human behavior: Humans transform the environment; and are then transformed
by the new environment.
As long ago as 1950, when less than 30% of the world lived in urban places, the
United Nations Population Division was already making the case that a rural-urban
continuum would be preferable to a rural/urban dichotomy (Smailes 1966 ). “We
recognize, of course, that there will undoubtedly always be political and adminis-
trative uses to which dichotomies such as urban/rural and metropolitan/non-metro-
politan will be put, but we argue that such dichotomies are increasingly less useful
in social science research. Instead, we must move more intensively to the construc-
tion of a variable - a continuum or gradient - that more adequately and accurately
captures the vast differences that exist in where humans live and thus how we organize
our lives” (Weeks et al. 2005 : pp 267).
In order to build an ecological model of the rural-urban continuum, we must
recognize that most social science literature that describes the nature and character
of urban populations focuses almost exclusively on the measurement of the social
environment, often drawing upon census data to describe this milieu. But variations
in the social environment are dependent, at least in part, upon variability in the built
environment. For example, high population density - an index that is often used as
a measure of urbanness - can be achieved with some kinds of physical structures,
but not others. The idea that people create an urban place, and then are influenced
urban and rural
are ends of a
people create an
urban place,
and then are
influenced by
the place that
has been created
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