Cultural Types of Cities Research Paper

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Urban forms and structures vary from one region of the world to the other. For better understanding of such variations the notion of culture realm is helpful.

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1. The Intermediate Le El Of Looking At Cities

From the global point of view cities are local concentrations of population sharing certain features such as site and location factors, form (streets, houses), functions, and land uses. These features are common to all cities around the globe.

At the opposite end of the scale there is the individual city. From the ideographic point of view each city is unique as to its historical development and design.

At an intermediate level and mainly on cosmographic, religious, mercantile, or military grounds, the cities in a specific region of the world have developed certain peculiar traits common only to them and distinguishing them from the cities of other regions. These traits derived from ideas and thoughts of their inhabitants about their way of life and the desire to shape their settlements accordingly. Cities are, to a certain degree, a mirror of the intentions of their founders and of all successive generations over the centuries.

This aspect has been somewhat neglected, even to the present day. Prior to the 1950s, professional geographers were occupied mainly with location and growth factors, and urban functions. During the first quarter of the twentieth century a few German geographers made urban morphology their research topic, and it was in this period that a few cultural– genetic studies appeared. The Austrian Oberhummer participated in the Transcontinental Excursion of 1912 across the United States and published a comparative study on American and German cities in a memorial volume (Oberhummer 1915). Fleure (1920) wrote an article on various types of European cities for the 1920 Geographical Review, while in 1928 Passarge convened a symposium on urban issues in various countries and two years later published the results in his book Stadtlandschaften der Erde (Townscapes of the World) (Passarge 1930).

Interest in cross-cultural research arose again after 1950 when urban land uses and urban structure became major research topics. Simultaneously, the British geographer Smailes (1955) drew the attention of the English-speaking scientific community to urban morphology with his paper on townscapes. These attempts were, however, very soon superimposed by the so-called ‘quantitative revolution’ and the rise of urban social geography.

This is why the cultural–genetic approach was given rather little attention in standard textbooks. Of course, a few cross-cultural studies appeared, by Scargill (1979), Brunn and Williams (1983), and Agnew et al. (1984). The models of some cultural types of cities are discussed in Ehlers (1992). But separate chapters devoted to cultural types of cities are only found in the urban geography textbooks by Beaujeu-Garnier and Chabot (1963), Hofmeister (1999), and Rugg (1972). A vast amount of material on cultural types of cities will, however, be available in the near future when the series ‘Urbanization of the Earth’ started by Tietze in 1977 is completed.

It is postulated that urbanization processes are the same all over the world. However, they encounter different cultures and consequently generate different urban forms and structures in various parts of the world.

These regional differences may be seen against the background of culture realms. In the present author’s opinion one may distinguish between twelve culture realms in the world and twelve cultural types of cities, respectively. These are the European, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asian, Indian, Oriental (Middle Eastern), Central African, South African, Australian, Anglo-American, and Latin American types.

We should, however, be aware of the fact that the notion of culture realm implies a rather high degree of generalization. As we attempt to go further into details we shall soon realize, for example, that Anglo-American cities are far from alike. The mere existence of the two political entities of the United States and Canada has had some bearing upon urban developments, so that US cities will look somewhat different from Canadian cities (see Goldberg and Mercer 1986). In an attempt to do justice to such variations Holzner et al. (1967) derived 34 sub-types of cities.

Even within the confines of the Dominion of Canada, cities are different to a certain degree as we compare the cities in the predominantly French-settled Province of Quebec with the cities of the Province of Ontario so that we may at least distinguish between a French- Canadian type and an Anglo-Canadian type of city (see Hecht 1977). A further breakdown might lead to even more regional subtypes.

2. Cultural Types Of Cities In Their Culture Realms

The following paragraphs will restrict themselves to these twelve cultural types of cities corresponding to the twelve great culture realms of the world, and to a few selected cultural traits.

2.1 The European City

Europe’s cities originated from processes that started in the eighth century with the consolidation of political power and economic development. The ruler’s power, be it clerical or secular, found its manifestation in cathedrals, monasteries, and castles. To the present day, churches and castles have remained focal points of European cities.

Usually the early European town was a dual settlement: besides the ruler’s court, merchants’ quarters developed as the second point of origin. The town was a closed entity, separated visually from its hinterland by a wall, its residents living under special jurisdiction and enjoying the right of trading. The market place and town hall became the focal point of the city. The heritage of these essentials of early European urbanism are still obvious in present-day townscapes.

There are, however, regional variations. For example, Southern Europe’s towns were usually built on hills corresponding to the acropolis of Athens, with the effect of many streets actually being stairway. The hilltop location gave them a certain amount of safety not only against enemies but also against the torrential floods of the seasonally inundating Mediterranean rivers. The numerous squares were integrated intensively into the daily lives of their residents.

In contrast to the Continent, British towns show a less compact building fabric due to much earlier dismantling of their fortifications and a strong desire of people for single family dwellings, these traits making them look more like Anglo-American than European cities.

2.2 The Russian City

Many old Russian towns developed on the western bluffs of rivers with the kremlin as their core while the settlement was less compact on the eastern bank. The second core was the posad or merchants’ quarters. Small suburban settlements called slobody developed as living quarters of other population groups, while still farther away often fortified monasteries were founded. The kremlin eventually lost its strategic function and mutated to become the city’s administrative and cultural center.

In the colonial period grid-pattern quarters were added to many historic towns. Especially in the Islamic towns of Central Asia, the modern Russian quarters made for a conspicuous contrast to the cul-de-sac layout of the historic town center.

During the Soviet era, socialist principles were applied to town planning. The concept of microrayon corresponded with the American neighborhood principle inasmuch as entities of 6,000 to 25,000 residents with basic service functions were conceived. Three to four microrayons were called a district, and there were two more levels in the intra-urban hierarchy.

The post-Soviet changes of the 1990s brought foreign investments, mainly into hotels and office buildings, the privatization of kolkhoz markets and some residential quarters, and a somewhat greater mixture of social status groups.

2.3 The Chinese City

The widespread regular grid pattern supposedly originated in military camps on the dangerous northern margin of the later Chinese Empire. Geomantics played a decisive part in the layout of towns. The rectangular system was related to yin, representing the Earth, in contrast to the circular yang, representing Heaven. The ruler’s palace always faced south. A fixed number of streets ran north–south, crossing the east–west streets at right angles. However, some streets were a little displaced in order to prevent evil spirits from getting through.

During the nineteenth century many towns along the east coast and the rivers expanded by so-called ‘concessions,’ i.e., foreign missions, industrial, port and trading facilities, and living quarters established by Europeans and Americans.

In the present People’s Republic there is a hierarchical structure of urban residents with a certain number of households forming a residents’ group, several groups a residents’ committee, and several committees a town. Residents are usually assigned dwelling units and social services by production complexes, these danweis being highly autonomous entities. The planning of great modern industrial parks since 1958 gave rise to a number of satellite cities that are supposed to relieve the metropolises from uncontrolled expansion as well as eventually abolishing the urban–rural dichotomy.

2.4 The Japanese City

The rectangular cho-pattern copied from China and the observing of geomantic rules made for similarities to the Chinese cities. Around 1950 one half of Japan’s cities originated from the castle town or joka-machi of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The castle district is located in a strategic hillside position, protected by a system of walls and ditches and divided into the palace area of the daimyo in the center and the quarters of the higher and lower samurai (warriors). Beyond the wall there were the quarters of the craftsmen, merchants, and priests. During the reforms of 1868 the daimyo lost their privileges. The castle district mutated to become a civic center in those castle towns that were able to acquire manufacturing and administrative functions. The other half of Japan’s cities are port cities, market places, shrines or spas.

During the twentieth century many small shopping streets grew to the size of large shopping centers, although without any societal and cultural functions. Huge underground centers at the railroad stations became keen competitors for the traditional shopping streets of the temple districts.

A number of walled industrial parks with dormitories for single workers and multi-storey tenements for married workers’ families called danchi were established. The third trend was land reclamation beyond the former coastlines for large modern industrial plants with their own port facilities and infrastructure of dwelling units, supermarkets, and social institutions.

2.5 The Southeast Asian City

Geomantic and anthropomorphic rules were observed in their layout. The port was considered the ‘heart’ of the city, while the seat of the clerical power on the south side was its ‘soul.’ The north was identified with the body’s head and was supposed to accommodate the representative functions. The east was compared with the right or working hand and assigned to the craftsmen, the west with brain work and mental culture, and assigned to the officials and guardians of the palace.

Since the Age of Discoveries, European urban patterns and buildings have been introduced, Jakarta’s Dutch origin becoming obvious by its grachten and Manila’s Spanish origin by its plaza mayor. As in many colonial cities there was an intermediate status group between the indigenous people and the colonial elite. In Southeast Asia this group is made up of the Chinese, who dominate trade and commerce.

A conspicuous element of many towns is their fishing villages where boat people, often referred to as ‘sea gypsies,’ spend most of their lifetime on boats or sampans.

Great percentages of Indonesia’s urban population are found in settlements referred to as ‘kampungs,’ these settlements having a functional mixture of dwellings, crafts, and trade, and originating in villages still lacking most urban amenities. Some authors consider them squatter settlements. In recent times many kampungs have been integrated into the building fabric of the growing metropolises, while only those at the urban fringe have maintained their village-like appearance.

2.6 The Indian City

Hindu urban culture is based on meditation images and symbols such as mandalas with a regular street pattern arranged around temples devoted to one of the deities. The regular Indian grid is centered on an intersection of two major axes with a temple nearby, while the palace is integrated into the wall. Ritual and secular uses of streets have been highly interwoven.

The caste system played a decisive role in Hindu culture. The four major castes originated in various parts of the deity Vishnu’s body, specific quarters of the city being allocated to each of them. Priests used to live together with the ruler and the members of his court in the central temple and palace district or in the northern sector of town. The officials privileged by their position as supervisors of the ruler’s water and land resources lived in the eastern sector, the merchants in the south, and the peasants in the west.

Over the centuries more than 3,000 subcastes have developed due to secessions, political quarrels, and the growing division of labor. These jatis, characterized by hereditary professions and high rates of endogamy have made for a very low degree of mobility and a high degree of segregation.

In North India the irregular Indian grid influenced by Islamic culture is characterized partly by winding streets of changing width and crooked byroads.

A completely new element was added to these towns by the Anglo-Indian stations of the British comprising the ‘cantonment’ or military quarters, the ‘civil lines’ or quarters of the officials of the Indian Civil Service, private entrepreneurs, and the ‘railway colony.’ A number of shops were lined up along the Mall while the so-called sadr bazaar served those troops recruited from the indigenous people for whom the Hindu town was off limits. Even a new house type was created: the bungalow, with its rectangular shape, pyramid-like roof thatched or covered with bricks, one storey high with porches on each side, and put on stilts for better ventilation and protection against floods.

2.7 The Oriental Or Islamic City

There has been a long-lasting controversy as to whether the cities from Morocco to Pakistan should be termed Oriental or Islamic. Adherents to the latter opinion consider the Friday mosque and the bazaar the two dominating elements, while their opponents argue that the suq, the caravansary, and the hammam or bathhouse can be traced back to the Roman colonnades, basilica, and thermae of pre-Islamic times, respectively.

One of the most conspicuous traits of the medina or historic town center is its cul-de-sac pattern, while the few thoroughfares are exceptions. One explanation for this phenomenon is the juxtaposition of clans of different origins as to their ethnicity, religion and language, and their desire to live segregated from other residents. Second, in contrast to the Roman carriages, camels and mules were used for transportation. The third reason is the legal status of the cul-de-sacs: they are not public spaces, but rather are owned by their neighbors.

Much real estate of the medina is in waqfs, i.e., foundations donated by rulers, officials, or merchants for religious and beneficial purposes or the use of their children, and administered by trustees. Neither these nor the users are interested in investments, so that these foundations prevent urban renewal, leading to the decay of buildings and the emigration of the wealthier people.

The bazaar is structured in a way that the most valuable goods such as jewelry, books, or perfumes are traded in the most centrally located and covered lanes. Spices, shoes, and carpets are found some distance from the center, while pottery, leather goods, auto parts, and other manufactured and bulky goods are found in a still more peripheral location. In recent years this pattern has been weakened. Simple stalls have been replaced by shops with shop windows, and the whole bazaar has faced competition from the development of a central business district (CBD) and modern suburban shopping centers.

2.8 The Central African City

There has been a controversy as to whether the Yoruba towns of southern Nigeria were urban settlements in the strict sense of the word. The Hausa developed a special kind of segregation, since no strangers were allowed into their town, those people founding settlements of their own outside the gates: sabon-gari which in Hausa means ‘new town.’ The British colonial administration adopted the sabon-gari system for ethnic and hygienic reasons.

Although the numbers of European soldiers, administrators, and business managers remained small, their settlements were spacious in contrast to the crowded areas of the indigenous people. There were intermediate groups between them and the European elite: the Levantines in West Africa and the Indians in East Africa. They were mainly in trade, transport, and lower ranks of the administration. The Indians especially had their own temples, schools, clubs, and bazaars with dukas, i.e., open shops with verandahs closed with wooden shutters at night. In recent times modern shopping centers have developed beside the duka-style bazaars. A slow transformation has occurred from a society composed of the European upper class, the Indian middle class, and the African lower class toward a society structured along socioeconomic lines.

In many towns the indigenous population is divided into a dominating tribal group and several minority groups from different tribes, each of them stressing their own tribal traditions, a phenomenon referred to as ‘retribalization’ or ‘peasantization.’

2.9 The South African City

The early towns of the Cape Province and the towns in Orange Free State and Transvaal were founded by the Afrikaners, and all others by the British. Within a few decades they went full circle from the colonial town through the apartheid town, and a transition period to the post-apartheid town. As early as 1913 the Native Land Act prohibited Africans from acquiring land outside their reservations, or later homelands. They lived either as servants in their employers’ households or were forced to stay in ‘locations’ and hostels.

The central city was reserved for white citizens and, as an exception, for some colored groups, by the Group Areas Act of 1948. Even white people lived more or less segregated as to their Afrikaner, British, or Portuguese origin. The Natives Resettlement Act of 1954 initiated comprehensive relocation. Often railroad tracks, highways, or canals served as barriers between the quarters of racial groups, while each racial quarter was assigned a considerable number of places of employment in order to keep commuting through other racial quarters to a minimum.

However, complete segregation was never achieved. Since 1986, non-white enterprises have been admitted to so-called ‘free trade areas’ while ‘grey areas’ have been legalized, and even ‘free settlement areas’ open to all racial groups have been established. The repeal of the racial laws in 1991 brought about considerable mobility and squatting.

2.10 The Latin American City

The Spaniards founded their overseas towns around the plaza mayor with the cabildo, cathedral, and courthouse. They had a central–peripheral social gradient with the upper-class people living in the cuadras (blocks) nearest to the plaza.

This social structure has persisted to the present partly because centrally located residences are still considered a privilege. Part of the city center mutated into the CBD, with some storeys being added to old patio houses and edificios or high-rise office buildings being constructed. Behind the fashionable paseos, overcrowded multi-storey tenements or con entillos had developed, which received many rural migrants who eventually further migrated to the shantytowns at the urban fringe.

Since the 1930s a sectoral pattern has been superimposed on the traditional zonal structure by the development of manufacturing plants and worker’s quarters along railroad lines, and by the centrifugal expansion of upper-class quarters.

At the urban fringe a more or less high percentage of people live in shantytowns called villas miserias in Argentina or favelas in Brazil. Most of their occupations are in the so-called ‘informal sector’ of the economy. As a measure of relief, poblaciones or public housing estates in combination with site-and-service projects have been built by the governments of various South American states.

2.11 The Anglo-American City

While the grid pattern had already been introduced to colonial North America the grid was applied rigorously to most towns beyond the Appalachian Mountains after the release of the Land Ordinance in 1785.

The United States was the pacemaker in skyscraper construction. Competition from huge suburban shopping centers and the loss of purchasing power of the clientele of downtown shops brought decay to the downtown areas of US cities. Since the 1950s, revitalization programs have been carried out with malls and shopping gallerıas often in combination with skyways, downtown motels, and modern cultural centers with concert halls, convention centers, and exhibition halls. Historical foundations have purchased and resold many historic buildings by means of revolving funds.

Since in large areas the founding of towns and the construction of railroads occurred simultaneously, railroad tracks often cut right through the town center with level crossings, while large manufacturing areas developed right outside the CBD along the tracks. The inner residential areas decayed, because most of the building stock was made of timber and prone to swift degradation, and the improved-value system of taxation was no incentive for investments, so that tax delinquency and vacancy rates increased rapidly. Moreover, since the 1830s low-status groups of immigrants concentrated in these inner quarters where they were close to their fellow countrymen and to manufacturing jobs. In recent years many such areas have been upgraded by ‘urban homesteading’ and gentrification.

For many decades suburbia has been dominated by single-family homes and duplexes. Especially, young families moved to the suburbs seeking better schools for their children. Other reasons were investments in high-quality real estate and the chance to live close to neighbors sharing the same lifestyle (‘lifestyle suburbs’). The metropolises became completely fragmented by dozens of huge shopping centers, these functioning as catalyzers for modern office and business parks, and the growth of ‘urban villages’ termed ‘edge cities’ by Garreau (1991).

2.12 The Australian City

In general, Australia’s cities very much resemble the Anglo-American type. There are, however, certain differences. The CBD has never experienced such a high concentration of skyscrapers with all their disadvantages. The inner suburbs of the nineteenth century have not experienced a decay similar to that of US cities due to more favorable conditions: the long rows of terrace houses are rather solid buildings made of brick or natural stone (with the exception of the Queenslander house made of timber and set on stilts), the site-value system of taxation, the much smaller concentration of non-British minority groups, most of these immigrants only arriving after 1950 in a country with a booming economy and high wages enabling them to become home owners in some suburban areas within a few years, and the high degree of gentrification.

Urban sprawl has been even greater than in the United States and made for approximately 70 percent home ownership. Despite this and a high rate of car ownership there are amazingly few urban expressways (with the exception of Perth). A widely accepted planning concept is the development of a limited number of growth corridors along railroad lines and major highways with designated district centers around suburban railroad stations.


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