Internal Structure of Cities Research Paper

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Urban research has always focused on big cities. Big cities are concentrates of the cultural and economic potential of mankind. They are centers of innovation as well as hotbeds of social and ecological problems. Moreover, they have long outgrown the limits of perception. Not only do planners plead for a return to human dimensions, but all those engaged in urban research seek to delimit manageable segments, either by subject matter or by spatial criteria.

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1. General Principles

1.1 Accessibility And Transport Technology

The city is a centered system based on the twofold premise that the city center is the engine of development and the place easiest to access. Accessibility of both the center and the entire city area is determined by its opening up for development and by transport technology (see Fig. 1).

Internal Structure of Cities Research Paper

A city of pedestrians and coaches tended to be circular. When streetcars came into use in Europe, they started mostly at the town gates. This made for star-shaped growth, with the interstitial areas lagging behind in development. Where public transport is predominant, the city center remains the easiest place to access. The metropole concentree of Paris is an example. The absolute predominance of private transport reduces access to the center; under a liberal political system and with land abundantly available, a city or metropolitan region designed for car traffic emerges in several steps. Los Angeles offers a prototype of this.

1.2 Distance Decay

There are two theoretical approaches for analyzing gradients from the center to the periphery:

1.2.1 Social Gradients. The central peripheral organization of urban society may be described by means of centrifugal and centripetal social gradients. These gradients permit the following diagnosis regarding urban growth. Wherever the city center is also the social center and a centripetal social gradient is in evidence, the demand for space of the upper classes extends outward from the center. This causes residential and social upgrading of the adjacent middleclass districts. In the middle zone, former lower-class quarters are turned into middle-class districts. The Founders Period growth of Berlin, Budapest, Copenhagen, Paris, Prague, and Vienna was of this kind. This type of upgrading must not be confused with the recent phenomenon of gentrification in North American cities. Here, middle and upper income urbanites move centripetally into rundown central districts (see Fig. 2).

Internal Structure of Cities Research Paper

Wherever a centrifugal social gradient predominates, as in US cities, a filtering down takes place: with the deterioration of the building fabric in the center, lower-class people move outward into adjacent middle and upper-class districts. This social downgrading of high quality living quarters is hard to stop and presented a major problem for British town planners. Having accomplished the redevelopment of rundown early industrial terrace houses next to the old town centers, they were faced with the daunting task of redeveloping devastated mid and late nineteenth century terrace house districts (while the necessary renovation of early twentieth century council housing was partly effected by privatization under Thatcher).

1.2.2 Land Values Gradient. According to the theory of urban land markets (Alonso 1964), urban land use mirrors transport cost as well as the rent of land. Regularly, in socio-economically intact city centers, there is a center-periphery gradient with several consecutive zones of use outward from the central business district (CBD). Replacement of historical city-models by the new model of suburbia together with the reduction in accessibility have made for an abandonment of central areas, resulting in ‘craters’ of land prices and visible decay of inner cities in the USA and parts of Western Europe. In the centers, the gradient now falls in the opposite direction. The Alonso model excludes restrictions on planning land use and vertical development. With zoning laws, building categories, and other legal regulations, the gradient of real estate prices is altered. Each category or zone is divided in two, with the inner zone obviously better suited for business purposes and office space than the outer zone that is used for dwelling as it is more profitable (see Fig. 3).

Internal Structure of Cities Research Paper

1.3 Hierarchical Structures

Hierarchical order is one of the basic types of systemic organization. When organizing the physical space of urban areas, a hierarchical order has been attempted wherever planned development was feasible and land in abundant supply. Examples run from 17C Sicily (Granmichele) via Howard’s New Town idea (1902), with city center and garden suburbs in a cluster city, to major planning projects for urban peripheries in Europe at present. The hierarchy is constructed from the bottom upwards. The basic units are electoral wards, which in many European countries and in North America double up as statistical units: their dimensions are derived from the traditional ‘pedestrian ideology’ of 1 km (i.e., 15 minutes walking distance) as standard size. Comprehensive hierarchical urban structures have been realized only in the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe, above all the USSR. In the rest of Europe, hierarchical organization of urban space is the exception rather than the rule. However, it is frequently found in traditional Oriental cities. There, a spatial hierarchy of family, clan, and local quarters is based on family, religious, and ethnic affiliations. The hierarchical organization of living quarters and sub-centers is paralleled in the hierarchy of semi-private, semi-public, and public links as well as markets.

2. The Impact Of Political Systems

2.1 Social-Ecological City Models

In their paper, The Nature of Cities (1945), Harris and Ullman tried to model internal patterns within cities. The triad of models presented makes use of diverse development phenomena:

(a) invasion and succession of social groups in Burgess’ zonal model,

(b) transport-induced ribbon-developments along traffic lines in Hoyt’s sector model, and

(c) collective preferences as to the allocation of workplaces in the Harris-Ullman multiple-nuclei model.

However, three important underlying assumptions have not yet been made explicit:

(a) the political system of liberalism,

(b) the historical ‘one-dimensionality’ of urban development, and

(c) the concept of the city center as CBD.

The models mentioned represent ideal types of North American cities of the interwar period (see Fig. 4).

Internal Structure of Cities Research Paper

2.2 Historical-Political Systems And The Concept Of The City Center

Changes in the political system alter the conceptions of the city and urban society. The function of the city center is changed. European urban development may be defined as a succession of four types of political systems and the respective types of cities. Their concepts of the city center were markedly different: (a) in the burghers’ city of medieval, feudal, territorial state the marketplace was the social center; (b) which shifted to the ruler’s residence in the residence city of the absolutist state. Thus, a social gradient falling from the center toward the periphery is the general rule in pre-industrial cities. (c) In the age of liberalism, Great Britain created the prototype of the industrial city. A social gradient rising from the center toward the periphery predominated, a development later paralleled in North American cities. (d) Again, Great Britain set the rules for the New Town idea, the attempt at structuring the amorphous masses of big industrialized cities on a human scale, with the city divided into parts with different functions. From the outset, spatial segregation of inhabitants was barred from the design of New Towns—a fact that is still influential in urban planning today. European city development is most complex; various superpositions and, to different degrees, the persistence of historical structures caused the diversification of socioeconomic patterns and different social gradients.

Vienna in the 1960s offers the model for the traditional continental European city:

(a) Social status is still highest in the core and declines toward the periphery. Depending on site preferences individual districts deviate from this rule.

(b) The CBD has maintained some residential functions and is not surrounded by slums, but by middle and upper class residential districts, encircled by lower class quarters.

(c) The wide belt of multistory blocks is followed on its outside by Founders Period industrial quarters, followed in their turn by loosely built-up districts.

(d) The fringe zone is not defined by an extensive speculation area of ‘vacant land’ as in North America, but by sectors of intensive agricultural land use (in keeping with the von Thunen model) such as truck farming and viticulture, as well as of allotment gardens and weekend homes (see Fig. 5).

Internal Structure of Cities Research Paper

2.3 The Impact Of State Socialism

Under state socialism, municipal governments were the local planning authorities, responsible for the mass of multistory housing that was unprofitable because of ‘social’ low rents. They lost all chances of capital accumulation from real estate property, and became dependent on financial endowments from the central government and on central planning. The consequences were:

The big cities’ increasing demand for space was met by extensive incorporations.

Public construction (by state, municipal and other collective institutions) took absolute precedence over private construction.

Architectural design followed totalitarian principles, stressing elements of over wide avenues and huge squares, both imposing and strategically important.

Massive anti-segregation strategies were pursued. City centers were usually put under monument protection.

City enlargement was effected via New Cities in the shape of hierarchically structured giant multistory blocks.

In compliance with the Charter of Athens, industrial and dwelling zones were strictly separated.

Commuting requirements were taken care of by subway construction.

Forced industrialization created extensive industrial zones with plants located close to railway lines and super-highways.

Extensive leisure zones were created on the fringes, with both collective recreation facilities and private second homes (see Fig. 6).

2.4 City Growth and Political Systems

Cities are growing systems, with increasing populations, and or with increasing demand for space for diverse urban functions (housing, work, education, leisure, traffic, etc.) in a setting of economic growth and technical innovation.

The diverging political-economic effects of central planning and of a free enterprise economy cause significant differences in the physical growth of cities in the respective systems. Cities grow in two directions: laterally and vertically.

2.4.1 The Third Dimension. Vertical growth means high-rise construction. Up to the 1970s, when some cities changed their laws, European cities could not expand vertically because of strict zoning laws, but were forced to grow laterally. This necessitated the conversion of dwelling space into office space, e.g., in Paris and Vienna. High-rise construction in European cities started relatively late (see Fig. 7). Its location within the city—frequently subject to special permission—is different from that in North America. There, the vertical structure of urban skylines shows that land prices peak in the center while in European cities ‘monument protection’ bars high-rises from the centers. Thus, the new landmarks of banks, insurance firms, corporation headquarters, and hotels keep a polite distance from the old landmarks of churches, town halls, and castles.

For the sake of access to the various supply and disposal mains, high-rises are preferably located along urban ‘scars’: at the interfaces of traditional zones where former boundaries still show in open space or low physical objects. Frequently, new high-rises accent not only the edge of traditional inner cities but, centripetally, also major points of access to older outer cities and suburbs. High-rises also mark the front of growth of the CBD, busy commuter train stations, as well as ‘satellite’ districts. They are also instrumental in slum clearing.

2.4.2 Urban Fringe Development. Development of urban fringes differs materially according to whether it takes place under private capitalism, in welfare states or, in retrospect, under state capitalism.

(a) Under US private capitalism, cities grow as profits from land speculation and rising land prices are invested in land development and in technical improvements. This starts an upward spiral of development and rising prices. North American cities show two wide zones of speculation. The inner one, around the CBD, is marked by decay and slum areas at present. Far more impressive, at least because of its extent, is the peripheral zone of vacant land around core cities and suburbs, which, even in the 1950s amounted to 20 to 60 percent of the core areas (Bartholomew 1955). Anglo-American urban geography textbooks completely ignore those huge tracts of vacant land—implying that non-utilization of these spaces is taken for granted rather than considered a problem.

(b) In continental Europe, too, urban fringes attracted speculation. During World War I, they were occupied by so-called ‘emergency gardening plots,’ later turned into allotment gardens. Frequently, these became temporary settlements, partly forerunners of a second-home periphery. All over post-World-War I continental Europe, spontaneous settlements typically marked city fringes—a consequence of fundamental political changes. The absence of government checks on land use made for temporary settlements, among them the pavilions of ‘chaotic urbanization’ in France as well as the often illegal occupation of land around big central European cities (Belgrade, Budapest, Bukarest, Sofia, Vienna, and Warsaw). This shows that the succession states were less powerful than the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in repelling indigent illegal immigrants. Those postwar squatters were comparable to today’s squatter settlements on the fringes of Third World cities beyond the reach of state or municipal authorities.

(c) As to planning and regulating the growth of agglomerations, Great Britain set the standard in the early twentieth century, with the two important concepts of the New Town (referred to above) and the Green Belt. The creation of a Green Belt presupposes government control of land use, replacing the market mechanism of the liberal age. Originating in London, Green Belts have also become constituent features of zoning plans in other cities of the former British Empire. The urban development plan of Ottawa shows a Green Belt several miles wide. Persistent urban sprawl caused a characteristic overspill. In the USA, too, Green Belt concepts were introduced into various urban development plans, but because of the enormous extent of suburbanization they have not been realized along the edges of core cities. At present, there is little interest in creating public green spaces and leisure areas there.

(d) The opposite is true for the former socialist countries where extensive public recreation areas and large private second-home districts exist. (Neither of these important elements of the periphery of urban regions is to be found in the USA.) The public recreation area of Moscow goes back to a Green Belt idea already incorporated in the city development plan of 1935. It is 20 to 40 km wide and includes major sports and cultural facilities. In most of the big cities of the former USSR, the Green Belt was an integral part of development planning.

3. On The Nature Of Cities: The Immanent Question

With current suburbanization and counter-urbanization tendencies, the model of the city as a centered system is becoming obsolete. Scenarios have been developed which anticipate the existence of cities as ‘non-places.’ But there were also new models developed for the American ‘urban-like system.’ During the period 1950–2000, this rapidly growing new system of suburbia created a sort of extensive—though not ubiquitous—network, in part destroying former central place hierarchies, and in part developing the surroundings of metropolitan areas. It also frequently stopped the process of restructuring central cities by means of downtown redevelopment and gentrification. Core cities of mega-metropolises such as Chicago got another chance of redevelopment as new (air) traffic junctions, centers of business, finance, and the quaternary public sector, as well as cultural centers. The dichotomy of the ideal types of ‘urban-like’ structures and new mega structures seems to correspond to postindustrial America’s abandoning and simply ‘forgetting’ the areas of urban desertification of earlier industrial city development.


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