Introduction The paradigm of urban ecology informed the vast majority of urban studies that were undertaken between the 1920s and the 1960s. Even researchers working in this framework questioned how far urban ecology could go in explaining urban form and urban social life. Some critics noted such problems as the failure to find a model of growth that would apply to all cities and the ecologists inability to make a clear distinction between the biotic and the social levels of social organization. Others thought that human ecology relied too heavily on economic competition between individuals to explain urban patterns, overlooking such shared cultural factors as social prestige and ethnic prejudices. Another potential problem has been ecology’s determinism: that is, seeing social patterns as the outcome of impersonal social forces rather than of decisions made by human beings. One critique of human ecology was particularly useful in directing later research. In an article published in 1954, William Form argued that human ecologists had ignored the role of social structure, or organized groups, in shaping the urban landscape. He contended that real estate groups, big business, residents, and local governments all organize themselves in ways that permit or exclude land uses from locating in urban areas. The most highly institutionalized aspect of this organization is property zoning, through which local governments channel certain land uses to certain areas, regardless of their ability to pay for different locations. What Form questioned was the ecologists’ adherence to the assumption of neoclassical economic theory that land use is the natural result of competition in a free market. Rather, Form (1954, 323) proposed that researchers study land use by “Isolating the important and powerful land-interested groups in the city.” By 1970, researchers working within the paradigm of urban ecology had run out of questions that they could answer using their theoretical framework. Several limitations of human ecology prevented researchers from adapting the paradigm to new questions. First, urban ecology’s assumption that society followed natural laws, and that it was an outgrowth of the biotic level of life, tended to make researchers ignore the role of human action and decision making on urban spatial patterns. Second, the ecologists’ emphasis on describing urban spatial patterns confined them to superficial questions of where different activities took place and how those patterns changed rather than why they changed. Finally, urban ecology’s assumption that competition for land within the market determined the location of different land uses distracted researchers from the important impact that government officials and other powerful actors could have on the city. A new set of urban realities and a new set of questions challenged researchers to develop a new set of theories to explain urban spatial patterns. We will now turn to the paradigm of political economy and see how and why researchers adopted this new framework.

their home may also represent a financial investment – for them. making it more like town life and less self-sufficient than it had been. spatial patterns of urban land use. This is the case with rental property – the person who owns the property lets someone else pay to use it – and it is also the case with property developers. Friedrich Engels. Marx argued that capitalism was converting many material objects into commodities. and Simmel. In this division of labor. who buy and sell property as their business. originally published in 1939). and social characteristics of urban life. These early writers observed and analyzed the same urban conditions that the classical theorists were examining: the growth of industrial cities. Durkheim. As a result. the political economists were influenced by the theories of Karl Marx. (See Figure 1) Although Marx did not focus his work directly on cities. The . In his view. and transformed rural life. Marx argued. Marx discussed the growth of cities and their connection with the development of industrial capitalism. Engels. To get cash to buy goods. One of these concepts is the distinction between the use value and exchange value of objects. To use one of Marx’s most well-known examples. In Grundrisse (1971. it has exchange value. For some people. At times. and Simmel. farmers had to produce additional food and sell it in the urban marketplace. Marx was describing what today may be referred to as a coreperiphery relationship. The aspects of the cities they highlighted and their perspectives on them. were quite different from those of Tönnies. Marx identified a division of labor not among individuals (as Durkheim discussed) but among places. particularly capitalists. For example. and Weber Just as the Chicago School was influenced by the writings of Tönnies.Antecedents: Marx. the towns were dominating and exploiting the rural areas. or objects that could be bought and sold for a profit. with towns specializing in producing goods and the rural areas specializing in producing food. one person or group gets the use value of a property while a different person or group gets the exchange value. Another important concept drawn from Marx’s writings is the idea that economic systems have inherent contradictions that prevent their smooth and consistent functioning. migration from rural to urban areas. the growth of industrial capitalism in the 18th century created a new social class – the urban industrial working class. or proletariat. their home represents a safe and comfortable place to live – it has use value. however. and some of their values from the fact that owners could exchange them for cash. Durkheim. Marx’s view of societies is that they are always changing and the societal patterns of any given time are temporary arrangements or compromises among different groups and institutions struggling for gain. He thought that towns drew rural areas into their economic webs by encouraging rural dwellers to purchase products. In Marx’s view this process made rural dwellers dependent on urban markets to sell their products. possessions such as land and houses had required a dual nature: they derived some of their value to owners from the fact that owners could use them for their own needs. and Max Weber. to most people. trade between towns and countryside disproportionately benefited the town dwellers. some of his concepts that he introduced in other contexts were later used to analyze urban phenomena.

and the possibility for political and economic upheaval as this class grew and as the members became aware of their exploitation.creation of this class benefited the employer class. or bourgeoisie. the need to pay its members low wages. . Figure 1 The core-periphery model shows the changing spatial inequalities which occur during the process of industrialization. for which a new “solution” will be found. which will generate a new set of problems. The contradiction in this example is that the “solution” to one problem (the need for cheap and plentiful labor) leads to another problem (the potential for workers to get out of control). Furthermore. Marx pointed out the contradiction inherent in the capitalist economic system between the need for a working class. and so on in a never-ending series of historical changes. employers were able to make profits by paying workers low wages. because employers needed workers.

and social domination over the town. and thus could control its spatial layout. originally published in 1848). economic. economic. least accessible streets in the unhealthiest and least desirable physical locations of the city. and more centrally located main streets. social class. including urban patterns. the “great towns. who worked with Marx. in which employers dominated the workers. so that the employers would not have to see their miserable living conditions. Employers could do this not simply because they had the ability to pay more for individual parcels of land (as the neoclassical economists would argue) but because as a group they held. off the main streets. he pointed us toward a more fundamental mechanism of the social. or as he called them. Engels took an empirical approach. . Figure 2 Engels’s map of Little Ireland in Manchester. formed a foundation for all other aspects of life. political. the economic and social relations of the workplace. which he described as the most disgusting area of the City. To Engels. described in The Condition of the Working Class in England (1958. and living conditions in Manchester. more desirable. Engels’s analysis of this pattern was that the employer class had arranged the city in a way that permitted workers to live near their places of employment but also kept them hidden. and political domination of one social class over another. mapping the spatial patterns and describing the social life of England’s growing industrial cities.” (See Figure 2) His most vivid discussion is of the relationship between work. He found that the workers’ residences were confined to the smallest. Instead. whereas the more substantial residences of the industrialists occupied the cleaner. Engels rejected the notion that urban land use was simply a matter of the process of bidding for land in an impersonal marketplace. studied and wrote about urban patterns.Friedrich Engels.

Engels. new (suburban) territory became inhabitable because a new transportation technology had made it accessible. Weber agreed with Marx that modern societies were full of social and economic inequalities. the social and economic context of cities was different from the context of the 1920s. Political economists broadened the question of suburbanization to include other factors. Housing construction crossed city boundaries into surrounding areas. Weber’s work on social inequality. for example. Besides his essays on cities. In it. especially white middle-class homeowners. Later theorists used Weber’s insights to examine urban patterns of inequality and conflict based on social divisions such as race. He pointed out that. encouraging scholars to ask different questions and to reexamine some fundamental assumptions about cities. abandoned properties. Weber has had additional impacts on scholars’ analyses of urban life. somewhat independent sources of inequality existed. when the ecologists developed their theories. and religion as well as those based on class divisions. whose theories made direct and indirect contributions to research on cities. relative to the central cities. They asked how changes in the economy had encouraged companies to move to suburban locations. While Marx argued that workplace relations were fundamental in creating and maintaining inequality. He argued that settlements recognized as cities have. large segments of the population followed. His most direct discussion is found in the essay “Die Stacht” (The City) (1958). One difference was that suburban communities had grown steadily. Some central cities experienced population declines. ethnicity. After World War II. and Weber would be useful in creating a new paradigm for urban studies. It was not until the 1960s that a number of urbanists began to recognize that the theories and concepts of Marx. They asked how and why automobiles became the dominant means of transportation. EMERGENCE OF URBAN POLITICAL ECONOMY By 1960. An important reason for their discovery of these three theorists is that both the intellectual environment and social environment had changed. How could suburban growth be explained? Human ecologists stressed the availability of automobile transportation. played economic and political roles: They have served as markets for trade and as seats of government. but he disagreed about the relative importance of different aspects of social inequality. With jobs and housing moving to the suburbs. Many companies closed their urban facilities and built new plants in suburban locations. Weber set out the idea that a city cannot be defined by a single dimension. Without these institutions. throughout history. Weber thought that multiple.The third important ancestor of contemporary political economy was Max Weber. even sizable communities would be socially insignificant and not truly cities. suburban growth accelerated while central city populations began to stabilize or decline. and shrinking tax bases. linking it to the process of adaptation to territory. has contributed to significant research and theorizing about urban life. Thus the essence of the city lies not in its size alone but also in its economic and political functions. Resources that had long been identified with the city relocated to the suburban areas. other factors such as social status and political power were also influential. although class (or economic position) significantly influenced people’s lives. In their view. such as population size. They asked how the federal government’s highway policies and housing policies .

By the 1960s. A second trend that pointed the political economists in a new direction was the increasing racial polarization in urban areas. Some government actions seemed to exacerbate problems – for example. Why had many white members of ethnic minority groups been able to move out of their inner-city neighborhoods while large numbers of African Americans were confined to racially segregated ghettos? Human ecology could not answer this question. however. the industrial jobs that had provided a livelihood for several generations of urban residents dramatically declined in number. however. like ethnic segregation. Local governments had just begun some basic policies such as planning and zoning regulations. In the 1920s the federal government had few if any policies oriented toward cities. would lessen with time. and some simply disappeared due to changing technology and changing market demand. because the population of Chicago and other U. As government agencies became larger and government’s role in urban life became more pervasive. A final set of influences on the emerging paradigm was the changing trajectory of cities around the world. By the 1960s it became apparent that many cities in . As researchers investigated urban social conditions such as poverty and inequality. due o both drastic cutbacks in the number of immigrants and the migration of large numbers of African-Americans from rural areas to cities. Beginning in 1973 with a recession and high rates of unemployment. Over the next three decades. They argued that researchers had to look beyond the growth patterns themselves and examine the context that made it possible for suburban areas to grow. The Chicago School ecologists had more frequently studied immigrant neighborhoods than African-American neighborhoods. demolishing low cost housing in an effort to eliminate slums but replacing it with high cost housing that was out of the reach of former residents. Thus. moved to the suburbs. A fourth trend that laid the groundwork for a political economy approach to urban issues was the changing nature of the economy and its impacts on cities. A third source of new thinking about cities was the changing role of the government in urban affairs. but later ecological studies showed that racial segregation had actually intensified. the ecologists’ focus on individual cities and areas within cities was too narrow to take in the big picture. racial segregation had developed into more than just where people lived. and urban redevelopment. the ecological assumption that urban spatial patterns are the outcome of free market competition between different groups became questionable. they found that local conditions within neighborhoods and households were strongly influenced by the larger economic context. Some of those jobs. The inner-city ghettos had become powerful symbols of the lack of social and economic opportunity for African Americans. The early human ecologists had thought that racial segregation. some moved from one region of the United States to another. Scholars had approached cities in other countries looking for similarities and differences – but particularly for similarities – with cities in the United States. particularly in the poor. cities in the 1920s contained many more immigrants than AfricanAmericans. as we have seen. highway location. some moved overseas or to Mexico.S. nonindustrialized countries of the periphery. the proportions were reversed. influencing such aspects of urban life such as housing construction. the federal government took on an increasingly active role. In addition.encouraged the growth of suburbs.

These and other changes in urban realities prompted scholars to ask new questions and develop a new paradigm. especially the decisions made by powerful actors who control resources. what type of housing is available. and European countries. Fourth.the nonindustrialized countries were not only not similar to North American cities. or a pattern of widespread shifts in the economy. where businesses locate. Decisions that involve investing money are particularly important in shaping cities. is one of the most important factors affecting local communities. The paradigm has grown steadily but is still developing and changing. participants often define the common good in ways that are favorable to their own goals and interests. with a shift from many medium-sized firms to a . Conflicts among racial and ethnic groups can be expressed openly (as violence) or covertly (as discrimination). Government (in the broadest sense. and social arrangements of their times rather than products of natural processes. These may be individual actors. how racial and ethnic groups relate to each other. depending upon the institutions prevalent at that time. and numbers of jobs added or lost are reflections of conflicts between social classes and have serious economic consequences for cities. and other resources into certain geographic areas. spending priorities. economic restructuring. Cities are shaped by decision making. and many other urban phenomena. or they may be institutions such as banks. including their cities. Conflicts between social classes are important for cities. government is an important institution influencing urban patterns. and other actions) plays a role in where people live. including laws. or the increase in the number of economic transactions taking place across national borders. Second. Local politics is the key arena for observing conflicts over resources. Researchers became dissatisfied with the assumption that the peripheral nations. PROMISE AND LIMITATION OF POLITICAL ECONOMY What forms the basis of urban political economy? Its proponents agree on a number of main points. wage levels. cities are part of the political. Employer-employee issues such as the formation of labor unions. or government agencies. programs. In complex societies like the United States. federal or national governments exert great power to influence what happens in cities. Another is the consolidation of corporations within industries. schools. strikes. Urban social movements are the attempts of groups to increase their economic and political power – to shape the city and its resources in their favor. Because they spend a good deal of money and can establish rules for other investors. contract negotiations. First. Even when the discussion seems to be about the common good. Canada. housing jobs. conflicts over the distribution of resources help shape urban spatial patterns and urban social life. they were becoming increasingly different from them. government agencies are significant shapers of urban spatial patterns. They affect urban spatial patterns because they channel people. economic. would become more like those of the industrialized world and instead began to ask why they were different. A particularly important shift is the globalization of the economy. Third. People sometimes react to submerged conflicts or perceived inequalities by organizing for action in social movements. Several shifts have been occurring simultaneously. such as investors. corporations. Cities have also taken different forms at different times.

and also the norms. motivated by their similar economic situations. and social relations that accompany different economic systems. In American society. sports franchises. Marx’s term for the economic system. economic. as happened in the United States in the 1920s and again in the 1980s.small number of large firms. These pro-growth elites consist largely of business owners who need population growth to keep their businesses profitable. hotel. cities are growth machines. Below we will see how scholars have investigated the proposition that cities are part of the political. They support growth by becoming influential in local politics and using their influence to advance a pro-growth agenda for cities. The mode of production currently operating in the United States and Western Europe is advanced capitalism. but it emphasizes physical space and how space can be manipulated to affect urban life. When many companies make this decision simultaneously. the . restructuring has also involved a decline in manufacturing industries and an increase in service industries. thus contributing to a wider gap between rich and poor and between whites and people of color. money. In contrast with the growth machine perspective. Although certain researchers have interpreted some of these points differently. shaped. He argues that businesses normally reinvest their profits into machinery and raw materials. As a response to this large profit. urban building booms occur. In the United States. The mode of production. and restaurant industries. These basic items form a point of departure from which different scholars have gone in different directions. and banks. they still agree with the overall paradigm. It has affected the location of jobs. It has changed people’s expectations of local government by adding the task of managing the community’s economic base to the government’s responsibilities. and maintained by groups of people who stand to benefit from that growth. including the real estate. Economic restructuring has many implications for cities. retail shops. The sociospatial perspective is similar to political economy in some ways. It has changed the types of jobs people have. Cities are influenced by the mode of production. which is characterized by the dominance of large firms and the operation of the global economy. markets. 1993) contends that cities are machines for economic growth and are built. laws. This interpretation emphasizes the ways politics and the economy interact in shaping cities. newspapers. but at certain times they make more profits than they can reinvest in equipment. and social arrangements of their time. Real estate development and government intervention are the most important influences in metropolitan areas. This interpretation is part of the sociospatial perspective. companies shift some of their investment out of the actual production of products and into building new buildings for offices or new facilities for production. includes the machinery. which has in turn affected the growth and decline of cities and regions. Harvey Moltoch (1976. Geographer David Harvey (1978) investigated why advanced capitalist cities have spurts of building construction.

Large-scale concepts such as the mode of production cannot fully explain the differences between different cities that are within the same mode of production. the working class). Critics have noted two main problems. Furthermore. in contrast to Harvey’s emphasis on the mode of production as affecting urban change. Second.. CONCLUSION No single perspective has the answer to why cities grow. but all three have made a significant contribution to understanding the issue of urban growth. Rather than confining analysis to political and economic factors causing the urban change. while ignoring local variations. within political economy it is easy to lose sight of the individual actor and the links between the macrolevel and microlevel of human existence. do these people think and act similarly? .sociospatial perspective holds that real estate developers and local government officials are much more influential in changing the form and function of cities than are the many other businesses that might be included in a pro-growth elite. The paradigm however is far from perfect.g. the sociospatial perspective adds cultural factors such as symbols and meanings to the analysis of urban life. Just because social scientists categorize people as belonging to the same groups (e. including the ways in which local cultures differ in the symbolic meanings they attach to different spaces. First. The paradigm of urban political economy has grown in acceptance in recent years and has helped researchers address questions that were outside of urban ecology’s scope. within political economy it easy to overemphasize the uniformity with which large-scale political and economic factors affect cities and neighborhoods. the sociospatial perspective emphasizes people’s understanding of space.

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