Why is Society in Urban Developments Different than Rural Places?

A. Urban Sociology: Explanation
In the field of sociology, the subset termed "urban sociology" deals with the psychology of people and the lifestyle and developmental changes occurring in a specific urban environment, which refers to a city, state, or country, depending on the context.
In short, urban sociology is a study of urbanization, a social process in which cities grow and societies become more urban in nature. Lifestyle habits may change as people in these areas are affected by the increases in population, the residual effects to the environment, and the slow depletion of natural resources that accompany such sizable changes and growth.
Taking first the notion of urbanization, we learn that it has slightly different meanings depending upon the context in which it is included. For instance, some sources speak of urbanization as the growth of downtown areas leading to more commercial and retail property developments and increased modern conveniences, such as enhanced public transportation systems, newly expanded highways, and alterations to existing zoning codes. Ultimately, such land use variances and increased development projects lead to population increases that, in turn, have the potential to generate environmental and ecological concerns.
Demonstrative of this claim is that figures indicate that annually in the United States:
a) more than 2 million acres of prime cropland are lost to erosion, salinization, and water logging;
b) more than half a million acres are lost from cultivation as urbanization, transportation networks, and industries spread over the nation's croplands;
c) an area of land equal to the size of Delaware is either paved over or converted to developed uses; and
d) water is being depleting from aquifers an average of 25 percent faster than it is being replaced.
Yet, even though the buildup of downtown urban areas has consistently been met with challenges from environmentalists and ecologists, this type of growth continues at a remarkable pace throughout the United States.
To ascertain the amount of growth a city has undergone, some of the metrics researchers employ include population size; population demographic measurements; density, or persons per square area; functionality of the land area; economic development; and social or environmental indicators.
There is a host of elected officials and service professionals who specifically address the issues associated with urbanization. Such persons include city commissioners, land planners, developers, conservationists, environmentalists, and preservationists.
B. Process of Urbanization
In the vein of the old saying, "Which came first the chicken or the egg?" a similar question can be asked with respect to urbanism: Which came first, new appealing aesthetics and offerings luring the increased number of people, or additional people, creating a demand for upgraded visuals and amenities?
There are two ways in which urbanization occurs: planned or organic.
  • Planned urbanization, inclusive of such activities as a green city movement or a new walkway through Central Park, is based upon well-intended plans made well in advance of the concrete even being poured. These types of plans can be made based upon aesthetic, economic, or urban design reasons.
  • On the other hand, unplanned (organic) cities are the elder form of urbanization. Examples include many of the world's ancient cities, for they were innocently founded and expanded upon as the need arose. Later, many ancient organic cities required redevelopment for military and economic purposes, e.g., new roads carved through the cities, and new parcels of land cordoned off to serve a myriad of planned land use purposes, either to give cities a distinctive geometrical feel or make room for new enclaves of people and forthcoming developments.
Regardless of whether the planning or the people came first, as urbanism tends to be accompanied by population growth, the result remains an increased number of people living within approximately the same general land area.
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Yet, it will make a difference if the people arrive prior to significant changes being made because then land planners and developers will need to scramble to create additional properties and upgrades in an effort to play catch-up.
In some urban areas one component, population growth or land or area redevelopment, predates one or the other, but the two tend to occur hand in hand because it is one that propels the other. Hence, if the population continues to grow at a high rate, then business people, city planners, and environmental and ecological advocates ramp up their efforts, as well.
While we mentioned earlier that one cannot always be certain which will come first, population increases or urbanization, there are reasons as to why one or both occur in the first place.
C. Urbanization: A Case in Point, Hawaii
Take for example, the state of Hawaii. While certain islands may be growing, both in terms of population and development, at faster rates than others; the overall state is experiencing phenomenal growth in a range of areas.
It is not necessarily a mystery as to why growth has come to Hawaii. Several factors have contributed to its notable expansion: ideal climate, the priority that locals placed upon caring for the environment, sky-high tourism rankings, and ample development opportunities. Because of immigration, Hawaii's annual rate of population growth is well above the U.S. average.
The fact that Hawaiian people want to limit the amount of growth has only served to spur on that which is still possible. The fact that Hawaii is an island and thus susceptible to higher costs for bringing in products has only seemed to further increase the appeal of the land for tourists, land or property owners, and business people.
As many indigenous Hawaiians fear that the island will become overcrowded, overwrought, and overworked, great emphasis has been placed on environmental programs and safeguards, as well as barriers preventing excessive numbers of outsiders from moving to the islands.
D. Effects of Urbanization on Population and the Environment
As in the previous example of Hawaii, growth can be good and bad, and the same could be said of Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; or Austin, Texas. It is good in the sense that the area generates an added economic boom, new businesses are attracted to the region, property developers construct attractive properties, and the more attention that is lavished upon the locale, the more residual benefits are likely to come its way.
However, despite the favorable elements of population growth, eventually a saturation point will be reached. This is when the number of people residing within or visiting an area reaches a peak at which congestion, either walking or riding, becomes the norm; resources such as housing, water, and energy become scarce; or conditions such as air pollution, crime, and health take a turn for the worse.
The dialogue concerning the changes that accompany urbanization and population growth falls under a category known as "urban ecology." In this, another subset of sociology, we learn that areas can take on a whole new persona, driving up rents or housing prices, property taxes, and increasing the cost of food and other necessities to the point at which the original residents eventually feel like they are being pushed out of their own communities.
E. Population Growth and Urban Sprawl
The reason some prefer to keep their lovely little city a secret is that should it become too well-known and too well-received, it may just attract too many people as residents.

Every year, Money Magazine publishes an article entitled "The Best Places to Live," based upon criteria that includes schools, crime rates, housing prices, climate, activities, and others. Typically, each time a city gets listed as No. 1, it measurably increases the population of that particular area.
While that may be good to some degree, a population surge can cause a backlash if it is not properly anticipated or the surge leads to overcrowding.
Unfortunately, a sizable percentage of population growth leads to overcrowding, which, in turn, translates into a lack of resources, an overproduction of fumes, a rise in mass consumption, and, as we said earlier, increased living costs.
Defined as the unplanned, uncontrolled spreading of urban development into areas adjoining the edge of a city, officially, this is known as "urban sprawl." Tantamount to the erosion of the natural landscape, urban sprawl has been cited for wiping out the original unique charm of communities, as well as pushing out longtime residents.
Apart from a frustration with traffic congestion and an aesthetic blight, there is mounting concern about increased pollution; strains on local water supplies for some states, including California; the rapid loss of trees; the detrimental effect upon wetlands, farmland, and wildlife habitats; and, generally speaking, a loss of open spaces.
F. High Growth Areas
On the domestic front, the cities and areas experiencing the greatest amount or urban development include:
  1. Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona
  2. Los Angeles County, California
  3. Las Vegas-Reno, Nevada
  4. Houston, Texas
  5. Orange County, California
  6. Miami-Dade, Florida
  7. Riverside-San Bernardino, California
  8. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
  9. Dallas, Texas
  10. San Diego, California
In addition, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, New York, Los Angeles, Orlando, and Denver are anticipated to continue growing by sizable amounts.

G. Steps to Counteract Urbanization
As a means of reversing some of the effects of urbanization seen as being negative, advocacy groups touting "new urbanism," "sustainable cities," and "smart growth" have organized to ensure that their voices are heard and taken into consideration with respect to creating more harmonious growth as opposed to preventing progress, as some critics tend to believe.
To provide future generations with adequate natural resources and a reasonable quality of life, the goal proposed is that the general public should reduce consumption to sustainable levels. However, per capita consumption reduction is not sufficient to provide for sustainability should the population continue to grow, which at the current rate is predicted to happen for the foreseeable future.
Many citizens and officials believe the 70 percent population growth that is occurring in the United States is caused by mass immigration. Therefore, as a means of preventing our population from ballooning, advocacy groups propose an immigration moratorium be placed on all immigrations in excess of 100,000 per year. Population stabilization, however, does not imply stagnation. In order for communities to continue on toward maturation, they can maintain a proactive approach in terms of responding to the changing needs of their citizens.
An important part of this development is the American Planning Association (APA), which has labeled this progressively degrading condition as "unsustainability" because it is a far-reaching issue that extends well beyond the realm of today's urban and regional planners. To address the issues of overpopulation, the APA further recommends future-oriented planning practices recognizing environmental limits to human development. Planners recognize the limitations of "smart growth," yet believe that if communities are willing to push for an immigration moratorium, this will represent a giant step toward sustainability.