The US is considered to be the country that demonstrated an extraordinarily high urban population growth a century ago. The US has gone a long way in building numerous towns and cities that could host millions of immigrants from the East Coast and all parts of the world. The rapid appearance of thousands of small and medium-sized towns that took place across the US is unprecedented in world history. Therefore, a dedicated analysis is required to fully realize the factors standing behind these unique features.
Building Hundreds of New Small Towns
A large number of city dwellers is not the only distinctive feature of the American urban demographics. The US also boasts an extremely high percentage of people living in suburban areas, with some estimates claiming that over half of the population enjoys a convenient balance between a detached house and city infrastructure. The US policies regulating mass migration to the continent, local policies covering the issues of city planning, and a wide range of demographic and economic factors can explain the current situation.
Once it became clear that the existing cities on the East Coast would not be able to accommodate millions of migrants from various European countries, a necessity occurred to develop a new type of regulation. It was expected to allow for limited regulation concerning the purchase of land and its use. Thus, numerous American towns that appeared in the 19th century were founded not by governors, military commanders, and businesspeople. Instead, many of them emerged as necessary meeting points for millions of farmers who were granted land after the introduction of the Homestead Act. Monti et al. (17) claim that the appearance of a large number of new urban centers is a typical American feature. In 19th century Europe, recent farmers could move only to existing cities and towns.
The Homestead act became one of the most prominent American policies that ensured a unique evolution of the American housing market. It made American cities spacious in comparison with those in Europe. This national policy became the first crucial step to guarantee that every American had a chance to own land and build a house on it. This essential attribute of the American Dream could not be undermined even during the rapid industrialization process.
Immigration Policy and Charities
Compassion and other Christian virtues shaped how recent immigrants were treated in the US. Numerous charities and non-profit organizations ensured that the large income gap did not prevent immigrants from being active citizens. Numerous churches, public libraries, and buildings owned by various societies rapidly dotted the maps of American towns and cities. Moreover, state authorities actively helped migrants by providing multiple benefits and even housing in exchange for political support long before the idea of an extensive welfare system became popular.
The Rise of Suburbia
In the early 20th century, municipalities across the US showed a high level of professionalism by addressing various issues immediately or even in advance. City planning became extremely popular, with urbanists and officials building infrastructure (including trolley and subway lines) that extended far beyond city limits. Given the high concentration of factories in the city centers, middle-class Americans quickly jumped at the opportunity to leave the overcrowded downtowns. They purchased spacious houses in what, before the construction of roads and infrastructure, used to be called the outskirts.
The history of the US institutions and initiatives provides an excellent explanation for the numerous unique features of its urban planning and the unprecedentedly even distribution of the population (for such a large country). Numerous policies and programs at different levels ensured that any representative of a large middle class could afford to live in a semi-detached house and still enjoy a high-end infrastructure and services of sufficient quality. Thus, these initiatives helped enhance the living standards of an average American and guaranteed a comfortable lifestyle for most people, despite the inequality level that has historically been high in the US.
Monti, Daniel Joseph, et al. Urban People and Places: The Sociology of Cities, Suburbs, and Towns. SAGE Publications, 2014.