Nineteenth-Century Cities: Essays in the New Urban History
Nineteenth-century cities: Essays in the new urban history
For other reasons, as well, most nineteenth-century Americans harbored even more reservations about city life than many of their early twenty-first century counterparts do now. These industrializing centers became what the British historian Asa Briggs termed “shock cities,” places where the new and modern erupted, often to devastating effect. Out of them emanated huge pools of capital, and fluctuating prices that determined whether a farmer or merchant would turn a profit. They seethed with foreigners, from merchants and shippers to cabinet and dressmakers to the newly arriving immigrants, who lifted bales and toted barrels and staffed the lower rungs of factories. Epidemics like that of cholera struck cities first. Until the sanitary revolution of the late nineteenth century, sewers were rare, contamination of water supplies was rampant, and housing especially for poorer urban dwellers increasing dense and packed. Way stations for traffic with America’s extractive frontiers, these cities became alleged hotbeds of double-dealing, corruption, and disease. At no time has the contrast between city and countryside seemed starker, or the American city itself more unnatural, than at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth.
,Nineteenth century cities: Essays in the new urban history
The kind of growth visited upon American cities in this industrial era, especially since World War II, has arrived in many parts of the developing world. There, also in the less prosperous economies of Eastern Europe, mega-cities have arisen, peopled by millions fleeing the industrial transformation of agriculture in a surrounding countryside. Though New York became the world’s first city to surpass ten million people, of the twenty cities bigger than this by 2000, all but Tokyo, New York, and Los Angeles were in the Third World. If not among a privileged elite, residents in these mega-cities face dilemmas similar to those of America’s late nineteenth-century urbanites: poor sanitation and housing, poverty, and political and social marginalization. By 2006, these burgeoning agglomerations had brought the world to an epic milestone. For the first time in history, more of humanity now lives in cities than in rural areas.