Sample Urban Studies Essays on Urbanism in France and in the UK

Urbanism in France and in the UK since the 20th Century


The term urbanization refers to development of urban areas. It triggers the movement of people from rural to urban areas; it is also causes the steady increase of population in urban settings and adaptation of this population to such change is very fast. Urbanism greatly results to physical development of urban areas however; growth of cities is not necessarily a sign of urbanization since overall growth in population in some time periods before 20th century also led to the growth of cities (Doytsher, Kelly, Khouri, McLAREN and Potsiou, 2010). Projections by United Nations indicated that half of the population in the world would live in urban settings by the end of year 2008 and by year 2050 about sixty four percent of both developing and developed world will be urbanized (Doytsher et al., 2010). The turn of the twentieth century saw the existence of the first urbanized society although many fairly big cities already existed throughout the world by the end of eighteenth century. There was a quickened pace of change resulting from an industrial revolution, inventions and scientific discoveries that had just exploded resulting to progress  in various fields, like transport, communication and other infrastructures (Kritzman and Reilly, 2007).[1]

Urbanism in France and United Kingdom

During the twentieth century, Britain was historically the first society whose population in its urban areas exceeded that of its rural areas. France was also among the countries with most industries in the world as a result of rapid growth in the 19th century and especially establishment of road and rail systems and other social infrastructure, which assisted its urbanism (Moch, 2011).

In all the Western Europe nations, France has the biggest land area of 211, 208 and a coastline of 2, 130 both in miles. Its capital city Paris has a population of about sixteen percent of the whole population in the country (Moch, 2011). Being the only French city with more than one million populations of its inhabitants makes it the most continuously dominant in terms of culture, economy as well as politically (Moch, 2011). Growth of transport links that are fast like toll motorways, very fast trains have linked other cities like Lyon to the capital and enhanced significant power transfer from Paris to other urban areas. Other major cities in France that hold more than a million people are Lyon, Marseille and Lille (Pinder, 2013).

In the first half of the twentieth century France did not have a huge population growth resulting from the losses obtained from the World War I but with time the population increased and today it is one of the most populous counties in Europe. At the start of 20th Century and up until the World War II French nationals depended on farming for living with most of them living in rural areas (Pinder, 2013). Their movement to cities came after post war years whereby about four percent remained in the farms while seventy-three percent currently live in big cities. By the end of year 2003 about thirty eight percent of the population in the nation lived in twenty of the largest urban regions and more than one percent growth rate in population recorded in urban areas like Rennes, Nantes, Montpellier and Toulouse (Pinder, 2013).

Urban growth did not only result from movement of people from rural areas in search of urban prospects but it resulted from the crises that were happening in the rural areas and populations moved to the urban areas to search for better live hoods (Pinder, 2013). People could also move to the city and then go back to the rural areas depending on what their life cycle dictated, teams of people would go to rural areas during periods of harvesting agricultural products and then move back to the city to do building and construction work. Concurrently there would be chain movement of people to small towns to cities from villages when the younger people joined their relatives or compatriots as they also sought the urban live hoods. Others moved due to their careers when Third Republic of France in search of clerks, teachers and officials became a major employer (Pinder, 2013). Internal migration of population from the rural areas to urban areas meant a lot of cultural transfers have taken place whereby not only people moved from one region to another but they moved with their cultural ideas, and goods (Pinder, 2013). Urbanization also originated from the suburbs areas and not in the cities traditional centre. Here there were housing projects using steel and cements for construction and were known as cities where immigrants from poorer countries settled. These cities were centers of racial and class tensions from the 1960s (Doytsher et al., 2010).

The greater the diversity of people who moved to urban areas the more the amount of labor, new habits, cultural norms and other material wealth were transferred to urban centers (Pinder, 2013). Currently the European Union projects have greatly contributed to increasing importance of the French urban areas both nationally and internationally more than the existing government initiatives. For example, the European Airbus Project located in Toulouse has changed the city to an Aviation Centre for the Europeans while Strasbourg has become the second Europe’s capital after Brussels due to presence of European parliament in that city (Moch, 2011). Urban areas in France are under the regions tier of local government, which was formed in 1955 to establish a regional town framework and oversee the planning of the counties. It is tasked with planning for both the town and county, economic development, training vocations as well as building, equipping and handling costs of running schools (Moch, 2011). The rise of modern urban structures such like housing projects and supermarkets have also led to heightened tensions in current urbanism between progressives and traditionalists in the urban population. However, the type of labor offered has improved due to new inventions and technology, improving the standards of living as well (Moch, 2011).

Urbanism in United Kingdom

United Kingdom has quite a number of cities like London its capital city and other cities including Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Edinburgh (Doytsher et al., 2010). London was considered as a world city from the twentieth century due to its continuous change of nature of employment resulting from migration of people from different rural areas in United Kingdom in search of better live hoods. By 1900, it was the biggest and most rich city in the world acting as the trading, governing, and commercial heart of the British Empire (Doytsher et al., 2010).

It was also the biggest industrial city in Britain involved in a variety of manufacturing businesses and an increasing consumer market. A century later, this has changed since most of London’s manufacturing industry has stopped performing well and its population been surpassed by other urban areas in the world. However, London is still doing well as a centre of money markets in the world mainly focusing on offering services in the financial, leisure and other service sectors and has low unemployment rates (Doytsher et al., 2010).

Infrastructure and planning policies saw the emergence of new urban areas in the UK as well as absorption of the smaller cities by the larger ones. For instance, the growth of London has seen absorption of other cities like Islington, Hampstead and Fulham, which has resulted to a pattern of development giving rise to the idea of London being named a city of villages (Kritzman and Reilly, 2007). Improvement in transport technology and travel times has determined the physical pattern of expansions, which has brought new areas within a convenient time of travel. The railway, the tube and most recent arterial road in 20th century in the UK enhanced new convenience travel time that resulted to new settlements and growth of small town that were later absorbed by the bigger urban areas (Moch, 2011). There is a significant degree of difference between Paris and London in that the later continuous expansion of the city has been enabled by a planning policies and provisions in infrastructure (Pinder, 2013). Population measurement in towns in UK from the twentieth century became complicated due to the task of determining where a separate town begins and what constitutes it. Urban areas have now become more of polycentric whereby a wide metropolitan is comprised of several or less equal and cities that interact strongly. Each has its own centre of employment and other specialized functions (Pinder, 2013).

In the modern form of cities, the planning of cities was not only an issue of accommodating economic activities and populations in a highly efficient and welfare maximizing manner but also had a bigger vision of improving people socially. The populations in the urban areas may to an extent be of similar order collectively, but the type of functions performed as well as communications varies significantly (Pinder, 2013). Cultural industries, type of traded services, activities promoting knowledge incentive and a broad-based population, all characteristics of metropolitan centers are represented in the urban areas. The idea behind this is to ensure there is competitiveness in the cities and a more balanced regional development (Pinder, 2013). Expansion of towns swallowed up some of the rural communities and expansion of some cities like Birmingham in UK has been due to simple growth from the centre outwards. Many villages around the city are now part of the urban centre. Therefore urbanism has resulted from overlaying of rural patterns which are often followed by an urban one and this process is displayed in several phases. In the first phase business people and manufactures purchase sizeable plots where they construct their suburban houses on land meant for agriculture or in county houses grounds. Later the big suburban houses are surrounded by or brought down to get space for smaller villa type houses. In some cases, the villas are also removed and replaced with rows of small modern suburban houses (Doytsher et al., 2010).

There were certain phenomena that increased the rate of extending urban areas one of them being the preparedness of manufactures to construct or expand their factories beyond the developed area edges where land was less costly and plenty of space available. This tendency was supported by prevailing transport services patterns (Kritzman and Reilly, 2007). The other phenomenon was workers desire in those factories to shift from the noisy, crowded and mostly unclean areas in the city centers. Street improvements also forced people to move into newly conveniently constructed houses nearer to the factories moved to out of town (Kritzman and Reilly, 2007). One or more of these phases happened in a number of cities in United Kingdom like Birmingham that saw the continued growth and expansion of urban centers.

The change in use of land in suburb areas was determined by factors like wealth and ambitions of the families who occupied the suburbs first, railway station proximity, as well as enterprise of building societies and builders in the locality (Kritzman and Reilly, 2007). Currently cities in United Kingdom like London has gained quite a number high profile and flashy modern buildings for instance the banks of Thames, City Hall and 30 St. Mary Axe and other social infrastructure has also significantly improved (Doytsher et al., 2010).


The size and distribution of urban systems in both France and UK is not flat with one urban centre that is more dominant (Kritzman and Reilly, 2007). From the twentieth century to date urbanization has significantly changed in France and United Kingdom especially in the labor market. The required labor force relies less on manual skills, working conditions have improved and the societies in urban areas in more diverse than in the beginning of 20th century (Doytsher et al., 2010). The expectations of people working have also been changing where employment periods to one employer have reduced and despite the improvement of working conditions, more people in urban areas work for more hours than they did before.

The living conditions have also improved with time especially for the middle class who live further away from their places of work than they did before. More office blocks, industries and huge buildings have been constructed in the urban to serve as business centers, manufacturing industries, and departmental stores (Pinder, 2013). In the beginning of 19th century most people lived near the places of their work and this changed when cheap electric railway services arrived and made it possible to ride longer distances to work.

The explosive growth of cities in both countries resulted from the migration of population from rural areas to urban areas and of development of scientific inventions like communication technologies that allowed spread of information and ideas faster not only from one region within the countries to another but also from different counties (Pinder, 2013). It also resulted from expansion smaller towns to bigger cities as well as bigger cities engulfing the smaller ones. Other factors such as terrorism, undermining of traditional values as well as fast pace of life has taken a great toll on the people in urban areas leading to increase in stress levels (Kritzman and Reilly, 2007). Many societies in the urban areas are now democratic and the duty of the government is to protect the welfare of all citizens.

Confirmed Hypothesis

Urbanism in both France and the United Kingdom from the twentieth century up to date has been dependent on a few factors. One of them is the population migrating from rural to urban areas where the higher the population in a particular urban setting resulted to urbanization and expansion of already existing cities. The second is swallowing of the small towns by bigger cities, which enhanced growth of bigger urban centers, the smaller cities that formed bigger cities the higher the rate of urbanism. Technology and scientific inventions have also been another major determinant for urbanism whereby increase new technologies and inventions ensured the rate of urbanism also increased.


Doytsher, Y., Kelly, P., Khouri, R., McLAREN, R., & Potsiou, C. (2010). Rapid urbanization and mega cities: The need for spatial information management. Research study by FIG Commission 3. FIG Publication No48.

Kritzman, L. D., & Reilly, B. J. (Eds.). (2007). The Columbia history of twentieth-century French thought. Columbia University Press

Moch, L. P. (2011). Internal migration before and during the Industrial Revolution: the case of France and Germany.

Pinder, D. (2013). Visions of the city: utopianism, power, and politics in twentieth century urbanism. Routledge.

[1] Doytsher, Y., Kelly, P., Khouri, R., McLAREN, R., & Potsiou, C. (2010). Rapid urbanization and mega cities: The need for spatial information management. Research study by FIG Commission 3. FIG Publication No48.