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(civil engineering)
The state of being or becoming a community with urban characteristics.
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The process of change from a rural area to an urban area.
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  1. the statistical measure of the proportion of a country's population living in cities or settlements of a size defined variously by political, cultural or administrative criteria. The rate of urbanization describes changes in the proportion of urban to rural dwellers over time (the reverse process is described as the rate of deurbanization).
  2. the social processes and relationships which are both the cause and consequence of the urban rather than rural way of life (see URBANISM AS A WAY OF LIFE).
G. Hurd et al. (1973) have suggested that historically the process of urbanization had three major stages. The first is identified as extending from the time when people first began to live in towns up until the 18th-century During this stage few urban areas had more than 100,000 people. The second stage is the rapid growth in the size and number of cities contingent upon the process of INDUSTRIALIZATION. Tables drawn up by the United Nations Statistical Office show that between 73% and 85% of the populations in the industrial countries of the west live in cities. The third stage is metropolitanization which involves the centralization of people and wealth and of society's political, economic and cultural institutions (see P. Hall, The World Cities, 1977). Other writers would refer to a fourth stage of deurbanization via the growth of suburbs, migration to rural areas, alternative communities and planned ‘new towns’.

In its earliest usage the term ‘urbanize’ meant ‘to make urbane’, to render something or someone polished or refined. The modern sense of‘to develop an urban character’, or ‘make into a city’, emerged in the second half of the 19th-century when the city became a special object of study for social scientists and others who were concerned about the social consequences of the growth of industrial cities (see URBAN SOCIOLOGY). The relevance of the older usage is that it influenced the way in which thinkers conceptualized the rural and the urban and gave rise to two contrasting sets of images:

  1. the city as the locus of civilization, refinement, excitement, freedom and change, in contrast to what Marx described as ‘rural idiocy’;
  2. the country as the home of truth and of sharing in ‘knowable communities’ united by common values, in contrast to the alienation of the city. Raymond Williams examines these traditions in The Country and the City (1973), where he also says that in writings about the city from the 16th to the 19th century a number of themes emerge in sequence – money and law, wealth and luxury, the mob and the masses, and finally mobility and isolation. He says that in the past, as now, our real experience is of many different types of organization in the city and the country, yet our imagery is always of two opposed realities, the rural – urban dichotomy.

The dichotomy of two different sociocultural systems, one of which is broken down under the force of industrialization, was a prominent element in the study of preindustrial societies and of industrialization. Although in Europe urbanization and industrialization did occur generally at the same time, it would be a mistake to see these two processes as necessarily contingent upon each other. For example, urbanization preceded industrialization in England in that a high and rising proportion of English people had lived in London from the time of its first phase of growth in the 16th century until the early 1700s when it was estimated to hold one-seventh of the population. London was a city created by agriculture and mercantile capital within an aristocratic political order which tried to arrest its growth by ordinances preventing the erection of buildings. The development of cities as centres of industrial activity came later, primarily in the Midlands and North of England, and parts of central Scotland. Today, in many parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, there is rapid urban growth via migration and natural increase without any significant development in the direction of an industrial economy. see also URBAN ECOLOGY.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the increasing role of cities in social development. A historical process, urbanization affects the social, employment, and demographic structure of the population; it also influences the way of life and culture of the population, the distribution of productive forces, and patterns of settlement. Urbanization has had a tremendous effect on the development of various states and socioeconomic formations; the main achievements of civilization are associated with cities.

Cities first appeared between the third and first millennia B.C. in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria, India, Asia Minor, and China; Athens, Rome, and Carthage played a very important role in the Greco-Roman world. Elements of the capitalist mode of production and bourgeois culture appeared in cities during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The intensification of the process of urbanization in the 19th century led to an increased concentration of people in cities; this influx was made possible by the growth of industry, the intensification of agriculture, and progress in such areas as transportation, communications, and medicine. K. Marx observed the role of “urban relations” and noted that the spread of urban relations to the countryside was characteristic of modern history (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 46, parti, p. 470).

The urban population of the USSR increased by a factor of almost 5.8 between 1926 and early 1975, growing from 26.3 million to 153.1 million. In mid-1976, 62 percent of the Soviet population was concentrated in cities. In other parts of the world, the percentage of the population living in cities in 1970 was as follows: Europe (excluding the European part of the USSR), 63.6 percent; Asia (excluding the Asiatic USSR), 24.7 percent; Africa 22.3 percent; North America, 74.5 percent; Latin America, 56.2 percent; and Australia and Oceania, 67.9 percent. For individual advanced capitalist countries, the percentages were as follows: the USA, 73.5 percent; the Federal Republic of Germany, 82.2 percent; Great Britain, 79.1 percent; France, 70 percent (1968); and Italy, 51.5 percent. From 1965 to 1970 the world’s urban population increased 1.5–2.5 times faster than its population as a whole (see Table 1).

Urbanization and the development of cities are caused by the necessity for concentrating and integrating various kinds of economic and intellectual activity. An additional cause is the strengthening of links between various spheres of production, science, and culture; such strengthening increases the intensity and effectiveness of social processes. These processes have the greatest effect in the largest urban centers, where the interplay of sociopolitical, economic, and technological factors and the interaction between different cultural traditions and strata of the population are most fruitful. It was in the largest urban centers that progressive social ideas and movements arose and developed. Marx and Engels emphasized the role of the cities in the development of the working-class movement (ibid., vol. 2, p. 354; vol. 23, p. 514). “Capitals, or, in general, big commercial and industrial centers,” wrote Lenin, “to a considerable degree decide the political fate of a nation” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 40, pp. 6–7).

At the current stage of urbanization, people exhibit an increasing

Table 1. Dynamics of urban population growth in the world from 1800 to 1970
 Total world population (millions)Urban population (millions)Urban population (percentage of total world population)
YearTotalIn cities of 20,000 or moreIn cities of 100,000 or moreTotalIn cities of 20,000 or moreIn cities of 100,000 or more
1800 ...............90629.323.516.
1850 ...............1,17180.854.329.
1900 ...............1,608224.4151.890.813.69.25.5
1950 ...............2,400706.4566.7406.028.222.716.2
1970 ...............3,6281,399.01,169.5863.938.632.223.8

tendency to migrate to large cities—that is, cities with a population of 100,000 or more. As of 1970, 31.2 percent of the population of the USSR was living in large cities; the corresponding figures for Great Britain and Japan were 45.6 percent and 48.2 percent, respectively. The growth of cities with populations exceeding 1 million holds a special place in urbanization; as of 1976, there were approximately 150 such cities in the world, including 14 in the USSR.

The process of urbanization has two phases. In the first phase, the economic and cultural potential of a society becomes concentrated in large urban centers, thus creating the conditions necessary for great economic and intellectual accomplishments. In the second phase, settlements and small cities draw on these accomplishments and give new impetus to the development of the potential in the large cities.

The efficiency of this process depends on the socioeconomic nature of the society. Under capitalism the interaction of the two phases of urbanization is disrupted. The integrative nature of urbanization is countered by social disunity; a crisis of the cities results from the clash of antagonistic class interests and social groups, the private ownership of land, and the opposition between, on the one hand, the centers of development and, on the other hand, the stagnating periphery. The urbanization process is anarchic. The large cities of capitalist countries are plagued by such problems as unemployment, crime, and the formation of slums and racially segregated ghettos. For these reasons, hostility to cities develops in bourgeois societies—for example, “antiur-banism” (“back-to-the-countryside” movement) in the USA.

The process of urbanization plays an important role in the developing countries. Despite difficulties and harmful features—such as the scantiness of material resources and the rapid concentration in cities of a rural population not prepared for the types of work available there—urbanization aids national consolidation, the establishment of a modern economy, and the formation of a more advanced sociopolitical structure; it helps the developing countries to overcome backwardness and uneven economic development.

Socialism makes possible the controlling of urbanization and the harmonious interaction of the two phases of urbanization. The positive aspects of urban processes and the tendencies toward integration find a favorable basis in the system of social relations in a socialist society. Urbanization and large cities play a leading role in strengthening the social homogeneity of socialist societies, thus spreading a more enlightened morality and overcoming backward, patriarchal survivals. An unevenness in the development of urban processes may result in differences in population concentration and in the distribution of economic and cultural potential among individual cities. Another consequence may be disparity in the effect of urbanization on the natural environments of large and small settlements. Other resultant internal contradictions and difficulties may include noise, problems of transport, and the excessive concentration of buildings in small areas. These difficulties can be overcome, however, with the help of economic and social planning based on a constant increase of mutual influence between center and periphery and on the proportional development of all settled areas. Under socialism all members of society and all regions of the country share in the lofty material and intellectual values accumulated in the major economic and cultural centers. Thus it is possible to take advantage of the positive effects of urbanization while neutralizing its negative effects.

In the current stage of urbanization, the population is increasingly concentrated in conurbations rather than isolated towns. Around the largest cities systems of settlements are growing rapidly and bringing new areas under the direct influence of the country’s main economic and cultural centers. According to some estimates, the number of conurbations in the USSR is nearly 70 (see Table 2).

In developed socialist societies, urbanization and urban relations stimulate cultural processes and play a tremendous role in personality formation. In the current stage of urbanization—that is, in the age of the scientific and technological revolution, when a greater role is being played by a variety of social information—the urban way of life has become the most important aspect of urban culture. The broad selection of social contacts and the development of processes of social exchange among people in the saturated urban milieu help the various social strata and

Table 2. Some of the largest conurbations in the USSR (1970)
 Area (sq km)Number of urban settlementsPopulation (millions)
Moscow ...............8,4008110.69.70.9
Leningrad ...............6,600554.44.30.1
Gorky ...............3,200281 91 80 1
Donetsk ...............4,100611.81.70.1
Kharkov ...............4,500461.71.60.1
Sverdlovsk ...............4,300321.61.50.1

groups in socialist societies to draw closer together socially and culturally, to broaden their outlook, to become better informed, and to attain a higher level of education and culture. Urban culture is the basis for overcoming the fundamental differences between city and country.

One of the most important features of the urban way of life is the continuous attempt by individuals to acquire new information and make new contacts in such areas as work, culture, and personal relations. The increasing sophistication of social needs and the increased mobility of the population strengthen the tendency of urban culture to be independent of a given locality; that is, the importance of a person’s neighborhood to his activities and contacts declines. The role of the largest cities and conurbations is enhanced as they become the focal points of social activity. Centripetal tendencies become one of the main factors integrating the organism of the city. Marx wrote that the “very existence of the city as such differs from the simple multiplicity of independent houses. In the case of the city, the whole is not simply the sum of its parts. In its own way it is an independent organism” (Marx and Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 46, part 1, p. 470). The conditions prevailing in socialist societies make it possible to fully integrate individuals as well as families, production groups, and other groups into a unified urban community.

A special role in extending the effective range of urbanization and urban culture is played by transportation, communications, and the mass media, all of which change the cultural orientation of the inhabitants of peripheral areas, small towns, and villages by acquainting them with the values of big cities. At the present time, migration to large urban centers is increasing, and the process of population concentration in conurbations is intensifying. Under socialism the prerequisites are being created in the largest cities and conurbations for surmounting narrow-minded, con-sumerist attitudes toward the environment. Nature is becoming part of urban culture, and urbanization is harmonizing the interaction of social and environmental processes.

The need for solving the ecological, sociocultural, urban-planning, and other problems that arise in the course of urbanization requires constant improvement in the control of the process in socialist society. Mastery of the essential laws and mechanisms of urbanization increases the effectiveness of such control.


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Marx, K., and F. Engels. Nemetskaia ideologiia. Ibid., vol. 3.
Marx, K. “Ekonomicheskie rukopisi 1857–1859 godov.” Ibid., vol. 46., parts 1–2.
Marx, K. “Ekonomicheskaia rukopis’ 1861–1863 godov.” Ibid., vol. 47.
Lenin, V. I. “Agrarnyi vopros i ‘kritiki Marksa.’” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 5.
Lenin, V. I. Razvitie kapitalizma v Rossii. Ibid., vol. 3.
Lenin, V. I. “Vybory v Uchreditel’noe sobranie i diktatura proletariata.” Ibid., vol. 40.
Weber, A. Rost gorodov v 19 stoletii. St. Petersburg, 1903. (Translated from English.)
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Beaujeu-Garnier, J., and G. Chabot. Ocherki po geografii gorodov. Moscow, 1967. (Translated from French.)
Nauchnye prognozy razvitiia i formirovanüa sovetskikh gorodov na baze sotsial’nogo i nauchno-lekhnkheskogo progressa., fascs. 1–3. Moscow, 1968–69.
Akhiezer, A. S., L. B. Kogan, and O. N. Ianitskii. “Urbanizatsiia, obshchestvo i nauchno-tekhnicheskaia revoliutsiia.” Voprosy filosofii, 1969, no. 2.
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Khorev, B. S. Problemy gorodov., 2nd ed. Moscow, 1975.
Ianitskii, O. N. Urbanizatsiia i sotsial’nye protivorechiia kapitalizma. Moscow, 1975.
Kogan, L. B., and F. M. Listengurt. “Urbanizatsiia i priroda.” Priroda, 1975, no. 3.
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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chapter offers a cautiously optimistic environmental prospect for Asia as the region urbanizes," the report added.