Broader Forces That Shape Urban Life

Topics: Sociology, Michel Foucault, City Pages: 6 (2516 words) Published: May 2, 2013
This essay will be looking at some of the different ways in which broader forces shape urban life. For the purpose of this paper references will be drawn from different authors including Wirth( 1938), Jacobs(1961), Wilson (1996), Harvey, Foucault and cooper. This essay will also look at some definitions of what urban life is and the characteristics of it. For Wirth (1938), Urbanism is a way of life, and although in the city, urbanism looks beyond the physical structures of the city, it looks at forces of order and control in the urban life . In wirth (1938) view there are three characteristics of cities namely, population sizes, population density as well as social heterogeneity. Population sizes are very large in cities than in the countryside of the rural areas. Wirth ( 1938) thus argues that the larger the number of people in cities, the greater there will be individual variation and the more is the number o f people there are in a process of interaction the greater will be the potential differentiation. This differentiation therefore leads to spatial segregation of individual according to colour, ethnic heritage, social and economic status etc. The sense of belonging to a particular group then is tampered with as many people who may participate in some groups have different background than in the country side. Unlike in the rural areas where by there are bonds of solidarity or the feeling of belonging to neighbourhood which serve as forces that hold societies together, in the cities more formal control mechanisms are used to maintain order in society. The large number of people with many differences in cities also fosters competition between the city inhabitants (Wirth 1938: 99). The other characteristic of the city outlined by Wirth is population density. Density can be said to be the concentration of people in one place. As with population size of the city is large, when more and more people come to the city without the expansion of the city this is density because of the concentration of people in a limited space. Density in cities tends to produce differentiation, Diversity, specialization and complications in the social structure. In Wirth’s words in such circumstances “typically our physical contacts are close but our social contacts are distant” (Wirth, 1938:100).This leads to loneliness of the city inhabitants, while the frequent move of a large number of people in such congested places can give rise to irritation. In such dense circumstances social order and social control is achieved through the use of technological mechanisms such as the clocks and traffic lights in the urban world. Heterogeneity can be said to be the large number of diverse people who are found in most big cities. According to Wirth(1938) whenever a large number of diverse people congregate the process of depersonalization takes place. The individual loses his sense of individuality and forms part of a categories. The use of facilities is made to serve the needs of the average person and not necessarily to cater for the particular individuals. Public facilities such as educational, recreational, cultural facilities must be adjusted to mass requirements Thus for the individual person to participate in social, political and economic life of the city, then he needs to be subordinate or conform to the demands of the larger community and lose some of his individuality (Wirth, 1938:101). Jacobs ( 1961) Looks at city sidewalks, particularly the safety of sidewalks as a significant part of the urban life and the street helps to understand the forces of community control and power to resist. Jacobs argues that sidewalks are the main public spaces of any city and they are vital part of it.. She even postulates that when a city is mentioned the first thing that comes to mind is streets, however this is not a fact because , this may vary from person to person. For example one may also argue that when a city is mentioned what comes to mind is high...
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