Urban studies is a field within the social sciences that examines the history and current developments of urban areas. Researchers in this field focus on how cities continuously grow and change through analyzing events and relationships. Urban studies is a broader academic area of interest that covers topic specific to urban regions, such as urban ecology, urban politics, and urban economics. This field can inform the development of urban planning policies that will shape how cities evolve in the future. The field originated primarily from the United Kingdom and the United States, and has spread to research how international cities apply this research.
The study of cities has changed dramatically from the 1800s over time, with new frames of analysis being applied to the development of urban areas. Urban history plays an important role in this field of study because it reveals how cities have developed previously. History plays a large role in determining how cities will change in the future. Such areas change continuously as part of larger processes and create new histories that researchers study on both large-scale and individual levels.
Overall, three different themes:7 have influenced how researchers have and will continue to study urban areas:
- Spatial structures: Reflect how the city is physically organized
- Processes that support spatial structure: Question how the city's structure operates
- Normative Analysis: Construct opinions supported by facts to promote better urban planning methods
Scholars have also researched how cities outside of the United Kingdom and the United States have developed, but only to a limited degree. Urban history previously focused mostly on how European and American cities developed over time, instead of focusing on how non-European cities developed. Additional geographic areas researched in this field include South Africa, Australia, Latin America, and India.
Racial history in the United States
The racial segregation of urban residents in the United States has played an important role in developing this field. One program founded to research African-American urban residents, the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies, was founded in 1959 to study residential segregation and to support affected communities. More recently, studies related to race and urban life started to focus on ethnographic methods to study how individuals lived in relation to the city and their respective systems as a whole.
Areas of research
This field is transdisciplinary because it uses theories from a variety of academic fields and places them within an urban context. A wide variety of academic fields refers to the urban environment as a location studied, such as Environmental Studies, Economics, Geography, Public Health, and Sociology. However, scholars in this field research how specific elements contribute to how the city operates, such as how housing and transportation will change. In addition, researchers also study how residents interact within the city, such as how race and gender differences lead to social inequalities in urban areas.
In the United States, race has heavily impacted where African-Americans live. Black Power movements, particularly the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, have criticized how the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies researched the African-American urban population but did not understand the community's needs.
Researchers also struggle with how terms are created and used both inside and outside the field. Researchers even struggle how to define basic terms precisely, such as how a city is defined, due to how the roles of cities change. Researchers must be careful in how they describe urban areas, as their work can be manipulated as positive elements for city boosters wanting to promote a specific city.
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