Urban Geography: Why We Live Where We Do


This is Wendover Productions. Sponsored by the Great Courses Plus. Here’s an interesting question: which city
do you think is more dense—Paris, France or New York, United States? It probably seems obvious: New York, the land
of skyscrapers, the Big Apple… right? Wrong. New York, in fact, has a population density
of less than half that of Paris. Paris’s is 56,000 people per square mile
(22,000 per square kilometer) while New York’s is only 27,000 people per square mile (10,500
per square kilometer.) To find a European city with a comparable
population density to New York’s—the densest American city—you have to go all the way
down to number six on the list: Lyon France (27,000 per sq/mile; 10,500 per sq/km.) New York of course has a super-dense urban
core, but then around it is miles and miles of suburbia—just like almost every other
American city. Paris, on the other hand, packs almost its
entire population into a compact urban core. There’s also another interesting pattern
that differs between the two continents: rich Americans live outside the city, rich Europeans
live city center. Compare the income map of Paris to that of
Philadelphia. Of course it’s not perfect, but you can
definitely see a pattern. The most commonly cited reason for both these
trends is the difference in age. Most European cities have existed for hundreds
if not thousands of years, while all but a few American cities only gathered enough population
to be called cities in the past one or two hundred years. What that means is that European cities existed
when all but the super-rich had to commute to work by foot. In the middle ages, Paris had a population
of two to three hundred thousand people, but you could walk from one side to the other
in thirty minutes. It was incredibly densely populated. You just had to live within walking distance
of work. Therefore, the rich paid more for the houses
closest to the center of the city. This is a similar reason to why in historic
European hotels, you’ll often see the nicest and largest rooms on the lower floors—the
opposite of what you’d see today. Before elevators existed, the rich didn’t
want to have to walk up as many flights of stairs. Walking distance was not only important to
big cities. Small villages across Europe were almost always
the same size because their population was dictated by the walkability of the surrounding
fields. European farmers tended to live in small towns
and walk to their fields during the day rather than the homesteading approach used in America. Therefore, villages would only be as large
as the amount of people needed to work the fields within walking distance. American cities, on the other hand, began
their period of rapid growth in a more modern era when decentralizing technologies were
much more advanced. By the time North American cities grew larger
than the distance people could reasonably walk, there was already the technological
capability to create public transportation systems. The first major public transportation innovation
was the steam train in the mid 19th century. This was a very expensive means of transport
and was therefore only for the super rich. Interestingly, because steam trains take an
enormous amount of time to reach speed, the towns that the rich commuted from, known as
railroad suburbs, were generally not just at the nearest bit of countryside, but separated
from the city by a few miles of countryside. The impact of railroad suburbs remains today. On the track of the old Philadelphia Main
Line, there’s a stretch of super-rich communities with huge estates and country clubs from Ardmore
to Malvern. The demographics just never changed from the
time of the railroad suburb. A few decades later, streetcars emerged and
quickly became an instrumental part of the American commute. Much like steam trains, streetcars also created
new communities—this time with slightly less rich upper-middle class individuals. In Washington DC, the wealthy suburbs of Tenleytown,
Chevy Chase, Bethesda, McLean, Rockville, and more all grew as a result of the streetcar. But once again, walking distance influenced
geography. Streetcar commuters had to live within walking
distance of a stop, so naturally there would be a radius of civilization about 20 or 30
minutes walking distance from a stop, then past that…nothing. That meant that between the lines, there was
all this open space where nobody could commute from. Enter: the automobile. At first the car was only for upper class
individuals especially with the distraction of the two World Wars and Great Depression,
however, by the time young Americans returned from World War Two, there had been enough
technological advances to make the automobile affordable for the middle class. Over 50% of households had cars by 1950. At the same time, the government was offering
loans to returning veterans which significantly increased the number of americans who could
afford to buy homes. Instead of buying a small central city home,
this generation opted to use their new cars to commute from cheaper, nicer, and larger
suburban homes. The idea was that the working parents would
go downtown each day while the rest of the family would stay to enjoy the suburb. It was the perfect deal. So that whole history was absolutely true,
but it doesn’t entirely explain why European cities didn’t experience suburbanization as
well. In Germany, for example, many, if not most,
cities were bombed to rubble during World War Two. They had the opportunity to rebuild in any
way they wanted, but then chose to keep their compact design. Today, the average metropolitan population
density in Germany is four times higher than the US’s. At the same time, other cities across Europe
that survived the war experienced enormous population influxes and still maintained their
mammoth population densities. Perhaps the least commonly cited reason for
suburbanization in the US is crime. It’s a bit of an ugly period in American
history that we sometimes forget, but crime levels were absolutely insane in the 70’s,
80’s, and 90’s. There are a ton of different theories for
why this was—perhaps the most interesting being the that the rise in gasoline emitted
lead caused lower IQ’s and higher aggressively. New York had an astronomical 2,245 murders
in 1990. London didn’t even have that many in the
entire 90’s decade. Violent crime rates are still consistently
10 or more times higher in the US. In 1992, a poll was conducted asking departing
New Yorkers why they were moving to the suburbs, and the most commonly cited reason was crime
at 47%. Cost and quality of living were way down at
lower than 10% each. Crime rates are significantly lower in suburbs
as they are typically havens for higher-income individuals. Europeans don’t have to worry as much about
inter-city crime so they’re much more willing to live downtown. Land for suburban housing is also readily
available in the US because farmers have always been quick to sell their relatively unprofitable
land to developers. By contrast, In France, for example, agricultural
subsidies are 12 times higher per acre of land than the US. That’s a big reason why large European cities
are still closely surrounded by small farms. In many European cities, you can literally
take the city bus to farms. Lastly, all sorts of energy are cheaper in
the US. A gallon of gas costs as much as $7 in some
parts of Europe compared to the US average of $2.20. It’s significantly more expensive to commute
by car in Europe so there’s more motivation to live closer to work where either the drive
is shorter or you can take public transportation. Also, big suburban homes aren’t as attractive
in Europe because electricity and heating costs are higher. Suburban life really didn’t live up to expectations. Americans now spend an average of 4.25 hours
per week sitting in cars, buses, or trains traveling to and from work. That’s 2.5% of their entire lives. It’s also been scientifically proven that
commuting from the suburbs is linked to higher blood pressure, lower frustration tolerance,
and higher rates of anxiety. Also, the suburbs are no longer the countryside
havens that they once were. They’re just a continuation of the urban
sprawl. Rich Americans are therefore beginning to
return to the city. With lower crime rates, higher fuel costs,
and an overall shift in attitude, urban cores are having a second renaissance. So that’s why we live where we do. It’s a complicated, controversial, and surprisingly
political history. I hope you enjoyed this Wendover Production
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100 thoughts on “Urban Geography: Why We Live Where We Do”

  1. Pretty good but you glossed over the racism factor in the rise of suburbs in the 50s and 60s, which caused the population drain that caused the economic stagnation and reduction of the 70s, which in turn had a huge effect on the rise of crime from the late 70s to the 90s

  2. NYC COVERS A FUCKTON YOU SHOWED A PICTURE OF JUST MANHATTAN. Paris, however, is quite small Borderwise. NYC COVERS A lot of Territory, some is sparser than Manhattan

  3. The opening is not very well thought out. If you take Manhattan alone, it is more dense than Paris but NYC has 5 boroughs and Queens and Staten Island are both very large and have large swaths that are pretty suburban.

  4. Black people were almost entirely excluded from VA loans after WWII. Why does this matter? VACATION loans helped build the middle class in America and has contributed to the wealth gap between blacks and whites we see today. I'm merely stating fact but watch how many thumbs down this posts gets. lol

  5. I live in a more urban area. I live where you need a car to go anywhere. I think the house I live in is worth 400k in comparison with my cousins 2mil and not as spacious house in San Francisco

  6. I don't know anybody trying to move to Manhattan. The only people who want to live in the city are people that are not originally from the city. They have some fanciful notion about how great it'd be to live in Manhattan that they got from watching TV, but the reality is way off unless you're super rich.

  7. American cities have always been expanding outwards because there is unlimited space to expand. Europe on the other side needs to be efficient with space to build, like the Netherlands which has big cities in small spaces.

  8. I’m proud of our suburbs as they are really pretty. The suburbs are full of foliage which i think most europenans dong get to experience.

  9. What a fallacy… Crime high because of leaded gas… Come on.

    There is a much more obvious reason why Americans left downtown areas.

  10. No mention of redlining, white flight, or any of the race issues in American city layout? You're missing some important details here.

  11. 0:40 I was in barcelona 2 weeks ago…

    I didnt notice, that so many people are living there^^
    And pf corse, I was in paris too, but last year

  12. Hmmm I wonder why crime is higher in the USA than Europe? Hmmmm cough cough 13%

  13. from a european standpoint, suburbia looks like hell, it's dense urban living with none of the benefits
    boring communities of boring houses with nothing to do

  14. The problem with comparing the density of NYC to Paris is that the land area of NYC is 7.5 times larger than Paris (NYC is 783 sq km, Paris 105 sq km). If we were to include the three departments surrounding Paris (an area of 762 sq km), the population density would be approx 8800 per sq km…less than NYC's density of nearly 11,000.

  15. Yeah, a major reason is the fuel price and believe that cars can make you live wherever and just commute. But the repercussions are enormous in terms of design and quality of life all around.

  16. i actually wanted to watch a video about jurrasic park, but by accident clicked on this video. and before i knew it i had watched the whole thing. that was interesting.

  17. I can reach farmland on foot or by bus, many shops, markets and supermarkets are in 15-30 min walking distance, same with pharmacies (in European sense, not American), and other facilities (schools, hospitals, car repair shops etc), I have multiple transportation options – bus, tram, trolleybus and train in 3-10 min walk from my home; and due to walkways I can not just walk, but also safely ride a bicycle or kick-scooter, or electric scooter; besides European cities have parks and forests around them, thus IMO concentrated European style settling is more convenient.

  18. Would have been cool to also include some Asian cities in this video, to see how American cities and European cities compare to Asian ones

  19. The thing is ik about the history of European towns and cities, cause I’m European and just watching this too see how different USA is.

  20. Some parts of this video do not apply to london.
    London has massive suburban sprawl mainly built between the 1920s – 1950s (obviously not during the war)
    Inner city london can at times be very dangerous and have rich and poor living next door to each other (Stratford or the borough of hackney for example).

  21. The tone of the video is that every place is better planned than the US. That is simply not true and US planning efforts are not fairly portrayed in this video . The US has a unique history with needs that are much different that those glamorized in the video. Any first year planning student can tell you that. The US is not high population and compact and probably never will be. The speaker in this video needs to stop looking at the past with rose colored glasses and idolizing city nations and get busy re-imagining this massive nation using the best of what modern urban planning has to offer. Identifying strengths and weaknesses is only step one.

  22. Literally every singal question he asked about america can be answered with its because your country is a child its only 300 years old thats only 15 generations your a medival society with access to the modern world you havent had enough time to mature as a nation and thats why europe is far superior

  23. Just subbed. High quality, thought provoking video. Lived for five years in Europe, native American. Different strokes for different folks, but for me…I love where and how I live in America. Giant trees you can't wrap your arms around are all around me. Forest creatures dance in the yard. The horses and cows…I love it. And I'm fifteen minutes from everything, and thirty from a major city. Don't get me wrong. I could wax on and on about the beauty of Europe, but yes, too many people cluttered together. Although I really really miss the neighborhood bakeries. Peace.

  24. To be honest, as European I also commute 5 hours a week (okay, it includes 1h40m cycling, but still) and I think a lot of people in the world do. That's 30 minutes to and from work. That doesn't include delays or extra commuting I have to do to go to different locations for example. I find that fact very blown up.

  25. The suburb idea turned out to be a terrible idea. Living in cities is way better than living in suburbs. Who wants to drive 1 to 2 hours or more a day to go to the city to work? EVERY DAY

  26. Many of those streetcar suburbs became low income neighborhoods because motorways demolished poorer neighborhoods, streetcar suburbs became integrated, and white people left because they were racist

  27. This fueled suburbanization and poverty in older streetcar suburbs as racist property owners dumped their houses for lower prices

  28. i live in a little medival city in Poland(Darłowo 16thousands citizen), i have plenty od friend in US and Canada. Except that we earn much less than in America, from that what my friends say i live in PARADISE, the standard of living is high, crime almost does not exist. I wanted to emigrate becouse of my earnings but i will never do it becouse my friends made me realize that if i will move to America i will lost a lot!
    and this is this moment when i am so proud of my country p.s sorry for my english

  29. This comment is really quite late but I realized a few things after watching this video for the 5th time.

    1. Americans have stupid amounts of land. (The gov used to give it out for free!)
    2. Metropolitan areas (i.e NY and LA) or so expensive that cause the rich to move in and the poor to move out.
    3. Homelessness isn't as big of an issue in Europe as it is in America (Relates to previous point)
    4. America has HUGE roads compared to Europe, making it harder to compact more people in the city center.
    5. Manifest destiny really created a lot of rural American settlements.
    6. Look at a population distribution map of the U.S Most of us aren't even close to the major American cities.

  30. I fucking love this
    If you make a 72 hour video going more in depth in the subject I swear to God you I'd happily watch it
    I want more of this subject, more content, make a dozen documentaried about this

  31. "Crimes rose because of higher pollution". You just couldn't make a video without bringing up something extremely stupid.

  32. Curious to see the violent crime rates for American cities versus European cities overlaid with racial demographic comparisons

  33. I live in a prairie province of canada. It is very hard for cities and towns to expand since if they want to grow there is a long process taking large fields of rich black soil and replacing it with grey soil.

  34. Canadians spend much more than four hours a week in transit. I myself probably spend up to 15 just because depending on where you are things are so spread out.

  35. The difference in gas prices in Europe and USA comes from the fact that in USA gas is sold by the gallon but in Europe it is sold by the litre. One gallon equals to almost 4 litres.

  36. 7:20 "in many European cities you can litteraly take the bus […]"
    Shows fucking Edinburgh xD
    I think noone called this tiny town a city before ! What's next , the city of diss?

  37. Yeah the rich is also moving back to downtown Toronto (aka the nyc of Canada basically) there are new buildings being built by the dozens that starts at $50,000-$8,000,000

  38. The first minute of this is just false. Also if the surrounding city’s of NYC in Jersey are as dense as Paris. Hoboken is 55k in one square mile.

  39. Honestly, medieval European villages are the best.

    Living in European city is bad enough. I can't imagine being forced to live in an American city.

  40. Rich Americans never really left the city, suburbs were usually filled by middle class not upper class people. Also I noticed how you totally failed to mention horses as a means of transport, and whereas in Europe I could believe they were largely relegated to the wealthy certainly in the US they were obtainable for the middle and lower classes albiet expensive but usually not cost prohibitive (similar though obviously not the same to an automobile), so its not like only the wealthy could have lived in suburbs. Also you omitted other aspects of living in a suburb like better schools, lower taxes and smaller populations which mean greater represantation in local government and comunity institutions like community watch and so on. I'm not saying suburbs are the perfect place to live but don't present them like they are a broken system that rich people fled to with their taxe dollars to escape crime and caused urban blight. Urban blight is usually caused by a failure of municipal policy makers to make laws that encourage growth, and is often correlated to a populace that persistently refuses to hold their lawmakers mayors accountable for thier failure to produce growth. So it is only natural that large segments of the population who do not feel the city is being run corectly and that they are paying enormous tax rates and get very little public services or quality of living increases that they would normally expect, would decide to leave the city and move to a community where they feel represented, and which often have unquestionably higher standards of living, in terms of low crime, low taxes and more comunity support plus cheap land and big houses, would choose not to support a city they see as failing . You are getting angry at the middle class population for leaving cities but are failing to fully understand why they leave in the first place. Cities are like Companies, they more people they are able to meet the needs of the more people come in live there, and if cities really wanted to stop the flow of people out of cities they might look at some of the changes the suburbs have made to the community model, but then again that might not be in the interests of the people that are still living there in who have a right to not want to bow down to the suburbians in the same way the suburbians have a right to leave the city.

  41. Also interesting how cultural attitudes could contribute to this. Of course, culture is also shaped by the very same economic and political elements mentioned so difficult to establish causality

  42. Dinesh D'Souza says this income distribution is due to the Democrats "inner city" projects to keep voters dependant on them. I'd like to see an alternative explanations.
    https://youtu.be/aQSxPzafO_k?t=72

  43. The beginning of this video is honestly pretty misleading, New York really is more dense than Paris. The reason why the “city” of New York is less dense than the “city” of Paris is just because the city boundaries of New York include much more of the metropolitan area, while French cities in general are extremely conservative and only factor in the truly urban part.

    For entities which we can fairly compare, we can look at Paris vs Manhattan, which respectfully have 2.1 million vs 1.6 million people in an area of 40.7 vs 33.6 square miles, for a density of 53 vs 73 thousand people per square mile. So, both urban cores are obviously very dense, and New York’s urban core is a bit more sense.

    Next, we can compare New York City as a whole to the Paris metropolitan region, to see that New York fits 8.4 million people in 784 square km of land, almost as many as Paris fits in a 12th of the area, 12.2 million people in 12,000 square kilometers.

    For a truly accurate comparison, we can look at the New York metropolitan area against the Paris metropolitan area, to see that the New York Métro fits 21 million people in 11.8 thousand square kilometers, while as I mentioned before, the Paris metro fits 12.2 million people in 12 thousand square kilometers. In just about exactly the same area, Paris fits almost half the population that New York does! So not only is the urban core of New York more dense than the urban core of Paris, the area surrounding the urban core of New York is more dense than the area surrounding the urban core of Paris. New York is thus indeed more dense than Paris in every sense of the way.

  44. Imagine all the mosques with loud speakers in the dense europisstan. Al andalus the centre of Islamic European Khilafat

  45. What is urban sprawl, anything that is not high rise? . Are there only two types of housing? Is the word "sprawl" an an appropriate name for neat little houses in cul de sacs.?

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