Saturday, May 25, 2013

The End of the Semi-Urban Landscape

I have a theory that over the next 100 or so years many of the semi-urban towns that have come to populate areas such as New England will fade away. First I want to describe what I mean by a semi-urban town because this moniker is not in itself descriptive enough. I am referring to areas with somewhere between 25,000 and 75,000 residents that have many of the expanded municipal functions of larger cities such as hospitals, shopping centers or public transportation systems. Additionally, these towns must be between 30 and 90 minutes from a larger city by car.

The trend of urbanization over the past 150 years seems to have encouraged the development of these small city-like areas. In New England specifically, larger cities have these almost suburban satellite cities that fill up much of the landscape. An example of this is somewhere like Amherst, Massachusetts. Amherst is about 45 minutes outside of Springfield, which is the hub of Western Massachusetts with about 150,000 people. At this distance, residents of Amherst generally would not commute to Springfield to work or for other needs such as visiting a hospital or shopping. However, the communities that are between Amherst and Springfield naturally direct their traffic towards Springfield for their needs as it is within a reasonable driving distance. Effectively, this keeps areas like Amherst from developing into true cities because they are close enough areas like Springfield to remain in their shadows. Small cities like Amherst will never have the population to support first rate services that are offered in larger cities.

I think that these small cities can be traced back to when a much higher percentage of the population was employed in farming. Small farming centers would develop naturally and evenly spaced throughout a belt of farms. People may live in the central development but many would work in the farms. Because so many people were employed in farming, the development of large cities was more limited. Over time however as people moved out of the farming occupation, they remained in these small satellite cities and much of the land that was formerly farmland became suburbs of large cities.

It seems that there is an emerging trend in the United States of people for the first time choosing to leave the suburbs for the central city that the suburb revolves around. This seems to be due to a number of factors including rising transportation costs, increased commuter traffic and perhaps a decline of crime rates in cities. As people move back to central cities, these cities will be able to offer even more services  and become more efficient. Eventually, smaller cities outside of the suburban ring will begin to suffer and I think that eventually many of these areas will greatly diminish in importance.

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