Urban Geography: Why We Live Where We Do

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 Comments

  • Reeta Tassberg says:

    In Europe residents live in the same area with the shops while in America these areas are divided which is why you meed to drive from your home to shop or work. In Europe there could je a shop in the first floor of your building.

  • Branislav says:

    I spend 12 to 15 hours every week in public transportation

  • ossi_ says:

    I thought it was obvious that Paris is more densely populated than NYC. European cities usually are.

  • Tom Oliver Payne says:

    I love your films but it would be nice if you were specific re geography in your titles. Mayne 'Urban Geography: Why We Live Where We Do – Eu vs US'. There are a lot of cities in this world (and although this was interesting as a general comparison between two places) their internal nuances are far more complex than was explained here.

  • Ivan Leech says:

    Where did you take the income maps from?

  • Tom says:

    There needs to be a second video with Soviet and Chinese city designs. A lot of them were built from scratch with public transport as the main/only transportation mean. The Soviets hated very tight, claustrophobic city design but their metropolitan area were still pretty dense but with green between (well, often until everybody got cars). It has its flaws as well but I think there's interesting points about them.

  • Robinny says:

    no french subs titles ? really serious?

  • Dadson worldwide says:

    Every 3 hours by car travel there is 2 medium size citys that have a skyline in America. No one wants to live on top of other people in America we like our space and out individual privacy.its one reason why we dont push speed rails . The expense of building geological obstacles and negotiating with so many private owned land is costly to obtain.
    Europe had kings and monarchs that was just another form of dictatorships and they cared less about what the average people wanted and more about what the wealthy wanted to look at.

  • Oliverphone Sissonphone says:

    Comparing NYC to Paris is deceptive. Paris doesn't include Les Banlieues, whereas NYC includes Brooklyn, Queens, etc. If you just compare Manhattan, then you get 67k people per sq mile – higher than Paris.

  • Oliverphone Sissonphone says:

    You ignore the different tax systems. The US has "city"(legal entity, not greater or metro) taxes depending on where you live in, whereas Europe typically only has one national income tax. Also the US has huge differences in local services, especially schools, but also fire and police

  • Rotkiw says:

    And here I am living in european suburbs. I WISH I LIVED IN CITY CENTRE

  • Anum B says:

    If houses were and are cheaper outside major cities doesn’t that mean it’s the rich that would live in cities rather than other way around, after all owning a car is cheaper than a house.

  • Nokturnal says:

    FUCK, this was a good video

  • Am I Being Detained says:

    Question about what you said at the end. How does higher gas prices give the US cities more people to live there? I understand crime rate, but not that b

  • Facking Spam says:

    Imagine if everyone in New York lived in the dense core…. the skyscrapers 😱

  • cool ringworm facts says:

    you didn’t mention anything about white flight or redlining but that’s cool i guess

  • Console Supremacy says:

    DuM8 P30pL3

  • MrUnlimitedTorque says:

    That's because about half of America is a parking lot.

  • Nizzo Queen says:

    quality not quantity

  • Ktoto Zachemto says:

    I recomend you to look at Finland where people live very sparsely.

  • volg Evensen says:

    You realize that Paris is very dense when you travel to it

  • Joel says:

    due to pollution or guns? lol

  • Enno says:

    It'd be interesting to have the same comparison with Tokyo.

  • Calvin Rey says:

    This channel helped me with my AP Human Geography class.

  • BurritoBreak says:

    Yuuuh gas prices in 2019 nj are now around 2.90-3.00 dollars a gallon with cash

  • The Watcher says:

    Crime moved to the suburbs as housing projects in the cities were demolished and subsidized housing was pushed out into the suburbs, but go ahead and blame gas. Maryland suburbs are STILL getting housing voucher holders from NYC.
    There are still plenty of people who prefer the suburbs. New, pricey suburban communities are still being built all around the US. There are plenty of jobs close to home in the suburbs, and more and more people spend some or all of their work time at home or on the go, now.

  • Benjamin Christensen says:

    I would say the crime rate in the USA is still incredibly high.. I mean, I feel safe when visiting, but it's still in the back of my mind, that someone might pull a gun and shoot..

  • Sasquatch says:

    In Geography there's literally dozens of models that explain this. There's even theories, which are corroborated using examples from every single continent in the world as to why the rich prefer the center, the suburbs or to live outside the cities all together.
    Means of transportation was the main reason before the 50's, but then it became… one of several variables.
    Besides, the US is the exception in everything, going from the measurement system all the way to politics, so using the US to prove anything past 2000 at this point in time is… redundant.

  • Stephen Pirsch says:

    Subscribed and thumbs up. Very well done. Thank you for staying in the background and not waving your hands in my face. Wonderful work.

  • Noah Hood says:

    Some people say Americans moved to suburbs to avoid crime. Those who know a little bit about sociology know that the reason people left the cities was because of white flight.

  • Ali Zahran says:

    In Cairo only Lucky people spend less than 5 hours per week in transpiration and most people spend more than 10 hours in transpiration

  • Riri Liélié says:

    Actually I learn in class (I am french) that before the center of our cities, until the 80s where like you but since a decision from the governement to make the center more attractif, now it’s like that

  • Pete J says:

    6:05 Global warming created crime 👏🏾😂 Dumbshit.

  • None Ofyourbusiness says:

    Yeah "lead"… the reason why the US is so dangerous is that there 13%=50%

    Now that "diversity" is coming to europe, the same considerations are starting to apply. Nobody wants to live in the migrant ghetto.

  • l'éléphant rouge says:

    Exposure to lead is a cute scapegoat for crime, but the fact is that a certain degenerate culture populates US inner cities. Now that Europe has invited them in, they are starting to see it too.

  • RipCityBassWorks says:

    Europe got this right: dense, walkable cities are a much more efficient use of land and much less stressful than having to make long commutes…

  • adukuttan rocks says:

    One of the most valuable videos on youtube.

  • Anders Kastrup says:

    0:39 Frederiksberg isn't a city. It's part of Copenhagen

  • CR100026740 says:

    No mention of the forced racial invasion of cities. Total popcockery. Probably a (((Babylonian)))👎🏿

  • radzewicz says:

    Your murder rate graph coincides almost perfectly with the death penalty. eliminated in the 79's and murders increased, reinstated in the later 80's and murders dropped off. How'd you miss that? Maybe you had brain damage.

  • radzewicz says:

    The suburbs work just fine: Your 4.5 hours of commute isn't much different than if you were one of the fortunate few who  could walk to work from your rich home in the city core: Your 20 min walk, 40 min a day is 200 min or about 3.5 hours/wk, almost what you quote for suburbs, and that was for the most well off. I bet a city job holder has to travel about the same a your 4.5 hr suburban worker. And its a lot cleaner in the suburbs, and there's less crime, and there's more ways to enjoy your life, and there's a healthier atmosphere. The suburbs are where everything  happens in the USA! There's only one time in a persons life when cities are the place to be: That awkward age form maybe 20 to 30 while you're single and desperately looking for a mate or else resolving yourself to being single the rest of your life. Else cities suck and you've been brainwashed!

  • Scandalous 1998 says:

    Ig you could say in medieval cities the rich would live inside the walls of cities where poor lived out as farmers like shown on 1500s Paris income map

  • Karl Damgaard Asmussen says:

    Mind, Fredriksberg in Denmark isn't considered a city; it's normally given as a district of Copenhagen.

  • Bradley Greenwood says:

    Live an urban life??? NEVER.

  • Luminus3d says:

    Wow! Outstanding quality! Keep it!
    up!!!!

  • Gunnar Mahony says:

    But what about horses

  • Leo Breslin says:

    The income map of Philadelphia makes Zero sense, center city Philadelphia is the wealthiest area in the city.

  • Roosevelt Brentwood says:

    2018: London crime rate exceeds NYC crime rate. Thats progress guys! Keep up the good work! USA! USA! USA!

  • John Edward Gallagher says:

    I am sorry but the crime wave was do to inner city poverty and are excessive diversity,. Diversity is not a strength at least not at first. I know we are not supposed to say it, but a newly empowered and poor community is dangerous. That integration to the point of almost sameness is a cure to this. Some the difference making and pushing and we will have even less crime. And it is not privilege that is the problem it is poverty. It was when we became a Welfare state that we became crime ridden. Get it. The idea that is was gas fumes in the inner city that cause crime is the most idiotic idea. The is a reason for the crime wave and no one will say it.

  • ESK 56 says:

    You also forgot the discrimination policies that were created with suburbanization. Blockbusting was when developers convinced white upper an middle class people to sell their urban homes for a cheap price so that people of color would buy it. The upper class people moved to the suburbs while the developers claimed neighborhoods were “going down”, due to a higher influx of people of color. This generated “white flight” which caused the white pepper to move to the suburbs and the developers with them. That means these urban neighborhoods became more rundown and lead to the creation of the inner city.
    Then there was redlining which were policies designed to keep out minorities and people of lower classes.
    Then with people moving back into the city, there’s gentrification where more upper to middle class people are coming back to urban areas, buying cheap properties, renovating them, which increases the property tax of the neighborhood. With more fixed up homes and more, for lack of a better word, bougie restaurants and businesses, it gets to the point where the original inhabitants of the neighborhood can’t afford their homes and have to move further away. Which is hard because these people are often are lower class and don’t have the financial freedom to move wherever they want.
    I could go on and on, but the point is urban geography is messed up and so is the world.

  • Willy Wong says:

    Forgot about redlining in US cities and racial segregation which led to urban sprawl. Urban decay in minority areas due to lack of investment.

  • MI Car Guy says:

    So…I’m likely more anxious if I live in the suburbs or country, versus living in the city? I’d disagree, and that sounds like a cherry-picked answer from a study about the effects of traffic.

  • ttam2012 says:

    Does that mean that slow gentrification of city centers in the US is the US moving to more of European model? Where housing outside of the city will become cheaper than housing in the the inner city? I only see one real problem with this, and that is the severe lack of cheap public transportation. The paradigm can shift, but the good jobs are still in the city, the rich can afford to commute, but the poor cannot.

  • Rata 4U says:

    The poor today live opulent lives compared to the wealthy of the 18th century. There's central heat and air, access to state of the art medical facilities, cars, entertainment and internet access and power. People suffered back in the dark ages and it didn't matter how rich you were. In the near future as we enter a new epoch of civilization and technology things will only get better.

  • Malacki 655 says:

    Racism played a big part too. In the 50s and 60s, there was an exodus of middle-class and rich white people moving from the cities to the suburbs leaving the poor majority black people in the cities. The banks refused the blacks loans, and realtors didn’t show black families new property listings in the area.

  • Silly Millie17 says:

    It because you guys have guns and then you kill each other

  • JonnyLightning says:

    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

  • Namless's Media Dump says:

    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

  • Guy Mika says:

    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.

  • Andrey Lucas says:

    6:00 LOL

  • someGuy says:

    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

  • Giuseppe Cappelluti says:

    The UK actually resembles the US more than continental Europe in terms of living patterns…

  • lilax leoli says:

    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

  • Angel Urena says:

    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.

  • AI R509 says:

    Finna leave suburbia for finer, rural pastures

  • OneHumanOneFootprint says:

    Thank you, very interesting topic and presentation

  • rtgr says:

    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.

  • Phurlamu Sherpa says:

    Yanks are stupid

  • Gigel Saiba says:

    This was not good

  • Hoaxyy says:

    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.

  • metalema6 says:

    African-americans are the source of the crime in new york. Don't pretend to be stupid.

  • Clément Charlebois says:

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

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

  • mboatrightED300 says:

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

  • lonelyPorterCH says:

    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

  • private says:

    Ever been shot? Ghetto dwellers. Gotta factor that in.

  • Skyler Canizales says:

    Fucking rich people😂

  • NANO says:

    What are your sources??

  • Yellow W says:

    I feel like we really need to get rid of 90% of the cars on the road and everyone would be a lot happier

  • Mc Chaotic Neutral & Rusty Shackleford & Company says:

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

  • Gabb Industries says:

    I approve this message

  • Brand Tzawala says:

    really good clip, I really like better America

  • FairNut says:

    So bombing the cities is nice because they can rebuild how they want

  • Samos Mapper says:

    Wow this video had nothing to do with planes 😳

  • João Correia says:

    5:11 bro this is were I live

  • Miren Summers says:

    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

  • xotoxi says:

    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.

  • movax20h says:

    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.

  • Renn Li says:

    How about Asian cities… They're crazy

  • spychecker says:

    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.

  • The Dude says:

    Good to know that the inversion of rich-poor people compared to the city center is a case in the usa

  • The Dude says:

    audible really missed an oppertunity for an ad placement with that commute fragment

  • TotalRookie_LV says:

    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.

  • Melgiblet says:

    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

  • Daniel Martinez Dowsett says:

    American cities fuckin suck…like America itself

  • yuvi1 says:

    You cannot blame crime on lead in gasoline
    There are places like africa where there are no cars but tons of crime

  • Lady Gaga says:

    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.

  • 「 whitenat 」 Gm says:

    no planes mentionned in this video

  • Elijah Pisani says:

    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).

  • Phil Shifley says:

    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.

  • Selena Shea says:

    Love this video but tenlytown in dc is in dc

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