What are the social and economic factors that have shaped urbanization in the United States over the past 200 years from the commercial city to the sprawling metropolitan region?

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Urbanization is the study of the social, political, and economic relationships in communities, and those relationships are examined by someone specialized in urban sociology. Cities may be microcosms of universal human behaviour, in some respects, while in others they have a special atmosphere that creates its own type of human behaviour.

During the Industrial Period urbanization in the United States progressed rapidly. Workers left farms (and the rural communities that hosted them) to migrate to the cities as more and more opportunities for jobs arose in factories. The industrial revolution saw an influx of impoverished people into U.S. cities, from factory towns in Massachusetts to tenements in New York. Some ethnic groups, from post-Civil War southern Blacks to more recent immigrants, have made their way to urban centers at different times in the country's history to experience a better life in the region.

As cities became more crowded, and often more polluted and expensive, more and more people started moving back from them. But these people wanted easy access to the cities for their jobs instead of returning to rural small towns (like they had resided in before moving to the city). Suburbs grew in the 1850s, as the urban population increased greatly, and transportation choices improved. Suburbs are the areas surrounding towns, usually close enough for a daily drive in, but far enough away to require more space than the living affords of cities. The early twentieth century bucolic suburban landscape has largely vanished owing to sprawl.

As the suburbs became more crowded and lost their appeal, those who could afford it turned to the exurbs, neighborhoods that exist beyond the suburban ring and are usually inhabited by even wealthier families who want more space and have the means to lengthen their commute. The towns, exurbs, and metropolitan areas all come together to create a metropolis. New York was the first megalopolis in the United States, a large metropolitan corridor spanning several cities and their surrounding suburbs. Such metropolises take advantage of large quantities of natural resources and are a increasing part of the U.S. countryside.

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