Why are US urban areas more spread out (as in, less dense) than European urban areas are?

Grimald

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
5,892
Hercynian Forest
#11
Not all European countries are as tightly populated as Belgium, though.


That's an excellent point, but what about European countries with a low population density? I'm specifically talking about Eastern Europe here:

You will also have to factor in the very different historical developments of various European countries after WWII.

Northwestern Europe was most similar to the United States (but still poorer), whereas Eastern Europe was under Socialism, which often meant that urban development was completely in the hands of the state, and that motorization was much, much lower than in Western Europe or the United States.

Parts of Southern Europe, e.g. Spain or Portugal, did not modernize much until the 1970s, meaning that the structure of many cities and towns was conserved, and greater changes, including suburbanization, only happened much later and to a much smaller degree (as compared to France or the UK, for example).
 
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Grimald

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
5,892
Hercynian Forest
#12
They can, but what was inside the walls still remains there until it's torn down. The plots of land will remain the same unless someone buys multiple ones and merges them. The roads remain the same unless you're willing to disrupt many many things by widening or rerouting them. I don't doubt that cities in Europe could spread out more, but that process takes time. A city is an ecosystem and it's not easy to change things without heavily disrupting daily life, not to mention the expense involved.
Most European cities grew beyond their medieval walls already in the 19th century. The 19th century expansions were usually quite well-planned and, if they survived, today form the most densely populated areas in European cities. The old city centers themselves are often less densely populated than the surrounding inner city ring because they often have lost their function as residential areas due to tourism, shops, restaurants or offices.

I looked up Belarus, it has 120 people per sq. Mile. Sure there are places in Europe that have low pop. Density, but they aren't as common, and traveling between European countries is usually not as easy as traveling between US states.
Belarus was part of the Soviet Union until 1991. Its urban development was dictated by the state. Add to this the relative poverty with a much smaller car ownership rate, and you have the answer why Minsk looks different from American (but also Western European) cities of comparable size.
 
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Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,645
US
#14
Regarding the OP, the answer is due to the size of the U.S. I thought I read at one time that the population of the U.S. and Europe are about equal. If so, how do the largest 25 cities in each compare?I would assume they would be similar.
 
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Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,645
US
#15
Also, as a side question, what do you think that it would have taken for European urban areas to have become as spread out as US urban areas are?
It would have taken Europe to be united as one nation as the U.S., that is, the EU or something similar way back when. It is logistically reasonable to have major cities throughout a nation, as opposed to be compacted in only one area of a nation, unless there is a large uninhabitable space, like Australia.
 
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Jun 2017
116
maine
#16
Much of the reasoning given makes sense to me. I'd add that the Europeans and Americans live in different contexts. Traditionally, Europeans lived together in clusters and were surrounded by their agricultural area. On the other hand, Americans live right on their farms, all spread out.
 

Rodger

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,645
US
#17
Much of the reasoning given makes sense to me. I'd add that the Europeans and Americans live in different contexts. Traditionally, Europeans lived together in clusters and were surrounded by their agricultural area. On the other hand, Americans live right on their farms, all spread out.
From my understanding, Europeans, for the most part, tended to urbanize earlier than Americans. In many European nations the people moved from the rural, agricultural life to that of the urban before the U.S. existed. The U.S., for a variety of reasons, was still and land for farming and small towns. In the end, much of it is economics. People have to have a way to feed their families.
 
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Grimald

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
5,892
Hercynian Forest
#18
I think it is important to be aware that Europe is not homogeneous regarding urban geography. In fact, the differences between countries are huge.

Spain is probably the country with the densest urban areas in Europe. This is not limited to the two largest cities (Madrid and Barcelona), but is true for many smaller cities as well. This contrasts with its otherwise low population density. Other cities in Southern Europe also tend to have a very high density, for example Naples or Athens.

In contrast, while the United Kingdom and Germany as countries have far higher population densities than Spain, their urban areas are much less dense, with few exceptions such as inner London.

My impression is that these differences between European countries are even more pronounced than the differences within the United States (although admittedly cities like Houston and New York City are also very different from each other regarding urban geography). It is thus almost impossible to compare the United States with Europe as a whole.
 
Jun 2017
116
maine
#19
From my understanding, Europeans, for the most part, tended to urbanize earlier than Americans. In many European nations the people moved from the rural, agricultural life to that of the urban before the U.S. existed. The U.S., for a variety of reasons, was still and land for farming and small towns. In the end, much of it is economics. People have to have a way to feed their families.
I guess that it depends on which specific is meant. Certainly in Norway, each farm is more "isolated" and the cities have grown up around them. In Scotland and England, even today, there are small villages--not what I'd call urban--surrounded by the land the villagers farm. Here in New England--where farms are small--the village is the central (although the farmers still live on their individual holdings) but this is not so much the case in the midwest where it is the county that is important.
 
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#20
To illustrate the growth of London over the centuries, I found a bunch of city maps along with rough population estimates for that time.


London in 1572 (population below 200,000)



London in 1642 (population around 350,000)



London in 1750 (population 700,000)



London in 1853 (population 2.3 million)



London in 1900 (population 6 million)



And the modern day London, population over 10 million

 

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