The giant modern city is a product of the Industrial Revolution, which introduced large-scale manufacturing. Sheer size aggravated existing problems of urban life; some of them, such as sanitation, utilities, and distribution, have been better solved than others, such as housing and transport. As urban life came to furnish more remunerative and varied employment opportunities, rural populations increasingly were attracted, and by the 20th cent. some nations were faced with shortages of agricultural workers.
Modern cities are often complex, with subcities within them, e.g., Newark, N.J., falls inside the New York metropolis. The word megalopolis is sometimes used to describe the great swath of communities stretching N and S of New York City from Boston to Washington, D.C. In Great Britain the term conurbation refers to a similar cluster of urban areas such as the one centered on London. There are similar complexes of cities in Asia, notably that of Wuhan in China.
Among movements to reform urban life, some aim at abolishing cities as known today; this is the tradition exemplified by William Blaker, Henry Thoreau, William Morris, and Eric Gill. There are also less radical designs, like rational city planning, the development of rapid transit to distant suburbs, and garden cities. There have been many reforms aimed at restoring community life for the rootless strangers so numerous in modern cities; such is a common function of settlement houses, community centers, and other philanthropic and cooperative enterprises.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.