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Urban Development in the United States, 1690–1990


  • Sukkoo Kim


The United States transformed itself from a rural to an urban society over the last three centuries. After a century of unremarkable growth, the pace of urbanization was historically unprecedented between the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. In the twentieth century, the urban population continued to increase but in a much more dispersed manner as the suburban population increased. Throughout these developments, cities also exhibited considerable variation in their population sizes. This paper finds that the pace and pattern of U.S. urban development are explained by changes in regional comparative advantage and in economies in transportation and local public goods, which in turn were determined by the changes in the economic structures of cities. This paper also finds that cities varied considerably in size because the larger cities reduced market transaction costs associated with coordinating greater geographic division of labor.

Suggested Citation

  • Sukkoo Kim, 2000. "Urban Development in the United States, 1690–1990," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 66(4), pages 855-880, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:sej:ancoec:v:66:4:y:2000:p:855-880

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Rafael González-Val, 2016. "Historical urban growth in Europe (1300–1800)," Working Papers 2016/8, Institut d'Economia de Barcelona (IEB).
    2. González-Val, Rafael & Lanaspa, Luis & Sanz, Fernando, 2008. "New Evidence on Gibrat’s Law for Cities," MPRA Paper 10411, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Rafael González-Val & Luis Lanaspa, 2016. "Patterns in US Urban Growth, 1790-2000," Regional Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 50(2), pages 289-309, February.
    4. Jeremy Atack & Fred Bateman & Robert A. Margo, 2000. "Rising Wage Dispersion Across American Manufacturing Establishments, 1850-1880," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0036, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
    5. Crafts, Nicholas & Klein, Alexander, 2015. "Agglomeration Economies and Productivity Growth: U.S. Cities, 1880-1930," CEPR Discussion Papers 10673, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Nicholas Crafts & Anthony Venables, 2003. "Globalization in History.A Geographical Perspective," NBER Chapters,in: Globalization in Historical Perspective, pages 323-370 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Rafael González-Val & Arturo Ramos & Fernando Sanz-Gracia, 2014. "A new framework for US city size distribution: Empirical evidence and theory," ERSA conference papers ersa14p633, European Regional Science Association.
    8. Guy Michaels & Ferdinand Rauch & Stephen J. Redding, 2012. "Urbanization and Structural Transformation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 127(2), pages 535-586.
    9. Perry Burnett, 2012. "Urban Industrial Composition and the Spatial Expansion of Cities," Land Economics, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 88(4), pages 764-781.
    10. Ramos, Arturo & Sanz-Gracia, Fernando, 2015. "US city size distribution revisited: Theory and empirical evidence," MPRA Paper 64051, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    11. Howard Bodenhorn & David Cuberes, 2010. "Financial Development and City Growth: Evidence from Northeastern American Cities, 1790-1870," NBER Working Papers 15997, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Sukkoo Kim, 2007. "Changes In The Nature Of Urban Spatial Structure In The United States, 1890-2000," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(2), pages 273-287.
    13. Rafael González‐Val, 2010. "The Evolution Of U.S. City Size Distribution From A Long‐Term Perspective (1900–2000)," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 50(5), pages 952-972, December.
    14. Ramos, Arturo & Sanz-Gracia, Fernando & González-Val, Rafael, 2013. "A new framework for the US city size distribution: Empirical evidence and theory," MPRA Paper 52190, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    15. Kim, Sukkoo, 2004. "Industrialization and Urbanization: Did the Steam Engine Contribute to the Growth of Cities in the United States?," Institute of European Studies, Working Paper Series qt4hd75171, Institute of European Studies, UC Berkeley.

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