The Problem of the Cities

Ever since people began migrating in large numbers from America’s rural areas to its urban areas  in the 19th century, cities have presented unique challenges: sanitation, housing, transportation, education, public safety, and fire protection, to name just a few. Responding to these challenges typically entailed government intervention, the precursor to the Great Society and the modern welfare state.

As Edward Banfield noted in The Unheavenly City (1970), Chicago grew “from a prairie village of 4,470 in 1840 to a metropolis of more than a million in fifty years.”  Industrialization attracted 15 million new residents—including many immigrants from foreign countries—to American cities during the 1880-1900 period alone, and this trend accelerated in the early part of the 20th century.

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