Urban Sociology: City and Place

The Role of Time and Location in the Sociological Study of Cities

The sociological study of the urban environment is a broad discipline that evolves and acquires new approaches. However, the role of history and geography in the investigation of urban sociology is one of the dominant issues. Indeed, the type of geographical environment and the specific historic events build up a uniqueness of a city and provide the basis for its studying. Time, or history, is comprised of the events that happened in a particular city and have contributed to its heritage. According to LeGates and Stout, the opportunity of a city researcher to evaluate the evolving processes within a city life contributes to the creation of a full understanding of the city’s development (10). That is why time and history play a decisive role in the application of a longitudinal method of study of cities.

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Moreover, the knowledge about the history of a particular city increases the level of citizens’ identity and cultivates cultural values in an urban area shared by a population. For example, the history of slavery in Philadelphia has shaped the public perception of the issue and significantly marked the cultural domain of the people living in Philadelphia (Hutter 173). Overall, history resembles the evolution of language, culture, religion, economy, and politics, which all constitute national identity.

As for the geographical location, it is also a crucial element in city research since it predetermines the specific economic trends, which depend on the type of resources available at a particular location (Mclaren and Agyeman 92). The more prosperous the natural resources are, the more diverse the occupations of the people might be in the city. It all consecutively contributes to the image of a city as a whole and determines the self-perception of the inhabitants. That is why, from the sociological point of view, location is a significant determinant of how a city evolves and what the perspectives of its further development are. In addition, geographical particularities determine the city planning and building, thus constructing a physical image of the urban area (LeGates and Stout 11). In terms of urban research, geography implies extensive investigation of the space that is a crucial element in the study of the cities.

The Role of Place in Sense of Identity

The concept of place is vital in city studying because it deals with multiple dimensions of the self-identification of the population inhabiting an urban area. Initially, the place is regarded as a space of life, which might be individual, collective, or institutional. At the level of individual sense of identity, the city provides accommodation, professional facilities, and leisure locations for a person to maintain personal growth. Residents who occupy a particular place in a city have their personal space and at the same time, perceive themselves as a part of a bigger community (Mclaren and Agyeman 312). As for a collective, or group, sense of identity, the city enables creating community places where “successful social networks and initiatives” might be fostered (LeGates and Stout 558). Since a place might be of a cultural, political, or economic significance, the actors of city life associate themselves with these places and develop their group sense of identity.

The institutional importance of place is determined by the shared understanding of the meaning of place within an urban context. According to Hutter, “place is a result of social power and contestation” that enables creating a specific image of a city (168). Moreover, the political meaning of place determines the national identity of the inhabitants of a city as the representatives of a state. From the sociological perspective, the place is a crucial factor in studying and understanding city dynamics because it has a symbolic meaning that forms a cultural image.

Built Environment Symbol

Any city is an environment that is created by people and is determined by the history, location, culture, economy, and values of the population that lives there. As it has been discussed earlier, place as a significant concept in city understanding implies conceptualized meaning that a creator intends to attribute to it. Symbolic places might be found in any city in the world. They always represent some primary values that are closely connected with the sociology of a city. These symbols “serve as a source of personal identification of the inhabitants” (Hutter 204). It helps to simplify and conceptualize the complexity of a city and provide a clear understanding of life in it.

One of the examples of a built environment city is a statue of a bald eagle at the campus of the American University in Washington. Since the University is located in the capital city of the USA, it bears a particular significance for the whole nation. The bald eagle is a symbol of America’s freedom, longevity, and prosperity. The statue at the American University campus aims at symbolizing the same values of strength, wisdom, and success for the students as the citizens of this great nation. According to the mission of the university, it prioritizes excellence, human dignity, and freedom, which are the elements of the symbolic meaning of the eagle (“American University’s Mission” par. 3). Therefore, the built environment symbol reinforces the fundamental beliefs and values of the citizens of America.

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Works Cited

“American University’s Mission.” American University, 2019, Web.

Hutter, Mark. Experiencing Cities. Routledge, 2015.

LeGates, Richard, T., and Frederic Stout. The City Reader. 6th ed., Routledge, 2015.

Mclaren, Duncan, and Julian Agyeman. Sharing Cities: A Case for Truly Smart and Sustainable Cities. MIT Press, 2015.

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