Cityscapes, Suburban Sprawl

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This video program features two case studies on cities in the United States:Boston: Ethnic Mosaic and Chicago: Farming on the Edge.

Located in North America, the United States and Canada have the most urbanized and mobile populations in the world. Two of the most important results of that mobility are the abandonment of inner-city neighborhoods by the middle class and the increasing loss of prime agricultural land to suburban development. The land-use pattern that is emerging is one that looks something like a doughnut. This has been created by the middle class fleeing an increasingly poor and empty downtown for life and work in a ring of suburbs and edge cities.

The first case study, Boston: Ethnic Mosaic, visits the hometown of some of the nation's finest institutions of higher education and centers for research and development. Boston has a vibrant central business district, but it is also experiencing middle class flight. The city's ethnic diversity is due in part to the attraction of cheap housing for newly arriving immigrants. Inner-city Boston has become, however, a place where tax dollars are simply not adequate to deal with the problems caused by poverty. Inner-city residents and the city must turn to the federal government for assistance in solving their social and economic problems.

The case study focuses on the spatial distribution of some of Boston's ethnic and racial groups and their competition for inclusion in a proposed empowerment zone. The zone is to include the most impoverished areas in Boston, yet those areas don't necessarily follow established neighborhood boundaries. A geographer is asked to use her professional skills and input from citizens to determine what boundary should be proposed in the grant application. The stakes are high: a first-place, $100 million federal grant could go a long way in providing job training, offering social services, and attracting new businesses to Boston's struggling core.

New material in this program includes new video footage and an update on Boston's empowerment zone program, new funding received by the city, and the results of that funding in various inner-city neighborhoods.

The second case study, Chicago: Farming on the Edge, leaves the downtown core to take a look at the increasing threat that middle class flight presents to farmland at the urban fringe. No longer are suburban communities dependent upon jobs in the downtown core. The availability of cars and the highway infrastructure has enabled a new kind of city to spring up around Chicago. These auto-dependent edge cities provide jobs and services to the residents of the surrounding suburbia, allowing them to avoid downtown altogether if they choose. Furthermore, these new job centers, already many miles from the old downtown core, enable suburbia to penetrate more deeply into the countryside.

Updates to this case study include new video footage and interviews profiling suburban growth on Chicago's fringe, new interviews with Dr. Richard Green as he visits areas undergoing land-use change, and new maps showing the extent of farmland loss.

Find additional resources, including primary source materials, interactives, and downloadable print materials, at:

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