The urban revolution refers to the emergence of urban life and the concomitant transformation of human settlements from simple agrarian-based systems to complex and hierarchical systems of manu- facturing and trade. The term also refers to the present era of metropolitan or megalopolis growth, the development of exurbs, and the explosion of primate or mega-cities.
Archeologist V. Gordon Childe coined the term urban revolution to explain the series of stages in the development of cities that preceded the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century. For Childe, the first revolution the ‘‘Agricultural Revolution’’ occurred when hunting and gathering societies mastered the skill of food production and began to live in stable and sedentary groups. The second revolution the Urban Revolution began during the fourth and third millennia bce in the civilizations of Mesopotamia and the Near East. The urban revolution ushered in a new era of population growth, complex urban development, and the development of such institutions as the bureaucratic state, warfare, architecture, and writing.
For Henri Lefebvre (2003), the urban revolution not only signifies a long historical shift from an agricultural to an industrial to an urban world, but also refers to a shift in the internal organization of the city, from the political city of pre-medieval times to the mercantile, then industrial, city to the present phase, where the ‘‘urban’’ becomes a global trend. Today, many scholars use the term urban revolution to connote profound changes in the social organization of societies, but they disagree over the conceptualization, causes, and trajectory of the change.
In his essay The urban revolution Childe (1950) described the features of early communities in Mesopotamia that marked the beginning of urban settlements. A key feature of the first cities was their immense population size, up to 20,000 residents; their dense geographic concentration; production of an agricultural surplus; and a specialized labor force and system of governance.
Today, scholars argue that there is not one urban revolution but several. A ‘‘Second Urban Revolution,’’ for example, began about 1750 as the Industrial Revolution generated rapid urban growth in Europe. The economy, physical form, and culture of cities changed dramatically as feudal power broke down and trade and travel increased. Increasing size, density, and diversity of cities combined with the growth of commerce to make urban life more rational, anonymous, and depersonalized.