In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Urban Geography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • The Urban Economy
  • The Urban Environment
  • Technology and Cities
  • Globalization and Cities

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Geography Urban Geography
Linda McCarthy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 August 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0084


The world is becoming increasingly urbanized. In 2007, an urban milestone was reached when the percentage of people living in cities around the world exceeded 50 percent for the first time in history. By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population is projected to be living in urban areas. To put these figures into historical perspective, in 1950 less than one-third of the world’s population was urbanized. Urban geography can help us understand urbanization trends and their expression in urban spatial structure and to relate these to our own lives and concerns. The study of urban geography can help us have a better appreciation of the economics of what goes on within cities and recognize the interdependencies among local, national, and international economic contexts in an increasingly globalized world. It can provide us with a framework for conceptualizing urbanism in conjunction with an appreciation of history and the relationships between society and culture. It can illuminate the interplay of science and technology with social, economic, and political change; reveal important dimensions related to race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality; identify important issues concerning social inequality, urban segregation, and gentrification; raise concerns about urban environmental quality; and point to important lessons for urban governance and policy. Most of all, of course, the study of urban geography can help us analyze and interpret the communities and landscapes of cities and metropolitan areas for a better understanding of the people who live in urban areas around the world. As such, urban geography is arguably one of the most important subdisciplines within geography, and especially within human geography.

General Overviews

The sources included in this section provide helpful general overviews of urban geography and can also serve as reference works. Walker 2012 is a reference handbook entry that offers a short general introduction to urban geography. In contrast, the chapter Aitken, et al. 2003, although somewhat dated, offers an in-depth critical assessment of the state of US urban geography as a subdiscipline, continuing where an earlier book in this series, Geography in America, by Gary L. Gail and Cort J. Willmott (Columbus, OH: Merrill) left off in 1989. Aitken, et al. 2003 is useful for its topical approach, addressing urban topics such as the global-local nexus, public space, and technology, but primarily for the US context. This work is complemented by Anderson 2017, which is not limited to the United States and discusses the various approaches to studying the city, from positivism in the late 1950s to contemporary approaches, such as planetary urbanization in the twenty-first century. Derickson’s three progress reports (Derickson 2015, Derickson 2017, and Derickson 2018) offer critical summaries of current urban geography research. In contrast, Shin 2017 distinguishes how the “urban” and urbanization are conceptualized by geographers as opposed to other disciplines like sociology and history, while van Heur 2020 identifies some major challenges to the future of urban geography.

  • Aitken, Stuart, Don Mitchell, and Lynn Staeheli. “Urban Geography.” In Geography in America at the Dawn of the 21st Century. Edited by Gary L. Gaile and Cort J. Willmott, 237–263. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    This chapter assesses the state of urban geography at the beginning of the twenty-first century in this large topical reference on the many subfields within the discipline of geography. It covers the scholarship of urban geographers in the United States during the last decade of the twentieth century and relates it to previous work on cities.

  • Anderson, Matthew B. “Urban Geography.” In The International Encyclopedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment and Technology. Edited by Douglas Richardson, Noel Castree, Michael F. Goodchild, Audrey Lynn Koyayashi, Weidong Liu, and Richard Marston, 7334–7351. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2017.

    This urban geography entry takes a historical approach to assessing the state of this subdiscipline. It begins with positivism in the 1960s and covers the subsequent approaches up to the contemporary period including world city theory and urban political ecology and concludes with planetary urbanization in the early twenty-first century.

  • Derickson, Kate D. “Urban Geography I: Locating Urban Theory in the ‘Urban Age.’” Progress in Human Geography 39.5 (2015): 647–657.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132514560961

    The first of three progress reports that offer critical summaries of current urban geography research. This report compares and contrasts two different approaches to understanding cities, namely, planetary urbanization that conceptualizes the complete urbanization of society, and a more diverse set of approaches united by a rejection of Eurocentrism.

  • Derickson, Kate D. “Urban Geography II: Urban Geography in the Age of Ferguson.” Progress in Human Geography 41.2 (2017): 230–244.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132515624315

    The second of three progress reports that offer critical summaries of current urban geography research. This report starts at the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement and considers the analytical tools and empirical evidence that urban geographers have generated as well as how anti-racist scholarship might be produced.

  • Derickson, Kate D. “Urban Geography III: Anthropocene Urbanism.” Progress in Human Geography 42.3 (2018): 425–435.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132516686012

    The third of three progress reports that offer critical summaries of current urban geography research. This report examines the widespread promotion of “smart” and “resilient” cities to highlight the drawbacks of contemporary urban theory and governance being based on the far-too-unexamined assumption of the need for “anticipatory governance.”

  • Shin, Hyun Bang. “Geography: Rethinking the ‘Urban’ and Urbanization.” In Defining the Urban: Interdisciplinary and Professional Perspectives. Edited by Deljana Iossifova, Christopher N. H. Doll, and Alexandros Gasparatos, 27–39. London: Routledge, 2017.

    This chapter distinguishes how the urban and urbanization are conceptualized by geographers, as opposed to researchers in the other disciplines, with chapters in this book including sociology, history, and economics. Ultimately, what makes urban geography distinct from these other disciplines is how essential a spatial perspective is to geographers.

  • van Heur, Bas. “Urban Geography as if Urban Knowledge Matters.” Urban Geography 41.5 (2020): 694–702.

    DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2020.1729001

    This article identifies major challenges to the future of urban geography: that it is no longer the coherent subdiscipline it once was given how fragmented the academic work environment has become, and that the changing approaches within urban geography need to be connected to actual urban changes on the ground.

  • Walker, David M. “Urban Geography: Past, Present, Future.” In 21st Century Geography: A Reference Handbook. Edited by Joseph P. Stoltman, 289–299. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2012.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781412995986.n26

    This urban geography entry is a good place to start for a brief general introduction. It is short enough to enable the reader to learn quickly about what constitutes urban geography; the approaches to studying cities; and some future issues facing cities including growth, sustainability, and participatory mapping.

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