urban ecology

Urban ecology, pioneered by Chicago sociologists in the 1920s, was central to the development of human ecology . Indeed the two terms are often used interchangeably.
Urban ecology applies principles derived from biological science to the explanation of spatial distribution in urban populations. This is said to result from ‘biotic’ competition for territorial advantage by human groups, each constituted by social basis, for example, common class position or ethnicity. Groups occupy distinctive ‘natural areas’ or neighbourhoods. The concentric zone model proposed by Ernest Burgess is an ecological representation of this urban system. The ecological concepts of invasion, domination, and succession describe the stages of change occurring as groups relocate due to competitive pressures. However, unrestrained biotic competition makes social order impossible, so a second level of social organization (‘culture’) overlays and limits territorial competition. This involves communication, consensus, and co-operation, seen in both the natural areas occupied by socially homogeneous groups, and in city-wide mechanisms of integration, such as mass culture, the media, and urban politics.
Few sociologists now accept the biologically derived assumptions underlying urban ecology. However, the urban ecologists' use of Chicago as a research laboratory contributed greatly to the development of empirically grounded sociology and its research methods, influencing directly the development of urban sociology, community studies, cultural sociology, the study of deviance and illness, social and religious movements, the family and race relations, and rural sociology. The recollections by Helen MacGill Hughes of her training in Chicago shed an interesting light on the (at times naïve) methodology of urban ecology (see’On Becoming a Sociologist’, Journal of the History of Sociology, 1980).

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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