Education:The Urbanization of America and the Foundation of the City



The Urbanization of America and the Foundation of the City


9-12 US History

Time Required

55-60 minutes


6.1.12.B.5.b - Assess the impact of rapid urbanization on the environment and on the quality of life in cities.

6.1.12.C.5.b - Compare and contrast economic development of the North, South, and West in the post-Civil War period.

6.1.12.D.6.a - Assess the impact of technological innovation and immigration on the development of agriculture, industry, and urban culture during the late 19th century in New Jersey (i.e., Paterson Silk Strike 1913) and the United States.

Common Core State Standards

RH.9-10.7. Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.

RH.11-12.3. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

RH.11-12.7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.


  • Computer Access
  • Internet Access
  • Google Earth / Maps
  • Google Docs

Anticipatory Set

Explain to students: The Urbanization of America is directly related to the needs of the population. Further the development of large scale urban building projects has a direct tie to the needs of urban areas as well as the desire to generate income. The teacher will ask students:

  • “Why do large buildings and skyscrapers help to generate larger amounts of income from a limited space?”
  • “What forms of technology were developed between 1880 and 1980 that allowed for large scale urbanization?”


Using Google Earth the teacher will identify four major US Metropolitan areas each built during different historical eras of the United States. Recommendations include: New York, NY; Atlanta, GA; Houston, TX and Los Angeles, CA

Split the class into four different groups and assign each group one city. Have each group critically analyze the satellite views of each of their cities and complete the following tasks:

Students Will:

  • Identify the approximate square mileage of each city using the map key
  • Estimate the number of large buildings and skyscrapers in each city
  • Identify the population of their assigned city
  • Analyze the placement of the city geographically in the United States
  • Research the history of each of their cities, identifying the time period in which their assigned city was built and the natural conditions / geographical location at the time of founding.
  • Analyze and hypothesize the reason their assigned city was constructed in such a manner based on the history of the city
  • Research / List and explain the types of technology that may have been necessary for the development of their assigned city.

Groups will share their information with the class

All students will then brainstorm the reasons each city was constructed in differing ways.

Students will answer the general questions:

  • Why do all cities look different?


All students will have access to all generated notes via Google Docs


Each group will create a table in Google Docs containing all pertinent information as explained in the procedure of this lesson. The teacher will evaluate this information and share these documents with the class.

The teacher may want to assign a long term project asking students to recreate a three dimensional model of any city in the United States


Students can be asked to re-plan any city in the United States in order to maximize revenue by constructing large skyscrapers where possible yet still leaving room for residential / commercial / industrial / utilities / public safety / transportation and any other urban necessities.


The Teacher will use the information generated by the students to point out key differences in city / urban construction.

The teacher will summarize the information generated by students identifying differing geological conditions, geographical conditions, and population differences that may have contributed to the urban planning and development of the various assigned cities. The teacher may also want to identify how computer models assist in urban planning today. These models allow planners to:

  • Identify proper placement of public safety resources to reduce response time
  • Plan road construction to reduce gridlock and plan safe evacuation routes
  • Construct buildings to increase revenue while reducing environmental footprint and utility costs.


The teacher may want to do some previous research in order to develop a list of websites that contain the information identified in the procedure section. Students can then be directed to these websites to hasten research.

The teacher may also want to identify primary source documents showing the urban planning of each city.

Submitted By

Christopher Payne