Burgess begins by pointing out that the development and growth of large cities serves to indicate the tremendous progress of modern society. The progress of the United States in particular, since the industrial revolution, may be seen within its cities and its urban areas as they have emerged out of more rural populations. Robert park mentions, “in the United States the transition from a rural to a urban civilization, through beginning later than in Europe, has taken place, if not more rapidly and completely, at any rate more logically in its most characteristics forms.” (P.90) This is also, however, where many of the problems which plague society emerge. A number of demographic and statistical distinctions exist between urban and rural populations: the gender ratio is more favorable to women in cities than in rural populations; young and middle-aged, as well as foreign-born, people are also more prevalent in cities, and cities reflect a greater diversity among the professions and occupations of its inhabitants. Burgess suggests that trends such as these are indicative of changes taking place within social groups, and that the growth of cities is suggestive of the general “nature of the processes of growth.”
Burgess then moves into a discussion of the growth of a city in terms of its physical, or geographical, growth. The “metropolitan” area of a city is the term typically used to encompass all of the major areas of the city and surrounding areas, such as suburbs or districts. These smaller areas which are considered part of the “metropolitan area” often possess shared resources, demographics, or classifications. A suburb, for example, may share a common police force with the main city, or it may fall within a similar voting or political district.
The process of expansion is described using a figure which represents various areas of expansion with concentric circles, each outer circle representing another, further development in the growth of the city. This expansion may be seen in a positive and a negative light, in terms of extension and succession as well as concentration and decentralization.
The next portion of this article compares the processes of social development to the metabolic processes of the body. Robert mentions, “in the expansion of the city a process of distribution takes place which shifts and sorts and relocates individuals and groups by residence and occupation.” (P.96)Any movement in one direction or the other, increase or decrease, may have a positive effect, but it may also have a negative effect when it is too extreme. A city which grows too rapidly in its geography may suffer an economic deficit in terms of a work force and the availability of municipal services. Along these same lines, a city which has an abnormally large influx of people in an abnormally short period of time may suffer consequences of the opposite nature.
After this discussion of expansion and its positive and negative effects on urban growth and development, Burgess discusses mobility, or movement, as another measurement tool within city communities. When movement occurs within a city, such as relocation of populations or redistricting of defined areas, the movement may be viewed as a response to stimuli, and the result is a concentration of certain attributes. In the negative sense, demoralization, promiscuity, and vice appear directly proportional to the degree of movement within a specified area.
As the article draws to a close, it begins to pull together these various ideas and combine them into a proposed sociological perspective through which to view urban areas as a subject of research. The main ideas of this article are the growth and expansion of the city, and the positive and negative ways in which this can happen, followed by the concept of movement within certain areas of a growing city and how this internal, urban movement may serve to alter demographic and geographic areas for better or for worse.