Geography Education
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Geography Education
Supporting geography educators everywhere with current digital resources.
Curated by Seth Dixon
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How Suburban Are Big American Cities?

How Suburban Are Big American Cities? | Geography Education |

"What, exactly, is a city? Technically, cities are legal designations that, under state laws, have specific public powers and functions. But many of the largest American cities — especially in the South and West — don’t feel like cities, at least not in the high-rise-and-subways, 'Sesame Street' sense. Large swaths of many big cities are residential neighborhoods of single-family homes, as car-dependent as any suburb.

Cities like Austin and Fort Worth in Texas and Charlotte, North Carolina, are big and growing quickly, but largely suburban. According to Census Bureau data released Thursday, the population of the country’s biggest cities (the 34 with at least 500,000 residents) grew 0.99 percent in 2014 — versus 0.88 percent for all metropolitan areas and 0.75 percent for the U.S. overall. But city growth isn’t the same as urban growth. Three cities of the largest 10 are more suburban than urban, based on our analysis of how people describe the neighborhoods where they live."

Tagsurban, suburbs, housingsprawlplanning, density.

Sammie Bryant's curator insight, May 27, 2015 12:07 AM

This article accurately depicts the difference between a normal city 50 years ago and a city today, as well as the continuing spread of suburbanization. For example, Austin, the capital of texas, a hustling, bustling always busy area, is predominantly suburban. As cities and countries continue to advance and develop and its citizens become more successful and family oriented, suburban homes for families will become more needed than something smaller, like condos or studio apartments. As the needs of the cities change, the structure of the city changes as well. This applies to our final unit of APHUG: Cities and Urban Land Use.

MsPerry's curator insight, May 27, 2015 9:29 AM


Courtney Barrowman's curator insight, May 27, 2015 10:43 AM

unit 7

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The Speed Burden [Costs of Sprawl]

The Speed Burden [Costs of Sprawl] | Geography Education |
The need for speed devours huge chunks of American cities and leaves the edges of the expressways worthless. Busy streets, for almost all of human history, created the greatest real estate value because they delivered customers and clients to the businesses operating there. This in turn cultivated the highest tax revenues in town, both from higher property taxes and from elevated sales taxes. But you can't set up shop on the side of an expressway. How can cities afford to spend so much to create thoroughfares with no adjoining property value?
Seth Dixon's insight:

That is is the ENTIRE city of Florence, Italy on the left, while on the right is the area surrounding just one cloverleaf interchange in Atlanta, Georgia.  The high speed on the highways is one of the costs of sprawl.   

Tags: transportation, planning, sprawl, scale

Alexa Earl's curator insight, March 14, 2015 10:48 AM

This blog really made me realize what an impact humans are to the environment. They compare different cities and talk about the impacts and it really showed me how humans have built up cities.

Brian Wilk's curator insight, March 21, 2015 6:12 PM

A side by side comparison at first blush is striking but the devil is in the details. Florence, Italy is a city of only 368,000 while the Atlanta metro area is about 4.5 million. Agree that sprawl is ineffective real estate and efficiency wise, but fuel prices may be having a counter effect on the reduction of sprawl. It is much less expensive to commute given the price of oil at its current levels and the millennials will have a say in this urban sprawl contracting or expanding. Many do not own cars, relying on commuter systems within the city to get around. This in theory should drive down demand for fossil fuels, culminating in reduced prices for gasoline. If the infrastructure is already built, was is the cost to maintain it, given the static population of the large metro areas? Interesting to see how this plays out.

Kristina Lemson's curator insight, April 16, 10:38 PM
This post is interesting for us given the massive Mitchell Freeway and Wanneroo Rd  development just north of Banksia Grove. How do you think this perspective adds to the issues you could discuss in your project report? 
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A Photo Essay on School Sprawl

A Photo Essay on School Sprawl | Geography Education |

"Schools used to be the heart of a neighborhood or community. Children and not a few teachers could walk to class, or to the playground or ball field on the weekend. This was relatively easy to do, because the schools were placed within, not separated from, their neighborhoods. They were human-scaled and their architecture was not just utilitarian, but signaled their importance in the community. Now it has become hard to tell one from a Walmart or Target."

What better way to demonstrate the concepts of urban sprawl, automobile-dependent city planning and economies of scale than by analyzing the very geographic context of our schools themselves?  This is a very nicely arranged photo essay that most could spark conversation and would foster some discussion on how best to plan neighborhoods and spatially arrange the city.   

Tags: transportation, planning, sprawl, education, scale

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Kids Who Get Driven Everywhere Don't Know Where They're Going

Kids Who Get Driven Everywhere Don't Know Where They're Going | Geography Education |
A new study suggests vehicular travel affects children's ability to navigate their neighborhood and connect to their community.


We learn about the places around us by exploring.  Literally our mental map is formed by making choices (in part through trial and error) and that process strengthens our spatial perception of the neighborhood.  Research is showing that kids with a 'windshield perspective' from being driven everywhere are not able to draw as accurate maps as children for who walk and bike their neighborhood.  The built environment and the transportation infrastructure in place play a role in developing spatial thinking skills for young minds. 


This is a compelling article with some important implications.  What are the ramifications for geographers?  City planners? Educators?  Families moving to a new neighborhood?   

Victoria McNamara's curator insight, December 11, 2013 10:52 AM

We may not realize it but when we take our kids out on drives to run errands or if we move to a different area we are ruining their understanding of the area they live in. Children often have a hard time of figuring out where they are if they constantly in a car looking at new places. This can cause them to lack a sense of direction and maybe have trouble remembering streets or landmarks near their homes. 

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Radiant City

Radiant City | Geography Education |
In this feature length film Gary Burns, Canada's king of surreal comedy, joins journalist Jim Brown on an outing to the suburbs.


This 2006 documentary is a critical look at suburbia that has comments from suburbanites interspersed with planners, real estate agents, experts and urban academics. 

Chris St. Clair's comment, April 27, 2012 2:03 PM
I've showed this movie once in a while during the Urban unit and the kids enjoy it. "Edutainment"
Seth Dixon's comment, April 27, 2012 7:09 PM
It seems a mixture of vignettes, with some academic founding mixed in. Warning: There was one F-bomb in the movie.
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Satellite Images of Urban Sprawl

Satellite Images of Urban Sprawl | Geography Education |
The past century has been defined by an epic migration of people from rural areas to the city. In 2008, for the first time in history, more of the Earth's population was living in cities than in the countryside.


This image gallery is designed "to present images from space [that] track the relentless spread of humanity."  The 'slide bar' in the middle allows the viewer to scroll between before and after images of major metropolitan areas that have experienced dramatic growth in the last 10-30 years.  The attached images is on Dubai, UAE.  Notice the man-made islands, especially the 'archipelago' in the shape of the world that is 2.5 miles off the coast of Dubai.

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America's suburban future

America's suburban future | Geography Education |

"If you think American cities are sprawling now, just wait until 2025. In that time, the U.S. population will grow by 18 percent but the amount of developed land will increase 57 percent. Up to 9.2 percent of the lower 48 could be urbanized by then. And while that number includes cities and the infrastructure to support them—roads, rail, power lines, and so on—that number does not include land impacted by farming, logging, mining, or mineral extraction."

mderder's comment, February 19, 2012 5:16 PM
The US has already fallen behind most other first world nations in public transportation. The reliance on the automobile, which enabled the growth of our suburbs, needs to be slowly phased out, and major rail lines need to be laid to serve as the backbone for our future urban/suburban transportation network. Rail is FAR cheaper than cars. Cars, in a sensible future, will be thought of as transport for short trips. Hopefully we will be mainly electric with those 50 years from now as well. It is good for the environment and good for our pocketbook. Classic win/win.
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Detroit: The 'Shrinking City' That Isn't Actually Shrinking

Detroit: The 'Shrinking City' That Isn't Actually Shrinking | Geography Education |
We're often told that Detroit has been abandoned—but the metro area is stable, and addressing sprawl is still a challenge...


Population size and physical size...not always as correlated as one might assume in this age of urban sprawl.  This details some of the difficulties in revitalizing abandoned sections of a city when the economic motive to expand outward is so easy. 

Wyatt Fratnz's curator insight, May 26, 2015 8:59 PM

This article investigates the possibilities of the progression of the city of Detroit, despite all the negative connotations. They show us the math behind it's decreasing populations along with it's past expansion, what's behind it and the urban sprawl of it all.

This is a great real-world example of uneven development, zones of abandonment, disamenity, and gentrification. It goes to show how all of these factors afflict with the city as a whole.

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"The Other Coast" Comic Strip

"The Other Coast" Comic Strip | Geography Education |

This is an amusing, but still insightful way to discuss habitat encroachment, development, conservation and the economic utility of expansion. 

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The steep costs of living so far apart from each other

The steep costs of living so far apart from each other | Geography Education |
In strictly economic terms, sprawl is inefficient. Spread people out, and it takes them longer to drive where they need to go, and it costs them more in gas money to get there. Disperse a few people over a lot of land, and that land is used inefficiently, too. Then give those people roads and sewers — you’d need a lot more of both to serve 20 households living over a square mile than 20 on the same block. And that's to say nothing of the costs of fire and police service when people live far apart.

These costs add up, in both private budgets and public ones. It’s a messy thought exercise to contemplate tallying them, akin to trying to calculate the productivity America wastes by sitting in traffic every year. How do you measure, for instance, the saved health care costs in a community where many people walk for transportation every day? How do you quantify the pleasure gained from a big yard that offsets any of these costs?

Tags: planning, sprawl, scale.

Dawn Haas Tache's curator insight, April 8, 2015 12:34 PM

APHG- HW Option 6


Cass Allan's curator insight, April 16, 2015 9:46 AM

good for urbanisation or liveability

Lorraine Chaffer's curator insight, June 27, 2015 12:01 AM

Affordability impacts on people's choices about where to live and in turn impacts on access to goods and services, community identity and social connectedness in many outlying suburbs

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How architectural innovations migrate across borders

"As the world's cities undergo explosive growth, inequality is intensifying. Wealthy neighborhoods and impoverished slums grow side by side, the gap between them widening. In this eye-opening talk, architect Teddy Cruz asks us to rethink urban development from the bottom up. Sharing lessons from the slums of Tijuana, Cruz explores the creative intelligence of the city's residents and offers a fresh perspective on what we can learn from places of scarcity."

Seth Dixon's insight:

As a geographer native to the San Diego region with family on both sides of the border, I found this TED talk very compelling personally, but also rich in geographic themes (city planning, diffusion, governance of space, socioeconomic differences in land use patterns, etc.).  Relations across the border are economic, cultural and political in nature, and the merger of those varied interests have led to an uneven history of both cooperation and separation.  San Diego and Tijuana have more to offer each other than economic markets--the ideas born out of distinct socioeconomic and political contexts can be just what is needed on the other side of the border.

Tagsurban, unit 7 cities, housing, economic, sprawlneighborhood, borders. planning, urban ecology, densityplanning, TED

James Hobson's curator insight, September 23, 2014 11:47 AM

(Mexico topic 2)
I think that elaborating upon border tensions from an artistic viewpoint (or any outside viewpoint for that matter) was an excellent idea. This allows a wider scope of inter-related issues to be examined, which might otherwise not be if left to a purely 'internal' perspective.
I approve of Cruz's way of referring to the Mexican-American border issues as more of a humanitarian issue and less of a physical-border problem. Similarly, I was impressed by his view of immigration as being not just of people, but also of knowledge and culture.
Lastly, I agree with Cruz's belief that there is a lot San Diego can learn from Tijuana in terms of sustainabililty and waste mitigation. My favorite example was that of the used tires as retaining walls: a simple yet environmentally-friendly solution to bettering land use. Ideas such as this have the potential to reduce the rate of urban sprawl (and amounts of waste in the process). Many other examples from his lecture, including the stacking of houses and businesses, reinforce this point as well. In this way, immigration earns a more positive connotation and shows how "twin cities", despite their political differences, can still benefit each other.

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How future urban sprawl maps out

How future urban sprawl maps out | Geography Education |
Projections of urban growth indicate areas where biodiversity is at high risk.

The AAG Smart Brief is a fantastic source of geographic news.  This is what they said about this article:  "Areas such as tropical Africa and eastern China are expected to be hot spots of urbanization during the next several years, according to researchers, who used satellite imagery and other data to project future urban expansion through 2030. 'We're not forecasting population, we're forecasting the expansion of urban space,' said Yale University geographer Karen Seto. Their efforts could be used to assist conservation initiatives, Seto noted."

Tags: AAG, urban, sprawl, land use, urban ecology, biogeography, unit 7 cities, environment.

Lauren Fiedler's comment, July 24, 2013 7:56 AM
This article is about urban growth and decline, Africa and Asia are predicted to be hot spots of urban growth in the next few years. Geographer Karen Seto of Yale University in New Haven has creted a graph that finally accounts for variations in how individual cities occupy their land and the impact they have on local ecosystems.
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America's romance with sprawl may be over

America's romance with sprawl may be over | Geography Education |
Three years after the recession officially ended, Census county population estimates show Americans are staying put or moving to cities.


The recession and foreclosure crisis really hurt many suburban families and the values of suburban homes.   This interactive map is helps students to notice the patterns that shape the changing demographic patterns connected to urbanization. 

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California Declares War on Suburbia

California Declares War on Suburbia | Geography Education |
In The Wall Street Journal, Wendell Cox writes that government planners intend to herd millions of new state residents into densely packed urban corridors. It won't save the planet but will make traffic even worse.


This is a article/video against many of the regulations that embody the 'Smart Growth' movement that would serve as a good ideological counterweight to many of the other sources that are available.  Would more dense neighborhoods create transit problems?

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What Doesn't Stay in Vegas? Sprawl.

This NASA-produced timelapse video of Landsat data shows the spatial spread of the Las Vegas metropolitan area from 1975-2010.  These are not true color images, but false color that shows the near infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum as red in the image.  Geospatial technologies are once again, shown as invaluable in our analysis of the urban environment.   

Nicholas Rose's comment, September 4, 2012 12:06 PM
As I look at this video, I noticed that as the years go by there is more urban sprawl in Las Vegas. The reason is because more rich people live in Las Vegas and more hotels and casinos are built to increase the city's economic development. According to the NASA timelapse, the City of Las Vegas is increasing in size and population.
Daniel Lindahl's curator insight, May 25, 2015 1:55 PM

This article illustrates not only Las Vegas's sprawl, but also Vegas-style diffusion. By creating a time-lapse, a clear illustration of Vegas's diffusion is shown. 

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Displacing People to Make Space for Cars – Is India Evicting the Wrong Squatters?

Displacing People to Make Space for Cars – Is India Evicting the Wrong Squatters? | Geography Education |
More than 1 million of Delhi’s residents have been displaced through demolition of slum neighborhoods over the last 10 years. is a great source for information on urban geography, but this particular post was selected because it highlights two merging issues in today's megacities: the rise of automobile culture dictating urban planning policies as well as the dilemma surrounding squatter settlements around the globe. 

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The Beginning of the End for Suburban America

The Beginning of the End for Suburban America | Geography Education |
The Beginning of the End for Suburban America...


A provocative title, but are our cities and urban settlement patterns shifting?  Is sprawl going to be curtailed by cultural, environmental and economic forces?

The Kingdom Keepers's curator insight, February 10, 2014 10:10 AM

When suburban areas starting increasing, it had several advantages- Bigger homes, better education, a yard to call your own. These advantages are beginning to be shadowed by several factors that are actually pushing people out of these suburban areas and changing the urban pattern in our cities. Will people start to swarm in the central business district, or will rural areas reign? -Brooke

Kaitlin Young's curator insight, December 15, 2014 1:34 PM

This article shows how trends in energy consumption and the economy can affect geographies of development. After WWII, the United States hit an unprecedented economic boom. Large amounts of cheap oil combined with economic growth spurred the development of infrastructure and cities dependent on automobiles. Since people no longer had to live in the cities to work in them, they began developed outside of the city. Today, oil is becoming more and more expensive, which could mean the end of the age of the automobile. Since cities remain to be hubs of employment and business, people can no longer afford to drive long distances for their daily commutes. People are beginning to move into cities or along public transportation lines in order to more feasibly get to work. 

Rachel Phillips's curator insight, January 29, 2015 2:39 PM

Over the past 10-15 years, the suburbs grew dramatically, and have become less popular.  In the early 2000s it thrived because the economy was doing well, and technological advances were in hyper speed.  I was a bit shocked that it's slowed and that it's being reported that suburbs are coming to an end, but then it it started to make sense.  The unemployment rate was extremely high, as were gas prices.  It only makes sense that less people would be building or buying larger home with bigger cars and more appliances.  But, it was possibly better for our environment.  Less miles being driven means less pollution by cars, less electricity being used never hurts.  But now, gas prices have dropped again, and the unemployment rate has dropped as well. But, today we have so many alternatives to gasoline run cars and common electricity, that even if suburbs made a huge comeback, they wouldn't be the same as they were before.