What problems and opportunities were associated with the rapid urbanization of western Europe in the nineteenth century?

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larrygates's profile pic

larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The above answer offers only a summary. In fact, life in urban areas of Europe were a nightmare for most who lived in conditions of which it is hard for us to even conceive. There was no running water, and sewage often overflowed into the street. In one extreme instance in Manchester England, one outhouse was shared by two hundred people. Raw sewage often accumulated in areas where people lived, particularly in cellars and basements. in one area, basements where people lived were filled to a depth of three feet with "night soil," the polite term for human waste.  Oddly enough, most people seemed to accept this putrid conditions because they were used to farm life where one often dealt with animal waste and other less than sanitary conditions.

Aside from sanitary issues, people lived in narrow "row houses," with no parks or other areas for recreation or exercise. A physician from Aberdeen. Scotland, commented on living conditions that:

Six, eight, and even ten occupying one room is anything but uncommon.

Another authority commented that there were:

Rural slums of a horror not surpassed by the rookeries of London….The evidence shows that the decent cottage was the exception and the hovel the rule.

The death rate from disease caused by unsanitary conditions and diseases spread from close living quarters was higher than the birth rate. Cities only grew because more people moved from the countryside.

The only true advantage at the time was the opportunity to work in the factories for a steady wage rather than be subject to the vissicitudes of farming. For this small advantage, however, they paid a heavy price.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Rapid urbanization in Europe was one of the impacts of the Industrial Revolution.  It brought with it an economic boom, but also some really terrible social problems.  Urbanization helped create an economic boom because it brought workers to the factories and provided cheap labor to allow those factories to grow.  At the same time, however, it led to major social problems since there were too many new people crowding into cities that completely lacked the infrastructure to support them.  These were problems like desperate poverty, disease caused by lack of food and sanitation, and crime.  This was the time in which Europe moved away from being a society of rural farmers to being a society with squalid cities like those portrayed in the novels of Charles Dickens.


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