Railroads and Conflict in the West

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What was the cause of urbanization in California? What two cities are examples of California’s urbanization?

Causes of urbanization in California include its establishment as a US state and the discovery of gold, both of which caused population growth, the opening of the transcontinental railroad and the Panama Canal, and the Great Depression. Two cities that are examples of California's urbanization are San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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After Spanish explorers settled in California in the sixteenth century, the area’s growth was primarily affected by its maritime connections: the settlements that became significant urban centers are located on the Pacific Coast. Although the fertile agricultural valleys provided food for coastal communities, the mountains were imposing natural barriers between the coast and the interior. Several important changes occurred in the mid-nineteenth century. The political conflicts with the Spanish empire and its Mexican territories and then with independent Mexico strongly impacted the urban centers. The most important changes were US statehood in 1848 and the discovery of gold in 1849, which prompted a massive population surge. After the Civil War, as the transcontinental railroad was consolidated in 1869, overland connections were greatly facilitated. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1915 further stimulated coastal urban growth. The Great Depression brought massive westward population shifts.

Northern and Southern California, although easily connected by land and air today, remain conceptually distinct. San Francisco became a major city, despite being earthquake prone, largely because of the Gold Rush. Its growth was aided by trans-Pacific migrations, especially from China, as well as from the US East. Los Angeles, chronically arid, grew in size and stature in the twentieth century. While the climate rendered it a popular vacation spot, the location of the budding film industry exacerbated its growth. The construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s provided much-needed water. Before and during World War II, the presence of the US military and the shipbuilding industry contributed heavily to the Los Angeles area’s expansion.

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