The vital revolution led to the urbanization of European civilization. For more than two thousand years, the greatest centers of European civilization--from ancient Athens and Rome through the Italian city-states of the Renaissance to London and Paris in the Old Regime--had been its cities. By 1750 European cities had been growing in size and numbers for centuries. But the 18th century was not yet an urban society; in every country, the majority of the population lived on farms and in small villages.
The British census of 1850 found that more than 50 percent of the population lived in towns and cities, making Britain the first predominantly urban society in history. The early 19th century was consequently a period of remarkable urban growth. Between 1750 and 1800, nineteen towns in Europe doubled in size, and fifteen of them were located in Britain. No town in France, none in the Italian states, nor any in Russia grew so rapidly, but in northern England--from Lancashire in the west, across the midlands to Yorkshire in the east--seven towns doubled in size. And the impact of the population explosion was just beginning. During the next half-century, 1800-50, seven British cities (five of them in northern England) tripled in size, some nearly quintupling.
British cities were not huge by twenty-first century standards, but they were astonishing by contemporary standards because the population explosion had not yet transformed the continent. The port of Liverpool, a town that had become prosperous during the slave trade, grew so fast in the early 19th century that it surpassed such capital cities as Moscow and Madrid in size. In 1850 the British isles contained seven cities larger than Rome, the historic center of Europe. Nearly a quarter of the British population lived in metropolitan areas of 100,000 or more, while only 4.6 percent of France and 2.3 percent of Spain lived in such urban regions. The great Swiss cities of Geneva (31,000) and Zürich (17,000) were suddenly smaller than British towns such as Bradford (104,000). In 1800, two of the ten largest cities in Europe (London and Dublin) were in the United Kingdom; by 1850, four of the ten largest (London, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Manchester) were in the U.K.
When the effects of the population explosion reached continental Europe, so did urbanization. Just as Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, and Sheffield had exploded from regional towns into major urban centers, new cities grew in Europe. Essen, in the Ruhr valley of western Germany, changed from a small town of 4,000 people in 1800 into a sprawling city of 295,000 at the start of the twentieth century. The transformation of Lodz (Poland) was even more dramatic: A village of 200 people in 1800 became a city of 315,000 in 1900. By 1900 only three of the largest cities in Europe were in Britain. . .
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