Mumford’s Organic Classification of Cities

Lewis Mumford proposed Organic Classification of Cities in a book titled “The Culture of Cities (1938)”. Mumford’s organic classification of cities  is similar to Griffith Taylor’s Classification of Towns. However, Mumford’s views present a comprehensive picture of the city’s development through his organic theory. 

Basis of Mumford’s Classification

Mumford was an American sociologist and philosopher. Therefore, he was not interested in the quantitative character of the city. He chose the following qualitative characteristics for explaining different stages of a city’s growth.

  1. Means of Livelihood: It refers to the ways of earning livelihood. These means change as the city progresses. It means that economic activities and professions change as the size of a settlement changes. For instance, the people in small settlements practice agriculture, hunting and gathering whereas the people in the large settlements practice manufacturing and trading.
  2. Spatial Interaction: This parameter implies the socio-economic interaction between different settlement units i.e. villages, towns and cities. Through spatial interaction, these units help the growth and operation of social and economic functions.
  3. Social Hierarchy: With the growth of city’s size and economy, different socio-economic classes of residents emerge i.e. elite, rich, middle class, poor etc. These classes live in different parts of the city which indicates spatial segregation.
  4. Social Cohesion: As the population size of the city increases, the people become busy and have less time for social activities. The socially cohesive society grows into an individualistic society.
  5. Environmental Degradation: The growth in the size of city leads to environmental problems which leads to degradation of health and social structure.

Classification of Cities by Mumford

Based on the above parameters, Mumford divided cities life cycle into six categories. These categories also represent the different stages of city’s development.

1. Eopolis

  • Eopolis refers to a small settlement with rural culture.
  • Initially, the economic activities in an eopolis are hunting and gathering.
  •  As the time progresses, the people learned to practice agriculture.
  • With the advent of agriculture, a surplus of food items is generated. Therefore, the people start to sell the surplus food. Hence, a class of producers and traders emerge.
  • People also build religious place in their settlements and a defined market area also emerges alongside religious places.

2. Polis

  • In this stage, the eopolis increases spatial interaction with neighboring villages and grows to become Polis.
  • These villages come to the eopolis for religious and commercial purposes. Further, exchange of goods and services also takes place among these villages. The producers and traders in these villages find that it is mutually beneficial to exchange goods and services. Ultimately, a class of traders emerge with strong fraternity.
  • The terms of trade are generally in favor of the traders of the eopolis or central village which leads to accumulation of wealth in the eopolis. Slowly, the market area in the center of settlement expands. The settlement  becomes a Polis (city).
  • A social hierarchy also emerges where priests and traders command highest position while the rest work as peasants. Spatially, the priests and traders reside near the temple and market area while the peasants dwell in the periphery of the polis.

3. Metropolis

  • In this stage, the town (polis) and its peripheral villages grow spatially and merge to form a Metropolis (mother of cities).
  • The metropolis increase its economic efficiency through specialization of trades. The specialization refers to the division of work between different firms or different parts of the city. For example, some area of the city is allocated for industrial use and some for leisure and some for residential purposes.
  • Additionally, the firms in the industrial areas divide work. They produce one component of a larger product. The specialization leads to decline in wastage and betterment of quality.
  • Therefore, the metropolis contains sufficient water, food and housing amenities.

4. Megapolis

  • In this stage, the immigration of people from different parts of the country leads to diversification of culture.
  • The society starts to become individualistic and people grow indifferent to others’ plight.
  • The crowding of megapolis results in shortage of resources which leads to class conflict.
  • At the end of this stage, the city starts to decline.

5. Tyrannopolis

  • In this stage, the society becomes completely individualistic.
  • The city acts like a parasitic state. It means that the city takes away the surplus resources from rest of the country for its own pomp and pleasure.
  • Due to environmental degradation, the people start to move towards the villages.
  • The economy goes through Trade or Business Cycles.

6. Necropolis

  • Necropolis means dead city.
  • In this stage, the environmental degradation, resource scarcity and erosion of cultural institutions leads to famine, wars and epidemics.
  • Eventually, the city goes through great turmoil and decays.

Conclusion and Relevance

In short, Mumford’s organic classification of cities is a sociological and historical account of great cities of Europe such as Rome, Paris, London etc. His theory records the different stages of growth in a city’s history. Mumford imbibes the spatial and social characteristics of a city into one single theory. Further, this theory reminds us that the government should always protect the environment and ensure an egalitarian society. Otherwise, the social conflicts erupt and society decays.