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The Populist Movement

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At the beginning of the nineteenth century, most American cities still functioned as the cities during the time of the Civil War. A very small proportion of the population was urban, because it took very close to the entire population to grow enough food to feed everyone. City growth has always depended very greatly on the efficiency of agriculture in a society. But as the years went on and cities became more urban, culture and politics were also changed and the need for reforms started to appear again.

Cities grew quickly, with huge increase of the population, largely poor, many of them foreigners, and much faster than city infrastructure and development could properly handle. Population density was extremely high, much higher than today, and large numbers of people lived in tenements. Tenement housing was dirty, crowded, noisy, and immensely unsanitary. Open septic tanks were common and storm sewers only brought more disease. Cities were smelly and unpleasant. Manhattan, for example, had a population of 2.2 million residents by 1900, and a density of 100,000 per square mile.

Toward the end of the 19th century, cities began to decentralize somewhat. The electric streetcar appeared in the 1880s, which allowed better access to the interior of the cities. Suburbs began to grow around the perimeters of larger cities, so now people could live outside of the cities and commute to work. Manufacturing followed, and factories slowly began to appear in suburban areas, where the land was considerably less packed. Rising amounts of income allowed people to buy larger dwellings and shorter workdays allowed them to spend more time traveling to and from work. The invention of the automobile further increased the size of cities.

The rapidness of growth during this period spawned yet another change. Citizens began to call for the creation of public recreational facilities. Parks were thought to provide fresh air making cities not only more comfortable



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