“Linearapoli” – linear urban areas

Source: en.wikipedia.org

Linearapoli is a term that I devised to describe those urban areas that develop primarily along three types of narrow (linear) topography – river valley, mountain valley, and coastal/shoreline. This post discusses the unique aspects this urban land form and why certain cities may have developed in this manner versus an equidistant/concentric spatial design. A fourth form of linearapolis has occurred more recently in places along the Interstate Highway network, but this particular blog post only concentrates on the three versions shaped by the natural topography.

River valley linearapolis – within the United States and Canada, there are several urban areas that have principally developed along confined river valleys. These cities are unique in the fact that they have remained largely confined to the river valley and bordering hillsides. Since these urban areas follow river valleys, they tend to be more curvilinear compared to the other variations of linearapolis. Among these urban centers are:
  • Avon-Eagle-Gypsum-Vail, Colorado (Gunnison River)
  • Binghamton, New York (Susquehanna River)
  • Charleston, West Virginia (Kanawha River)
  • Grand Junction, Colorado (Colorado River)
  • Huntington-Ashland-Ironton, West Virginia/Kentucky/Ohio (Ohio River)
  • Parkersburg-Marietta, West Virginia/Ohio (Ohio River)
  • Richland-Pasco-Kennewick, Washington (Columbia River)
  • Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (Lackawanna and Susquehanna rivers)
  • Vancouver-Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada (Fraser River)
  • Williamsport, Pennsylvania

Source: maps.google.com

Source: maps.google.com

Why these cities have not spread onto surrounding plateaus and across higher ground like other mountainous river cities such as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Portland, Oregon likely varies by location. However, I do have few a theoretical constants which seem to be applicable in most cases::
  • The difficulty of the terrain may have limited expansion until more recent decades.
  • Easy of river access for those along navigable waterways (all the above except the examples from Colorado).
  • It was less costly and time-consuming to build and expand in the valley instead of extending  infrastructure uphill.
  • The pre-existing momentum created by existing infrastructure in the valleys.
Mountain valley linearapolis – these urban areas develop in a relatively narrow valley between mountain ridges or ranges. There appears to be fewer examples of this form linearapolis as compared to the other two, probably a result of early North American settlement patterns being based on navigable river access. In some instances a river may bisect the urban area, such as the Potomac in Hagerstown’s case, but the spatial development pattern principally follows the mountain valley, not the river valley.
  • Altoona, Pennsylvania
  • Asheville-Hendersonville, North Carolina
  • Hagerstown-Martinsburg, Maryland/West Virginia/Pennsylvania

Source: maps.google.com

Coastal/shoreline linearapolis – these urban areas develop along ocean coastlines and lake shorelines and tend to expand along the coast/shore for quite some time prior turning inland. Unless there is a physical limitation of some kind, these areas will continue to expand inward. The Southeast Florida megalopolis started to grow inland earnestly once vacant land along the Atlantic coastline dissipated or became it became overly expensive. Now that it has reached the Everglades, pretty much the only ways to expand further in the future will be through more density and/or taller buildings.
  • Biloxi-Gulfport, Mississippi
  • Erie, Pennsylvania
  • Melbourne-Palm Bay-Titusville, Florida
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  • Naples, Florida
  • Santa Barbara, California
  • Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida
  • Southeast Florida

Source: maps.google.com

Source: maps.google.com

If there are other forms of linearapoli that I have overlooked, please feel free to note them. I would be interested in learning more about them.

This entry was posted in cities, density, economic development, history, land use, new urbanism, placemaking, planning, spatial design, sprawl, urban planning and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to “Linearapoli” – linear urban areas

  1. Nick Helmholdt says:

    I think there is an argument to be made for trade routes as a form of linear development. The silk route in Asia spawned development along its entire length. Trade routes connect ports to inland cities, creating linear development. A major route would also encourage a city to stretch toward its neighbors along the route.


  2. Richard Schmoyer says:

    The Scranton-Wilkes Barre Linearopolis has not stayed entirely within the Valley. To the North of Scranton a large, quite affluent, suburban district has emerged which inlcudes Clark’s Summit, Clark’s Green and Abington Township.To the south of Wilkes Barre, a suburban district known as “Back Mountian” has emerged alon US 309. Much of the residential development in the Valley is from the pre-world war two era. However, typical suburban areas can be found at higher elevations behind the mountian ridges.


  3. David Hojsak says:

    The Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania — Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton — is another good example of a linear metropolis. Part river valley, part ridge valley, it is really a hybrid that extends along the Lehigh River and South Mountain (part of the Reading Prong). In actuality, you can make the argument that, given recent suburban sprawl, the metropolis extends all the way from Easton on the east to Reading on the west.



  4. Linearopoli lend themselves quite well to mass transit, since they can be served by only a handful of lines. I used to think about this often when I was living in Mankato, MN, which was constrained until more powerful car engines allowed the bluffs to be conquered and sprawled out upon.

    I wonder if anyone has made that sort of argument in these cities. I have only been to a couple of them, but I can’t say I even noticed a mass transit system when I was there.


  5. Pingback: A linearapolis case study – Northeast Pennsylvania | Panethos

  6. Pingback: More examples of linearapoli (linear cities) | Panethos

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