Robert Ezra Park

Walking the City Streets

I suspect that I have actually covered more ground, tramping about in cities in different parts of the world, than any other living man. (1950:viii) Robert Ezra Park (1864-1944) was a man with a single consuming passion -the city. Walking the streets of the world’s great cities, he delighted in observing the full range of human turbulence and triumph. Through his thirty-year career at the University of Chicago, he led a group of dedicated 100″ sociologists in direct, systematic observation of urban life. Park acknowledged his debt to European sociologists including Ferdinand fr Toennies and Georg Slime] (with whom Park studied in Germany). But Park launched urban sociology in this country by advocating the direct observation of the city rather than what amounted to “armchair theorizing” on the part of his European teachers. At Park’s urging, generations of sociologists at the University of Chicago rummaged through practically every part of their city.From this research, Park came to understand the city as a highly ordered mosaic of distinctive regions, including industrial districts, ethnic communities, and vice areas. These so-called “natural areas” all evolved in relation to one another, forming an urban ecology. To Park, the city operates like a living social organism, a true human kaleidoscope. Urban variety, Park maintained, is the key to the timeless attraction of people to cities: The attraction of the metropolis is due in part to the fact that in the long run every individual finds somewhere among the varied manifestations of city life the sort of environment in which he expands and feels at ease; he finds, in short, the moral climate in which his particular nature obtains the stimulations that bring his innate dispositions to f ull and free expression. It is, I suspect, motives of this kind … which drove many, if not most, of the young men and young women from the security of their homes in the country into the big, booming confusion and excitement of city life. (1967:41; orig. 1925) Park was well aware that many people saw the city as disorganized and even dangerous. Conceding an element of truth in these assertions, Park still found cities intoxicating. Walking the city streets, he became convinced that urban places offer a better way of life-the promise of greater human freedom and opportunity than we can find elsewhere.

Sources: Based on Park (1967: orig. 1925) and Park (1950).

Sociological Links Library

You will find links to dozens of organizations that generate useful information for people who are trying to change the world in one way or another. Find those that interest you to learn more...

American Demographics
American Journal of Sociology
American Sociological Association

Read More

Profiles of powerful sociologists

Learn more about a number of the most influential men and women who have shaped the discipline of sociology and changed the world...

Max Weber
C. Wright Mills
George Herbert Mead
Karl Marx
Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Read More