Energy and Urban Growth.
A Comparison of Houston and Chicago
HAROLD L. PLATT*
N EARLY NINETY YEARS AGO, ADNA WEBER PUBLISHED THE FIRST
modern study of the urban process, The Growth of Cities in the Nine-
teenth Century, in which he applied the relatively new techniques of statistical
analysis to the emergence of the industrial city.' Weber's classic study
retains a surprising degree of currency even in these days of sophisticated
computers and advanced methodologies, and his broad, comparative ap-
proach to the settlement and demographic patterns of urbanization in the
United States and Europe still provides a useful model of research. More
important, finding answers to the question he raised-how do cities
grow?-remains a primary goal of urban scholarship.
The study of energy as a separate source of growth distinct from other
economic factors, a subject that neither Weber nor his successors ade-
quately considered, will substantially improve our understanding of the
process of urbanization. The term "energy" has a dual meaning for such
studies. The first is a common-sense definition: the production of heat,
light, and power by inanimate means. The second use of the term, one
less obvious, recognizes the fact that energy fuels are commodities like
other natural resources from the hinterland. Within a region, the extrac-
tion, transportation, distribution, consumption, and disposal of such fuels
as wood, coal, and petroleum often comprise a vital component of the
*Harold L. Platt is associate professor of history at Loyola University of Chicago. He
is the author of City Building in the New South" The Growth of Public Services in Houston, Texas,
1830 -1910 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983), and is currently working on
a social history of the electrification of the Chicago region.
'Adna Ferrin Weber, The Growth of Cities in the Nineteenth Century A Study in Statistics,
Studies in History, Economics and Public Law, XI (New York: Macmillan Co. for Co-
lumbia University, 1899)
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101211/. Accessed October 22, 2014.