During the 19th century, America experienced a period of rapid urbanization. The Industrial Revolution and the United States' shift from a small, agricultural country to a major commercial and industrial power led to an enormous changes in American Cities. This move toward urbanization resulted in dramatic changes in 19th century life.
Urban cities grew rapidly, mainly from the swelling population of immigrants who wanted work. The growth, however, was much faster than the city infrastructure could adequately handle. Population density was very high due to urbanization. Large numbers of people lived in tenement housing, which was dirty, over-crowded and unhealthy.
Toward the end of the 19th century, cities began to expand and decentralize somewhat. The electric streetcar which appeared in the 1880's caused the city's radius to double. Manufacturing and 19th century factories slowly began to move outside the urban cities, where they had more room to expand. The arrival of the automobile also added to the size of cities.
The practice of urban planning evolved toward the end of the 19th century, to help solve the problems of city life. Laws mandating minimum standards for housing, started in New York in 1867. And 19th century life improved dramatically in 1901 with New York passing the landmark Tenement House Act. Another positive change came when citizens asked for more open areas in cities. Again New York City led the nation, with its gigantic Central Park, designed in 1857 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvin Vaux. Many other cities quickly followed suit.