Service Access in Premodern Cities: An Exploratory Comparison of Spatial Equity

Benjamin W. Stanley, Timothy J. Dennehy, Michael Smith, Barbara L. Stark, Abigail York, George L. Cowgill, Juliana Novic, Jerald Ek

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Spatial equity studies measuring urban service access have been conducted in variety of modern settings, but this research has not been extended to premodern cities. This article presents an exploratory, transdisciplinary pilot study of service access in six premodern urban environments to better understand the historical origins of inequality. Using archaeological and historical spatial data, neighborhood and household access to three types of service facility is studied across different urban traditions. Findings reveal that the size, shape, and spatial structure of cities may influence service accessibility as much as political influence over facility siting or residential choice. Most cities display a spatially concentric pattern of accessibility, and denser cities tend to display more equitable service access. Elite groups possess consistently better service access than nonelite groups. Although this exploratory study must be expanded to produce firmer results, it indicates the importance of interpreting modern urban inequalities from a long-term perspective, and points to the efficacy of comparative, spatially oriented, urban historical research for generating new insights into urban processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-144
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Urban History
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • comparative urbanism
  • service access
  • spatial equity
  • urban history
  • urban services

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Urban Studies


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