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USA - Geography - Introduction

All maps are lies. It is obviously impossible to cover all the material that might fit into a geography of the United States - such a representation would be at least as big as the country itself - a nightmarish prospect indeed. The physical environment helps define human opportunities, but it does not in itself determine human activities. In general, the more advanced the level of technology, the greater the leeway a population has in dealing with the land.

Millions of Americans, most of them urbanites, prefer to consider their country as a basically rural place, and they seem to believe that this rurality provides the country with a basic national vigor. There is no longer much justification for this view of rural dominance. About 70 percent of Americans live in urban areas, and more than 40 percent are in areas of 1 million people or more. In 1990, the U.S. farm population numbered about 5 million (2 percent of the population), a figure that has declined steadily since the first national census in 1790, when over 90 percent of all Americans were farmers.

Today, there is substantial regional specialization in manufacturing, partly as the result of variations in the availability of industrial raw materials and partly as the result of industrial linkages; manufacturing concerns that produce component parts of some final product are located near each other as well as near the final assembly site to minimize total movement costs.

Other important sources of variation include differences in labor availability or labor skills, in the quality of transportation facilities, and in local political attitudes. Regions tend to specialize in the production of whatever it is that they can best produce. And with this regional specialization has come regional interdependence; few sections of America are truly self-sufficient in manufacturing, in spite of what local pride might lead one to believe.

America's extensive transportation network is an important element in its high level of economic interaction. Goods and people move freely within and between regions of the country. Regional interdependence is great; it is made possible by these interregional flows. Relative isolation is uncommon, but it does exist. Nearly 20 percent of all Americans change their residence in any one year. Although much of this residential migration is local in nature, it does result in substantial interregional population movement. About 25 percent of the land in row crops in the United States produces exports. Also, the country is able to satisfy much of its gigantic demand for industrial raw materials domestically. The United States has the potential to be a major supplier for a few nonagricultural raw materials internationally and is the world's leading exporter of coal.

Although the U.S. population is predominantly urban, the extraction of natural resources from its abundant base requires a large non- urban labor force. Furthermore, particularly for agriculture, the development of these resources often involves a substantial land area. As a result, the relationship between the physical environment and human adaptations to that environment are clearly visible.

Government plays an important role in this relationship by establishing controls on land use and agricultural production and by regulating the development of many resources. It is partly because processes inherent in urbanization and industrialization lead to high demand for raw materials that the United States has become dependent on imported raw materials in spite of great natural resource abundance.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2017 19:24:11 ZULU