A Brief History of Urbanism in North America: 1600s

Here is a selection of key settlements and cities established in North America during the 1600s. This is the era where several of the oldest continuously inhabited European settlements in North America were established:

1608 Santa Fe

Santa Fe

Santa Fe: Wikimedia Commons

The City of Santa Fe was originally occupied by a number of Pueblo Indian villages with founding dates between 1050 to 1150. The Santa Fe River provided water to people living there. Don Pedro de Peralta founded the city in 1608, which he called La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís, the Royal Town of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi. In 1610, it became the capital of New Mexico in 1610, making it the oldest capital city in what is the modern United States.

The Spanish laid out the city according to the “Laws of the Indies”, town planning rules and ordinances established in 1573. The fundamental principle was that the town be laid out around a central plaza. An important style implemented in planning the city was the radiating grid of streets centering from the central Plaza. Many were narrow and included small alley-ways, but each gradually merged into the more casual byways of the agricultural perimeter areas.

The city is well-known as a center for arts that reflect the multicultural character of the city.It was designated as a UNESCO Creative City in 2006.


1608 Québec City


Québec City: Wikimedia Commons

Québec was founded by Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer and diplomat on July 3, 1608 and named after Kébec, an Algonquin word meaning “where the river narrows.”* It was the first North American to be founded with the goal of permanent settlement, and not as a commercial outpost. Québec City is also home to the only remaining fortified city walls in the Americas north of Mexico. They were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985 as the ‘Historic District of Old Québec’.

Throughout over four hundred years of existence, Québec City has been a capital city. From 1608 to 1627 and 1632 to 1763, it was capital of French Canada and all of New France; from 1763 to 1791, it was the capital of the Province of Quebec; from 1791 to 1841, it was the capital of Lower Canada; from 1852 to 1856 and from 1859 to 1866, it was capital of the Province of Canada; and since 1867, it has been capital of the Province of Quebec.

Much of the city’s most notable architecture is east of the fortification walls in Vieux-Québec and Place Royale. This area has a distinct European feel with its stone buildings and winding streets lined with shops and restaurants.


1626 New Amsterdam (New York City)

New Amsterdam

Manhattan & New York City in 1873. Wikimedia Commons

New York City has a long history that is often overlooked.* The region was inhabited by the Lenape Native Americans at the time of its European discovery in 1524 by Giovanni da Verrazzano, a Florentine explorer in the service of the French crown, who named it “Nouvelle Angoulême.” European settlement began with the founding of a Dutch fur trading settlement, later called “Nieuw Amsterdam” on the southern tip of Manhattan in 1614. Dutch colonial Director-General Peter Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan from the Lenape in 1626 for a value of 60 guilders (about $1000 today), not the legendary $24 worth of glass beads.

In the 19th century, development and immigration transformed the city. The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 expanded the city street grid to encompass all of Manhattan. The 1819 opening of the Erie Canal connected the Atlantic port to the markets of the North American interior. During the 1830s New York became a center of interracial abolitionist activism in the North. The Great Irish Famine brought a large influx of Irish immigrants, and local politics soon fell under the domination of Tammany Hall, a political machine supported by Irish immigrants.

In 1898, the modern City of New York was formed with the consolidation of Brooklyn, the Countiec of New York (which then included parts of the Bronx), Richmond, and part of Queens. The opening of the subway in 1904 helped bind the new city together. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the city became a world center for industry, commerce, and communication. New York became the most populous urbanized area in the world in early 1920s, overtaking London, and the metropolitan area surpassed the 10 million mark in the early 1930s, becoming the first megacity in human history.


Other cities of note:

  • 1607 Jamestown, Virgina: Oldest colony in the original thirteen colonies comprising the United States of America
  • 1614 Albany, New York: Oldest settlement in the United States north of Virginia
  • 1620 Plymouth, Massachusetts: One of the oldest continuously occupied towns in the thirteen colonies, and the oldest town in New England
  • 1630 Boston
  • 1642 Montreal
  • 1659 Ciudad Juárez
  • 1682 Philadelphia
  • 1699 Baton Rouge

Yuri Artibise

Yuri Artibise is an experienced policy analyst, community engagement practitioner and social media specialist. I have a Master of Public Administration degree with over 10 years of public policy research, analysis, and advocacy experience.

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  • Derek Neighbors

    I would love to hear more about the early days  of Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

    • I’ll see what I can find, Derek.

      In the meantime, I recommend reading Rising Tide by John M. Barry, which covered the great Mississippi flood of 1927. While not solely about Louisiana, it’s a compelling story of history that many people aren’t familiar with. I found the description of the bureaucratic malaise, etc that made things much worse to be eerily parallel with what happened before and after Hurricane Katrina