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Real estate agents use the saying, “Location, location, location” to stress how a home’s setting determines its value. Location is vital for urban centers as well. Think of any major city, and chances are it’s situated along a major river, seacoast, railroad, or highway—some corridor for trade that has driven economic growth.

Well-located cities often serve as linchpins in trading networks, funneling in resources from agricultural regions, processing them, manufacturing products, and shipping those products to other markets. Portland got its start in the mid-19th century as pioneers arriving by the Oregon Trail settled where the Willamette River joins the Columbia River, just upriver from where the Columbia flows into the Pacific Ocean. With this strategic location for trade, Portland grew as it received, processed, and shipped overseas the produce from farms of the river valleys and as it imported products shipped in from other ports.

Another example of this geographic pattern is Chicago, which grew with extraordinary speed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time, railroads funneled through it the resources from the vast lands of the Midwest and West on their way to consumers and businesses in the populous cities of the East. Chicago became a center for grain processing, livestock slaughtering, meatpacking, and much else.

 

St. Louis is situated on the Mississippi River near its confluence
with the Missouri River, where river trade drove its growth in the
19th and early 20th centuries. Fort Worth, Texas, grew in the
late 20th century as a result of the interstate highway system and a
major international airport.

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