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A city is a relatively large and permanent settlement, particularly a large urban settlement. Although there is no agreement on technical definitions distinguishing a city from a town within general English language meanings, many cities have a particular administrative, legal, or historical status based on local law. For example, an article of incorporation approved by the local cognizant (state) legislature separates towns from city government forms, rights, duties and privileges in Massachusettsmarker, and similar distinctions are made across the world, particularly in former colonies of the United Kingdom. Historically, in Europe, a city was understood to be an urban settlement with a cathedral; in later usages, especially in the United Kingdommarker and parts of Commonwealth of Nations, a city was a settlement with a royal charter.

Cities generally have advanced systems for sanitation, utilities, land usage, housing, transportation and more. The concentration of development greatly facilitates interaction between people and businesses, benefiting both parties in the process.

A big city, or metropolis, usually has associated suburbs and regions. Such cities are usually associated with metropolitan areas and urban sprawl, creating numerous business commuters traveling to urban centers of employment. Once a city sprawls far enough to reach another city, this region can be deemed a conurbation or megalopolis.

The birth of cities

There is insufficient evidence to assert what conditions in world history gave rise to the first cities. Theorists, however, have offered arguments for what the right conditions might have been and have identified some basic mechanisms that might have been the important driving forces.

Cities or agriculture first?

The conventional view holds that cities first formed after the Neolithic revolution. The Neolithic revolution brought agriculture, which made denser human populations possible, thereby supporting city development . The advent of farming encouraged hunter-gatherers to abandon nomadic lifestyles and to choose to settle near others who lived by agricultural production. The increased population density encouraged by farming and the increased output of food per unit of land, created conditions that seem more suitable for city-like activities. In his book, Cities and Economic Development, Paul Bairoch takes up this position in his argument that agricultural activity appears necessary before true cities can form.

According to Vere Gordon Childe, for a settlement to qualify as a city, it must have enough surplus of raw materials to support trade . Bairoch points out that, due to sparse population densities that would have persisted in pre-Neolithic, hunter-gatherer societies, the amount of land that would be required to produce enough food for subsistence and trade for a large population would make it impossible to control the flow of trade. To illustrate this point, Bairoch offers an example: "Western Europe during the pre-Neolithic, [where] the density must have been less than 0.1 person per square kilometer" . Using this population density as a base for calculation, and allotting 10% of food towards surplus for trade and assuming that there is no farming taking place among the city dwellers, he calculates that "in order to maintain a city with a population of 1,000, and without taking the cost of transportation into account, an area of 100,000 square kilometers would have been required. When the cost of transportation is taken into account, the figure rises to 200,000 square kilometers..." . Bairoch noted that 200,000 square kilometers is roughly the size of Great Britainmarker.

In her book The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs makes the controversial claim that city-formation preceded the birth of agriculture. Jacobs does not lend her theory to any strict definition of a city, but her account suggestively contrasts what could only be thought of as primitive city-like activity to the activity occurring in neighboring hunter-gatherer settlements. To argue this view, Jacobs suggests a fictitious scenario where a valued natural resource leads to primitive economic activity—in her example, the resource is obsidian. The stock of obsidian is controlled and traded with neighboring hunting groups. Hunters who do not control the stock travel great distances to barter what they have, valuing obsidian because it "makes the sharpest tools to be had" . This activity brings more people to the center as jobs are created and goods are being traded. Among the goods traded are seeds of all different sorts, stored in unprecedented combinations. In various ways, some accidental, the seeds are sown, and the variation in yields are observed more readily than they would be in the wild. The seeds that yield the most grain are noticed and trading them begins to occur within the city. Owing to this local dealing, the city dwellers find that their grain yields are the best, and for the first time make deliberate and conscious selection. The choices made now are purposeful, and they are made among various strains of already cultivated crosses, and their crosses, mutants and hybrids .

Why do cities form?

Theorists have suggested many possible reasons for why people would have originally decided to come together to form dense populations. In his book City Economics, Brendan O'Flaherty asserts "Cities could persist—as they have for thousands of years—only if their advantages offset the disadvantages" . O'Flaherty illustrates two similar attracting advantages known as increasing returns to scale and economies of scale, which are concepts normally associated with firms. Their applications are seen in more basic economic systems as well. Increasing returns to scale occurs when "doubling all inputs more than doubles the output [and] an activity has economies of scale if doubling output less than doubles cost" . To offer an example of these concepts, O'Flaherty makes use of "one of the oldest reasons why cities were built: military protection" . In this example, the inputs are anything that would be used for protection (e.g.: a wall) and the output is the area protected and everything of value contained in it. O'Flaherty then asks that we suppose that the area to be protected is square and each hectare inside it has the same value of protection. The advantage is expressed as:

(1) O = s^2, where O is the output (area protected) and s stands for the length of a side. This equation shows that output is proportional to the square of the length of a side.

The inputs depend on the length of the perimeter:

(2) I = 4s, where I stands for the quantity of inputs. This equation shows that the perimeter is proportional to the length of a side.

So there are increasing returns to scale:

(3) O = I^2/16. This equation (algebraically, combining (1) and (2)) shows that with twice the inputs, you produce quadruple the output.

Also, economies of scale:

(4) I = 4O^{1/2}. This equation (combining (1) and (2)) shows that the same output requires less input.

"Cities, then, economize on protection, and so protection against marauding barbarian armies is one reason why people have come together to live in cities..." .

Similarly, "Are Cities Dying?", a paper by Edward L. Glaeser, delves into similar reasons for city formation: reduced transport costs for goods, people, and ideas. An interesting piece from Glaeser's article is his argument about the benefits of proximity. He claims that if you double a city size, workers have a ten percent increase in earnings. Glaeser furthers his argument by stating that bigger cities do not pay more for equal productivity than in a smaller city, so it is reasonable to assume that workers become more productive if they move to a city twice the size as they initially worked in. However, the workers do not benefit much from the ten percent wage increase, because it is recycled back into the higher cost of living in a bigger city. They do gain other benefits from living in cities, though.


Modern city planning has seen many different schemes for how a city should look. The most commonly seen pattern is the grid, favoured by the Romans, almost a rule in parts of the Americas, and used for thousands of years in Chinamarker. Derrymarker was the first planned city in Ireland, begun in 1613, with the walls being completed five years later. The central diamond within a walled city with four gates was thought to be a good design for defence. The grid pattern was widely copied in the colonies of British North America.

The Ancient Greeks often gave their colonies around the Mediterranean a grid plan. One of the best examples is the city of Prienemarker. This city had different specialized districts, much as is seen in modern city planning today. Fifteen centuries earlier, the Indus Valley Civilization was using grids in such cities as Mohenjo-Daromarker. In medieval times there was evidence of a preference for linear planning. Good examples are the cities established by various rulers in the south of France and city expansions in old Dutch and Flemish cities.

Grid plans were popular among planners in the 19th century, particularly after the redesign of Paris. They cut through the meandering, organic streets that followed old paths. The United States imposed grid plans in new territories and towns, as the American West was rapidly established, in places such as Salt Lake Citymarker and San Franciscomarker.

Other forms may include a radial structure, in which main roads converge on a central point. This was often a historic form, the effect of successive growth over long time with concentric traces of town walls and citadels. In more recent history, such forms were supplemented by ring-roads that take traffic around the outskirts of a town. Many Dutchmarker cities are structured this way: a central square surrounded by concentric canals. Every city expansion would imply a new circle (canals + town walls). In cities such as Amsterdammarker and Haarlemmarker, and Moscowmarker, this pattern is still clearly visible.


Towns and cities have a long history, although opinions vary on whether any particular ancient settlement can be considered to be a city. A city formed as central places of trade for the benefit of the members living in close proximity to others facilitates interaction of all kinds. These interactions generate both positive and negative externalities between others' actions. Benefits include reduced transport costs, exchange of ideas, sharing of natural resources, large local markets, and later in their development, amenities such as running water and sewage disposal. Possible costs would include higher rate of crime, higher mortality rates, higher cost of living, worse pollution, traffic and high commuting times. Cities will grow when the benefits of proximity between people and firms are higher than the cost.

The first true towns are sometimes considered to be large settlements where the inhabitants were no longer simply farmers of the surrounding area, but began to take on specialized occupations, and where trade, food storage and power was centralized. In 1950 Gordon Childe attempted to define a historic city with 10 general metrics. These are:
  1. Size and density of the population should be above normal.
  2. Differentiation of the population. Not all residents grow their own food, leading to specialists.
  3. Payment of taxes to a deity or king.
  4. Monumental public buildings.
  5. Those not producing their own food are supported by the king.
  6. Systems of recording and practical science.
  7. A system of writing.
  8. Development of symbolic art.
  9. Trade and import of raw materials.
  10. Specialist craftsmen from outside the kin-group.
This categorisation is descriptive, and it is used as a general touchstone when considering ancient cities, although not all have each of its characteristics.

One characteristic that can be used to distinguish a small city from a large town is organized government. A town accomplishes common goals through informal agreements between neighbors or the leadership of a chief. A city has professional administrators, regulations, and some form of taxation (food and other necessities or means to trade for them) to feed the government workers. The governments may be based on heredity, religion, military power, work projects (such as canal building), food distribution, land ownership, agriculture, commerce, manufacturing, finance, or a combination of those. Societies that live in cities are often called civilizations. A city can also be defined as an absence of physical space between people and firms.

Ancient times

Early cities developed in a number of regions of the ancient world. Mesopotamia can claim the earliest cities, particularly Eridumarker, Urukmarker, and Urmarker. After Mesopotamia, this culture arose in Syria and Anatolia, as shown by the city of Çatalhöyükmarker (7500-5700BC). It is the largest Neolithic site found to date. Although it has sometimes been claimed that ancient Egyptmarker lacked urbanism, several types of urban settlements were found in ancient times.

The Indus Valley Civilization of ancient Pakistanmarker and Chinamarker are two other areas with major indigenous urban traditions. Among the early Old World cities, Mohenjo-daromarker of the Indus Valley Civilization in present-day Pakistanmarker, existing from about 2600 BC to 1900 BC, was one of the largest, with an estimated population of 40,000 or more. Mohenjo-daro and Harappamarker, the large Indus capitals, were among the first cities to use grid plans, drainage, flush toilets, urban sanitation systems, and sewage systems. At a somewhat later time, a distinctive urban tradition developed in the Khmer region of Cambodiamarker, where Angkormarker grew into one of the largest cities (in area) of the world.

In the ancient Americas, early urban traditions developed in Mesoamerica and the Andes. Mesoamerica saw the rise of early urbanism in several cultural regions, including the Classic Maya, the Zapotec of Oaxaca, and Teotihuacanmarker in central Mexico. Later cultures such as the Aztec drew on these earlier urban traditions. In the Andes, the first urban centers developed in the Chavin and Moche cultures, followed by major cities in the Huari, Chimu and Inca cultures.

This roster of early urban traditions is notable for its diversity. Excavations at early urban sites show that some cities were sparsely-populated political capitals, others were trade centers, and still other cities had a primarily religious focus. Some cities had large dense populations, whereas others carried out urban activities in the realms of politics or religion without having large associated populations. Theories that attempt to explain ancient urbanism by a single factor, such as economic benefit, fail to capture the range of variation documented by archaeologists (Smith 2002).

The growth of the population of ancient civilizations, the formation of ancient empires concentrating political power, and the growth in commerce and manufacturing led to ever greater capital cities and centres of commerce and industry, with Alexandriamarker, Antiochmarker and Seleuciamarker of the Hellenistic civilization, Pataliputramarker (now Patnamarker) in Indiamarker, Chang'anmarker (now Xi'anmarker) in Chinamarker, Carthagemarker, ancient Romemarker, its eastern successor Constantinoplemarker (later Istanbulmarker), and successive Chinese, Indian and Muslim capitals approaching or exceeding the half-million population level.

Keith Hopkins estimates that ancient Romemarker had a population of about a million people by the end of the first century BC, after growing continually during the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st centuries BC. Alexandriamarker's population was also close to Rome's population at around the same time, the historian Rostovtzeff estimates a total population close to a million based on a census dated from 32 AD that counted 180,000 adult male citizens in Alexandria. Similar administrative, commercial, industrial and ceremonial centres emerged in other areas, most notably medieval Baghdadmarker, which according to George Modelski, later became the first city to exceed a population of one million by the 8th century instead of Rome.

The growth of ancient and medieval empires led to ever greater capital cities and seats of provincial administration, with Pataliputramarker (in Indiamarker), Changanmarker (in Chinamarker), ancient Romemarker, its eastern successor Constantinoplemarker (later Istanbulmarker), and successive Chinesemarker, Islamic, and Indianmarker capitals approaching or exceeding the half-million population level. It is estimated that ancient Rome had a population of around 450,000 people by the end of the last century BC, which is considered the only European city to reach that number until the Industrial Revolution, although Constantinoplemarker came close. Alexandriamarker's population was also close to Rome's population at around the same time. Similar large administrative, commercial, industrial and ceremonial centres emerged in other areas, most notably Baghdadmarker, which became the first city to exceed a population of one million, followed by Beijing also exceeding one million.

While David Kessler and Peter Temin consider ancient Romemarker to be the largest city before 19th century London, George Modelski considers medieval Baghdadmarker, with an estimated population of 1.2 million at its peak, to be the largest city before 19th century London. Others estimate that Baghdad's population may have been as large as 2 million in the 9th century.

Agriculture was practiced in sub-Saharan Africa since the third millennium BC. Because of this, cities were able to develop as centers of non-agricultural activity. Exactly when this first happened is still a topic of archeological and historical investigation. Western scholarship has tended to focus on cities in Europe and Mesopotamia, but emerging archeological evidence indicates that urbanization occurred south of the Sahara in well before the influence of Arab urban culture. The oldest sites documented thus far are from around 500 AD including Awdaghust, Kumbi-Saleh the ancient capital of Ghana, and Maranda a center located on a trade rout between Egypt and Gao.

Middle Ages

During the European Middle Ages, a town was as much a political entity as a collection of houses. City residence brought freedom from customary rural obligations to lord and community: "Stadtluft macht frei" ("City air makes you free") was a saying in Germany. In Continental Europe cities with a legislature of their own were not unheard of, the laws for towns as a rule other than for the countryside, the lord of a town often being another than for surrounding land. In the Holy Roman Empire some cities had no other lord than the emperor. In Italymarker, Medieval communes had quite a statelike power.

In exceptional cases like Venicemarker, Genoamarker or Lübeckmarker, cities themselves became powerful states, sometimes taking surrounding areas under their control or establishing extensive maritime empires. Similar phenomena existed elsewhere, as in the case of Sakai, which enjoyed a considerable autonomy in late medieval Japan.

Early Modern

While the city-states, or poleis, of the Mediterraneanmarker and Baltic Seamarker languished from the 16th century, Europe's larger capitals benefited from the growth of commerce following the emergence of an Atlanticmarker trade. By the late 18th century, Londonmarker had become the largest city in the world with a population of over a million, while Parismarker rivaled the well-developed regionally-traditional capital cities of Baghdadmarker, Beijing, Istanbulmarker and Kyoto.During the Spanish colonization of the Americas the old Roman city concept was extensively used. Cities were founded in the middle of the newly conquered territories, and were bound to several laws about administration, finances and urbanism.

Most towns remained far smaller places, so that in 1500 only some two dozen places in the world contained more than 100,000 inhabitants: as late as 1700 there were fewer than forty, a figure which would rise thereafter to 300 in 1900. A small city of the early modern period might contain as few as 10,000 inhabitants, a town far fewer still.

Industrial Age

The growth of modern industry from the late 18th century onward led to massive urbanization and the rise of new great cities, first in Europe and then in other regions, as new opportunities brought huge numbers of migrants from rural communities into urban areas. In the United States from 1860 to 1910, the invention of railroads reduced transportation costs, and large manufacturing centers began to emerge, thus allowing migration from rural to city areas. However, cities during those periods of time were deadly places to live in, due to health problems resulting from contaminated water and air, and communicable diseases. In the Great Depression of the 1930s cities were hard hit by unemployment, especially those with a base in heavy industry. In the U.S. urbanization rate increased forty to eighty percent during 1900-1990. Today the world's population is slightly over half urban, with millions still streaming annually into the growing cities of Asia, Africa and Latin America. There has also been a shift to suburbs, perhaps to avoid crime and traffic, which are two costs of living in an urban area.

External effects

Modern cities are known for creating their own microclimates. This is due to the large clustering of heat absorbent surfaces that heat up in sunlight and that channel rainwater into underground ducts.

Waste and sewage are two major problems for cities, as is air pollution coming from various forms of combustion, including fireplaces, wood or coal-burning stoves, other heating systems, and internal combustion engines. The impact of cities on places elsewhere, be it hinterlands or places far away, is considered in the notion of city footprinting (ecological footprint).Other negative external effects include health consequences such as communicable diseases, crime, and high traffic and commuting times. Cities cause more interaction with more people than rural areas, thus a higher probability to contracting contagious diseases. However, many inventions such as inoculations, vaccines, and water filtration systems have also lowered health concerns. Crime is also a concern in the cities. Studies have shown that crime rates in cities are higher and the chance of punishment after getting caught is lower. In cases such as burglary, the higher concentration of people in cities create more items of higher value worth the risk of crime. The high concentration of people also makes using auto mobiles inconvenient and pedestrian traffic is more prominent in metropolitan areas than a rural or suburban one.

Cities also generate positive external effects. The close physical proximity facilitates knowledge spillovers, helping people and firms exchange information and generate new ideas. A thicker labor market allows for better skill matching between firms and individuals. Another positive external effect of cities comes from the diverse social opportunities created when people of different backgrounds are brought together. Larger cities typically offer a wider variety of social interests and activities, letting people of all backgrounds find something they can be involved in.

Cities may however also have a positive influence on the environment. UN Habitat stated in its reports that city living can be the best solution for dealing with the rising population numbers (and thus still be a good approach on dealing with overpopulation). This is because cities concentrate human activity into one place, making the environmental damage on other places smaller. Letting the cities have a positive influence however, can only be achieved if urban planning is improved and if the city services are properly maintained.

The difference between towns and cities

The difference between towns and cities is differently understood in different parts of the world. Indeed, many languages other than English often use a single word for both concepts (German Stadt, Swedish stad, Danish/Norwegian by, etc.). Iberian languages typically use a three-way designation (Catalan: poble, vila, ciutat; Galician: aldea, vila, cidade; Portuguese: aldeia, vila, cidade; Spanish: pueblo, villa, ciudad—respectively “village”, “town”, “city”), but other romance languages don’t (French: village, ville; Italian: “villaggio, città—respectively “village”, “city”).

Even within the English-speaking world there is no one standard definition of a city: the term may be used either for a town possessing city status; for an urban locality exceeding an arbitrary population size; for a town dominating other towns with particular regional economic or administrative significance. In British English city is reserved for very large settlements, smaller ones are called town or village. In the US city is used for much smaller settlements.

Although city can refer to an agglomeration including suburban and satellite areas, the term is not usually applied to a conurbation (cluster) of distinct urban places, nor for a wider metropolitan area including more than one city, each acting as a focus for parts of the area. And the word "town" (also "downtown") may mean the center of the city.

Australia and New Zealand

Sydney is the biggest city of Australia
Auckland, New Zealand
In Australia, city in its broadest terms refers simply to any town that is large enough. Narrower usage can refer to a local government area, or colloquially to the central business district (CBD) of a large urban area. For instance the City of South Perth is a local government area within the wider urban area known as Perthmarker, commonly called Australia's fourth largest city. Residents of Sydney might speak of travelling to the CBD as "going to the city". Australia's largest cities are Sydneymarker, Melbournemarker, Brisbanemarker, Perthmarker and Adelaidemarker.

In official designations, a city or rural city is the style of some local government areas, whereas a town is a kind of bounded locality with an urban lifestyle, commercial activities and social services, providing for both the town and surrounding region. Therefore, cities contrast with shires whereas towns contrast with suburbs (in the Australian sense) and rural districts or townships (i.e. small settlements); a city may contain many towns and a town may be in more than one city. A "provincial city" is any urban area (other than the capital city) that is a combination of multiple suburbs—no matter the status of its LGA (thus, Stawellmarker in the Northern Grampians Shire is a minor provincial city). Approximately, a city can be understood as an urban area which is divided into suburbs, and a town is an urban area which is not divided into suburbs.

In New Zealand, according to Statistics New Zealand (the government statistics agency), "A city [...] must have a minimum population of 50,000, be predominantly urban in character, be a distinct entity and a major centre of activity within the region.". For example Gisbornemarker, purported to be the first city to see the sun, has a population of only 44,500 (2006) and is therefore administered by a district council, not a city council. At the other extreme, Aucklandmarker, although it is usually referred to as a single city, is actually four cities: Auckland Citymarker, Waitakere Citymarker, North Shore Citymarker, and Manukau Citymarker.


In the Belarusianmarker language two words mean "city" or "town" - "горад" (horad) and "места" (miesta), where "horad" translated as "fortifying miesta", or "stronghold". The term "miesta" translated as "town without fortifying" and meaning modern town. In the contemporary Belarusian language term "horad" is used more often, in spite of lexical inexactitude of this term. The smallest population of a city of Belaruse officially not named "horad" or "miesta" it is used a name "urban-type settlement" ("паселішча гарадскога тыпу", "paselyscha haradskoha typu") and also (informal or with historical sense) "мястэчка" ("miastechka").



Brazilmarker is divided into states ( ) and these into municipalities (municípios); there is no county or equivalent level. Brazilian law defines a "city" (cidade) as the urban seat of a municipality and establishes no difference between cities and towns; all it takes for an urban area to be legally called a "city" is to be the seat of a municipality, and some of them are semi-rural settlements with a very small population. Municipalities always have the same name as their corresponding cities, and the terms município and cidade are often used interchangeably, even by the government itself, although this is not technically correct. However, except for the Federal Districtmarker (the area of the national capital city, Brasíliamarker), which has special status and no municipalities, all land in Brazil is in the territory of some municipality. Thus, even in the country's remotest wilderness areas, one is still technically under the jurisdiction of a "city," or at least of its government. Brazil's largest cities are São Paulomarker and Rio de Janeiromarker, both located on the heavily urbanized South East coast.



In Canada the granting of city status is handled by the individual provinces and territories, so that the definitions and criteria vary widely across the country. In British Columbiamarker and Saskatchewanmarker towns can become cities after they reach a population of 5,000 people, but in Albertamarker and Ontariomarker the requirement is 10,000.

Although it has numerous cities in the traditional sense of the term, Ontario also sometimes confers city status on primarily rural areas whose municipalities have been merged into a former county government. Nova Scotiamarker has abolished the title of city altogether, with all local government taking place at the regional municipality level.

In Quebecmarker, there is no legal distinction between a city and a town, as both have the legal status of ville. The province formerly differentiated between ville (town) and cité (city), but no longer does so.


A city is a administrative division in Mainland China. There are three types of cities: a municipality ia a provincial-level division (e.g. Shanghai or Beijing); a prefecture-level city ia governed by provinces or autonomous regions; and a county-level city is a sub-unit of a prefecture-level administrative division. Also in Taiwan, a city (named county-controlled city) is a type of administrative division of a county.

There is a formal definition of city in Chinamarker provided by the Chinese government. For an urban area that can be defined as a city, there should be at least 100,000 non-agricultural population. City with less than 200,000 non-agricultural population refers to a small city, 200,000-500,000 non-agricultural population is a medium city, 500,000-1,000,000 non-agricultural population is a large city and >1,000,000 non-agricultural population is an extra-large city. Also, there is an administrative definition based on the city boundary too and a city has its legal city limits. In 1998, there were 668 cities in China. China has the largest urban population in the world although most of its population still lives in rural areas.


Chilemarker's Department of National Statistics defines a city (ciudad in Spanish) as an urban entity with more than 5,000 inhabitants. A town (pueblo), is an urban entity with 2,001 to 5,000 persons, however, if the area has some economic activity, the designation may include populations as small as 1,001. The department also defines Major Cities as provincial or regional capitals with populations of 100,001 to 500,000; Great Urban Areas which comprise several entities without any appreciable limit between them and populations which total between 500,001 and 1,000,000. A Metropolis is the largest urban area in the country where there are more than one million inhabitants. The "urban entity" is defined as a concentration of habitations with more than 2,000 persons living in them, or more than 1,000 persons if more than half of those persons are in some way gainfully employed. Tourist and recreation areas with more than 250 living units may be considered as urban areas.


Venezuelamarker's Department of National Statistics defines a city (ciudad in Spanish) as an urban entity with more than 5,000 inhabitants. A town (pueblo), is an urban entity with 2,001 to 5,000 persons.


The German word for both "town" and "city" is Stadt, while a city with more than 100,000 inhabitants is called a Großstadt (big city). On the other hand, most towns are communities belonging to a Landkreis (county or rural district), but there are some cities, usually with at least 50,000 inhabitants, that are counties by themselves (kreisfreie Städte). Germany's largest cities are Berlinmarker, Hamburgmarker and Munichmarker although the largest urban area is in the Rhine-Ruhr region around such cities as Dortmundmarker, Duisburgmarker and Essenmarker.




In Italymarker a city is called città, an uncount noun derived from the Latin civitas. The status of "city" is granted by the President of the Republic with Presidential Decree Law. The largest and most important cities in the country, such as Romemarker, Milanmarker, Naplesmarker and Turinmarker, are called aree metropolitane (metropolitan areas) because they include several minor cities and towns in their areas. There is no population limit for a city. In the coat of arms, a golden crown tower stands for a city.


In the Netherlandsmarker a city is called stad, in common with other Germanic languages. In medieval times, a settlement had to achieve city-rights to be called a stad. In modern times, there's no Dutch law saying what can be called a city or not, though generally places with more than 50,000 inhabitants are called a city. Settlements between 20,000 and 50,000 are most often called kleine stad or stadje, which literally means "little city" (a more loose translation would be "town"). Settlements under about 20,000 are called dorp, "village". The four largest cities are Amsterdammarker, Rotterdammarker, The Haguemarker and Utrecht, which together form the heart of the Randstadmarker metropolitan conurbation.


In Norwaymarker a city is called by and is derived from the Norse word býr meaning "a place with many buildings". Both cities and towns are referred to as by. The status of "city" is granted by the local authorities if a request for city status has been made and the area has a population of at least 5000. Since 1997, cities no longer have special administrative functions. If the area has not been granted the status of a city it is called tettsted or bygd. The terms differ in that a tettsted has more concentrated population than a bygd. A bygd is in many ways similar to a village, but the Norwegian term for village, landsby, is not used for places in Norway.


There has traditionally been no formal distinction between "City" or "Town" in Pakistan, although informal distinctions and status has been as common as in any other country. Several cities in what is now Pakistan were traditionally recognized as cities; in some cases for centuries; Lahoremarker, Multanmarker and Peshawarmarker are examples. After independence and the rapid increase in population that followed caused Karachimarker to become the nations largest city, whie the rapid industrialisation in the north of the country resulted in new towns increasing greatly in population; such as Sialkotmarker and Faisalabadmarker, whilst Rawalpindimarker, traditionally a garrison town became a large city due to the decision to build a new capital nearby. In 2001, a new Act formalised the distinction, by granting the 10 largest cities and metropolitan areas the statis of city district, which for the first time gave areas the status of cities.


In Polandmarker the word miasto serves for both town and city. Miasto is the term applied purely on the basis of the administrative decision of the central government, and specifically means either:
  • a county (gmina or powiat) with a city charter;
  • a city within a county, created by granting a city charter to a smaller town within a county.

These formal distinctions may differentiate larger towns from smaller ones (such as status as a separate powiat, or the conferring of the title prezydent on the mayor rather than burmistrz), but none of these is universally recognized as equivalent to the English city/town distinction.


Like other Iberian languages, in Portuguese there is a traditional distinction between cities—cidades—and towns—vilas. The difference is defined by law, and a city must have:
  • at least 8,000 electors (more or less 10,000 inhabitants)
  • at least half of the following services:
    • hospital
    • pharmacy
    • fire department
    • theatre / cultural house
    • museum
    • library
    • hotel services
    • basic and secondary schools
    • public transport
    • gardens / urban parks
In special cases, some towns may be granted the status of city if they possess historical, cultural or architectonic importance.

The Portuguese urban settlements heraldry reflects the difference between cities, towns and villages, with the coat of arms of a city bearing a crown with 5 towers, the coat of arms of a town bearing a crown with 4 towers, while the coat of arms of a village bears a crown with 3 towers. This difference between cities, towns and villages is still in use in other Portuguese speaking countries, but in Brazil is no longer in use.

There is also the notion of “Grande Área Metropolitana”. There are two main metropolitan areas—Lisbonmarker (the capital), in the centre of the country and Portomarker in the North. Lisbon Metropolitan Area has a population that exceeds 3 million. Greater Metropolitan Area of Porto has over 2 million inhabitants, although it is part of the Portuguese Northwestern Agglomeration that has, also, about 3 million inhabitants.

File:Cast_s_jorge_2.jpg|Lisbonmarker skyline.File:Rabelo Douro en–Porto.jpg|Portomarker, the second city.File:Santuário_do_Sameiro.JPG|Braga's Sameiro Sanctuary.File:Funchal Pico da Cruz.jpg|Funchalmarker, the largest city in the Portuguese islands.

South Korea

South Koreamarker has a system of dividing into metropolitan cities, provinces, a special city (Seoulmarker) and one specially self-governing province (Jeju-domarker). In South Korea, cities should have a population of more than 150,000, and if a city has more than 500,000, it would be divided into 2 districts and then sub-communities follow as a name of dong with similar system of normal cities. Additionally, if a city's population is over 1,000,000, then it would be promoted to metropolitan city.


There is no legal definition of city in Turkey. Older definition which defines the city as a settlement with more than 20 000 inhabitants is out of use and a city is usually defined as the administrative center of a province ( ) There are 81 provencial centers in Turkey. However some of the district centers ) are more populous and more developed than the provencial centers.

But in 1984 the metropolitan center concept was introduced. ( ) According to definition (revised as of 2004) a metropolitan center is a city with more than 750 000 inhabitants. At present 16 of the provencial centers are metropolitan centers.


There is no difference in the Ukrainian language between the notions of "town" and "city". Both these words are translated into Ukrainian as "місто" ("misto"). In articles of Wikipedia only the term "city" is used for every Ukrainian locality named "місто". The smallest population of a city of Ukraine can be about 10,000. For towns which officially are not named "місто" it is used a name "urban-type settlement" ("селище міського типу", "selyshche mis'koho typu") and also (informal) "містечко" ("mistechko"), the latter Ukrainian word is related to the word "місто" and can be translated as "small town".

United Kingdom and Ireland

In the United Kingdommarker (UK), a city is a town which has been known as a city since time immemorial, or which has received city status by letters patent—which is normally granted on the basis of size, importance or royal connection (the traditional test was whether the town had a cathedral) to gain city status. For example the small town of Riponmarker was granted city status in 1836 to coincide with the creation of the Diocese of Ripon, but also in recognition of its long-standing role as a supplier of spurs to royalty. In the United Kingdom, when people talk about cities, they generally include the suburbs in that. Some cathedral cities, such as St David'smarker in Walesmarker and Wellsmarker in Englandmarker, are quite small, and may not be known as cities in common parlance. Prestonmarker became England's newest city in the year 2002 to mark the Queen's jubilee, as did Newportmarker in Walesmarker, Stirlingmarker in Scotlandmarker, and Lisburnmarker and Newrymarker in Northern Irelandmarker. However, major towns such as Readingmarker, Northamptonmarker, Swindonmarker, Warringtonmarker and Milton Keynesmarker all harbour populations between 170,000 and 215,000 inhabitants but are not officially cited as cities.

The situation in London is a historical anomaly: the City of Westminstermarker and the City of Londonmarker are geographically small but historically significant parts of the Greater Londonmarker conurbation that have independent city status.

A Review of Scotland's Cities led to the Fair City of Perth, Scotlandmarker, losing city status. By both legal and traditional definition, a town may be of any size, but must contain a market place. A village must contain a church . A small village without a church is called a hamlet.

The UK's five largest cities are generally considered to be Londonmarker, Birminghammarker, Leedsmarker, Manchestermarker and Glasgowmarker, but this is based on the population of the conurbation as a whole. In terms of formal city boundaries, the largest include Bristolmarker, Cardiffmarker, Edinburghmarker, Liverpoolmarker and Sheffieldmarker.

In Ireland the definition of a city is similar to that in the UK, but with the exception of Dublin, Irish cities are much smaller in size and population. The three largest cities in the Republic of Ireland are Dublin, Cork and Limerick, with Kilkenny being the smallest (although Kilkenny is actually a borough it still has the right to be referred to as a city).

United States

In the United States (USA), the definition of cities (and town, villages, townships, etc.) is a matter of state laws and the definitions vary widely by state. A city may, in some places, be run by an elected mayor and city council, while a town is governed by people, select board (or board of trustees), or open town meeting. There are some very large towns (such as Hempstead, New Yorkmarker, with a population of 755,785 in 2004) and some very small cities (such as Lake Angelus, Michiganmarker, with a population of 326 in 2000), and the line between town and city, if it exists at all, varies from state to state. Cities in the United States do have many oddities, like Maza, North Dakotamarker, the smallest city in the country, has only 5 inhabitants, but is still incorporated (note that all incorporated locations in North Dakota are called "cities" regardless of size). It does not have an active government, and the mayoral hand changes frequently (due to the lack of city laws). Californiamarker has both towns and cities but the terms "town" and "city" are considered synonymous. The nation's largest cities are New York Citymarker, Los Angelesmarker, Chicagomarker, and Houstonmarker.

In some U.S. states, any incorporated town is also called a city. If a distinction is being made between towns and cities, exactly what that distinction is often depends on the context. The context will differ depending on whether the issue is the legal authority it possesses, the availability of shopping and entertainment, and the scope of the group of places under consideration. Intensifiers such as "small town" and "big city" are also common, though the flip side of each is rarely used.

Some states make a distinction between villages and other forms of municipalities. In some cases, villages combine with larger other communities to form larger towns; a well-known example of an urban village is New York City's famed Greenwich Villagemarker, which started as a quiet country settlement but was absorbed by the growing city. The word has often been co-opted by enterprising developers to make their projects sound welcoming and friendly.

In Illinoismarker, cities must have a minimum population of 2,500 but in Nebraska, cities must have a minimum of only 800 residents. In Oregonmarker, Kansasmarker, Kentuckymarker, North Dakotamarker, Minnesotamarker, and Iowamarker, all incorporated municipalities are cities. In Ohiomarker, a municipality automatically becomes a city if it has 5,000 residents counted in a federal census but it reverts to a village if its population drops below 5,000. In Nebraskamarker, 5,000 residents is the minimum for a city of the first class while 800 is the minimum for a city of the second class. The Constitution of Idaho, Article XII Corporations, Municipal. Section 1. General laws for cities and towns. Makes no distinction between incorporated towns or cities.

In all the New Englandmarker states, city status is conferred by the form of government, not population. Town government has a board of selectmen or Town Council for the executive branch, and a town meeting for the legislative branch, but unlike the US Government, the executive acts only as an administrative body and cannot override the will of town meeting. New England cities, on the other hand, have a mayor for the executive, and a legislature referred to as either the city council or the board of aldermen.

In Virginiamarker, all incorporated municipalities designated as cities are independent of the adjacent or surrounding county while a town is an incorporated municipality which remains a part of an adjacent or surrounding county. The largest incorporated municipalities by population are all cities, although some smaller cities have a smaller population than some towns. For example, the smallest city of Nortonmarker has a population of 3,904 and the largest town of Blacksburgmarker has a population of 39,573. The other U.S. independent cities are Baltimore, Marylandmarker; St. Louis, Missourimarker; and Carson City, Nevadamarker.

In Pennsylvaniamarker any municipality with more than 10 persons can incorporate as a borough. Any township or borough with a population of at least 10,000 can ask the state legislature to charter as a city. In Pennsylvaniamarker, a village is simply an unincorporated community within a township.

Global cities

A global city, also known as a world city, is a prominent centre of trade, banking, finance, innovation, and markets. The term "global city", as opposed to megacity, was coined by Saskia Sassen in a seminal 1991 work. Whereas "megacity" refers to any city of enormous size, a global city is one of enormous power or influence. Global cities, according to Sassen, have more in common with each other than with other cities in their host nations. Notable examples of such cities include Londonmarker, New York Citymarker, Parismarker, Chicagomarker, Singaporemarker, Tokyomarker and Seoulmarker.

The notion of global cities is rooted in the concentration of power and capabilities within all cities. The city is seen as a container where skills and resources are concentrated: the better able a city is to concentrate its skills and resources, the more successful and powerful the city. This makes the city itself more powerful in the sense that it can influence what is happening around the world. Following this view of cities, it is possible to rank the world's cities hierarchically.

Critics of the notion point to the different realms of power. The term global city is heavily influenced by economic factors and, thus, may not account for places that are otherwise significant. For example, cities like Romemarker, Delhimarker, Mumbaimarker, Istanbulmarker, Meccamarker, Mashhadmarker, Karbalamarker, Jerusalemmarker and Lisbonmarker are powerful in religious and historical terms but would not be considered "global cities." Additionally, it has been questioned whether the city itself can be regarded as an actor.

In 1995, Kanter argued that successful cities can be identified by three elements: good thinkers (concepts), good makers (competence) or good traders (connections). The interplay of these three elements, Kanter argued, means that good cities are not planned but managed.

Inner city

In the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland, the term "inner city" is sometimes used with the connotation of being an area, perhaps a ghetto, where people are less wealthy and where there is more crime. These connotations are less common in other Western countries, as deprived areas are located in varying parts of other Western cities. In fact, with the gentrification of some formerly run-down central city areas the reverse connotation can apply. In Australia, for example, the term "outer suburban" applied to a person implies a lack of sophistication. In Parismarker, the inner city is the richest part of the metropolitan area, where housing is the most expensive, and where elites and high-income individuals dwell. In the developing world, economic modernization brings poor newcomers from the countryside to build haphazardly at the edge of current settlement (see favelas, shacks and shanty towns).

The United States, in particular, has a culture of anti-urbanism that dates back to colonial times. The American City Beautiful architecture movement of the late 1800s was a reaction to perceived urban decay and sought to provide stately civic buildings and boulevards to inspire civic pride in the motley residents of the urban core. Modern anti-urban attitudes are to be found in America in the form of a planning profession that continues to develop land on a low-density suburban basis, where access to amenities, work and shopping is provided almost exclusively by car rather than by foot or transit.

However, there is a growing movement in North America called "New Urbanism" that calls for a return to traditional city planning methods where mixed-use zoning allows people to walk from one type of land-use to another. The idea is that housing, shopping, office space, and leisure facilities are all provided within walking distance of each other, thus reducing the demand for road-space and also improving the efficiency and effectiveness of mass transit.

21st century cities

There is a debate about whether technology and instantaneous communications are making cities obsolete, or reinforcing the importance of big cities as centres of the knowledge economy. Some companies are building brand new masterplanned cities from scratch on greenfield sites.

See also


Social problems in the city


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