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Background Information

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Map of Piraeus, the port of Athens, showing the grid plan of the city
"The Ideal City" of the Renaissance by Fra Carnevale. Oil and tempera painting (c1480). Panel in the Walters Art Museum

A city is a relatively large and permanent settlement. Although there is no agreement on how a city is distinguished from a town within general English language meanings, many cities have a particular administrative, legal, or historical status based on local law.

For example, in the American state of Massachusetts an article of incorporation approved by the local state legislature distinguishes a city government from a town. In the United Kingdom and parts of the Commonwealth of Nations, a city is usually a settlement with a royal charter. Historically, in Europe, a city was understood by some to mean an urban settlement with a cathedral. The belief in this distinction is also common in England, where the presence of a cathedral is thought by many to distinguish a 'city' (sometimes called a 'cathedral city') from a 'town' (which has a parish church); the belief is incorrect (Chelmsford, for example, became a city only in 2012, but had a cathedral for most of the 20th century).

Cities generally have complex systems for sanitation, utilities, land usage, housing, and transportation. 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 exurbs. Such cities are usually associated with metropolitan areas and urban areas, creating numerous business commuters traveling to urban centers for employment. Once a city expands far enough to reach another city, this region can be deemed a conurbation or megalopolis.


There is insufficient evidence to assert what conditions gave rise to the first cities. Some theorists, however, have speculated on what they consider suitable pre-conditions, and basic mechanisms that might have been important driving forces.


Agricultural primacy

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 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 and a relatively large population. 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 city dwellers do no farming, 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 this is roughly the size of Great Britain.

Urban primacy

Theorist Jane Jacobs claims that city-formation preceded the birth of agriculture though offers no support for this theory. Jacobs does not lend her theory to any reasonably strict definition of a city, but her account suggestively or vaguely contrasts what could be thought of as primitive city-like activity to the activity occurring in neighboring hunter-gatherer settlements. To argue this view, she suggests a fictitious scenario where a valued natural resource leads to primitive economic activity – she takes obsidian as an example. 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 centre 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 become purposeful, and they are made among various strains of already cultivated crosses, and their crosses, mutants and hybrids.

Causes of establishment

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 2005, p. 12). 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" (O'Flaherty 2005, pp. 572–573). To offer an example of these concepts, O'Flaherty makes use of "one of the oldest reasons why cities were built: military protection" (O'Flaherty 2005, p. 13). 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: (O'Flaherty 2005, p. 13)

(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 (solving for s in (1) and substituting in (2)) shows that with twice the inputs, you produce quadruple the output.

Also, economies of scale:

(4) I = 4O^{1/2}. This equation (solving for I in equation (3)) 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..." (O'Flaherty 2005, p. 13).

Similarly, "Are Cities Dying?", a paper by Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser, delves into similar reasons for city formation: reduced transport costs for goods, people, and ideas. Discussing the benefits of proximity, Glaeser 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.

A map dating 1669 showing the location of Multan, Pakistan


Map of Haarlem, the Netherlands, of around 1550 showing the city completely surrounded by a city wall and defensive canal, with its square shape inspired by Jerusalem

City planning has seen many different schemes for how a city should look. The most commonly seen pattern is the grid, used for thousands of years in China, independently invented by Alexander the Great's city-planner Dinocrates of Rhodes and favoured by the Romans, while almost a rule in parts of pre-Columbian America. Derry begun in 1613, was the first planned city in Ireland, 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 Priene. 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-Daro. 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 City and San Francisco.

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 Dutch cities are structured this way: a central square surrounded by concentric canals. Every city expansion would imply a new circle (canals together with town walls). In cities such as Amsterdam, Haarlem, and also Moscow, this pattern is still clearly visible.


The Round city of Baghdad, the capital of Iraq
Extent and major sites of the Indus Valley Civilization of ancient India

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.

Mohenjo-daro, a World Heritage site that was part of the Indus Valley Civilization

Ancient times

Ancient Ur of Sumer in present day Tell el-Mukayyar in Iraq, one of the world's earliest сities
View of the Agora of Athens with the temple of Hephaestus to the left and the Stoa of Attalos to the right
Scale model of ancient Rome, 3rd century AD
A model of native American pyramids in the Zócalo in the centre of Mexico City
Daily life of people from the Song period at the capital, Bianjing, today's Kaifeng
Constantinople, the largest and wealthiest city in Europe from the 9th through the 12th century

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

The Indus Valley Civilization and ancient China are two other areas with major indigenous urban traditions. Among the early Old World cities, Mohenjo-daro of the Indus Valley Civilization in present-day Pakistan, existing from about 2600 BC, was one of the largest, with a population of 50,000 or more.

In ancient Greece, beginning in the early 1st millennium BC, there emerged independent city-states that evolved for the first time the notion of citizenship, becoming in the process the archetype of the free city, the polis. The Agora, meaning "gathering place" or "assembly", was the centre of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the polis. These Greek city-states reached great levels of prosperity that resulted in an unprecedented cultural boom, that of classical Greece, expressed in architecture, drama, science, mathematics and philosophy, and nurtured in Athens under a democratic government. The Greek Hippodamus of Miletus (c. 407 BC) has been dubbed the "Father of City Planning" for his design of Miletus; the Hippodamian, or grid plan, was the basis for subsequent Greek and Roman cities. In the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great commissioned Dinocrates of Rhodes to lay out his new city of Alexandria, the grandest example of idealized urban planning of the ancient Mediterranean world, where the city's regularity was facilitated by its level site near a mouth of the Nile.

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.

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 Alexandria, Antioch and Seleucia of the Hellenistic civilization, Pataliputra (now Patna) in India, Chang'an (now Xi'an) in China, Carthage, ancient Rome, its eastern successor Constantinople (later Istanbul).

Keith Hopkins estimates that ancient Rome had a population of about a million people by the end of the 1st century BC, after growing continually during the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st centuries BC, making it the largest city in the world at the time. Alexandria'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.

Cities of Late Antiquity underwent transformations as the urban power base shrank and was transferred to the local bishop (see Late Roman Empire). Cities essentially disappeared, earliest in Roman Britain and Germania and latest in the Eastern Roman Empire and Visigothic Spain.

In the ancient Americas, early urban traditions developed in the Andes and Mesoamerica. In the Andes, the first urban centers developed in the Norte Chico civilization (also Caral or Caral-Supe civilization), Chavin and Moche cultures, followed by major cities in the Huari, Chimu and Inca cultures. The Norte Chico civilization included as many as 30 major population centers in what is now the Norte Chico region of north-central coastal Peru. It is the oldest known civilization in the Americas, flourishing between the 30th century BC and the 18th century BC. Mesoamerica saw the rise of early urbanism in several cultural regions, including the Preclassic Maya, the Zapotec of Oaxaca, and Teotihuacan in central Mexico. Later cultures such as the Aztec drew on these earlier urban traditions.

In the first millennium AD, an urban tradition developed in the Khmer region of Cambodia, where Angkor grew into one of the largest cities (in area) of the world. The closest rival to Angkor, the Mayan city of Tikal in Guatemala, was between 100 and 150 square kilometres (39 and 58 sq mi) in total size. Although its population remains a topic of research and debate, newly identified agricultural systems in the Angkor area may have supported up to one million people.

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 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 centre located on a trade rout between Egypt and Gao.

Middle Ages

This woodcut shows Nuremberg as a prototype of a flourishing and independent city in the 15th century

While David Kessler and Peter Temin consider ancient Rome to be the largest city before 19th century, London was the first to have exceeded a population of 1 million. George Modelski considers medieval Baghdad, with an estimated population of 1.2 million at its peak, to be the largest city before 19th century London and the first with a population of over one million. Others estimate that Baghdad's population may have been as large as 2 million in the 9th century.

From the 9th through the end of the 12th century, the city of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe, with a population approaching 1 million.

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 Italy medieval communes had quite a statelike power. In exceptional cases like Venice, Genoa or Lübeck, 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

Danzig in the 17th century

While the city-states, or poleis, of the Mediterranean and Baltic Sea languished from the 16th century, Europe's larger capitals benefited from the growth of commerce following the emergence of an Atlantic trade. By the early 19th century, London had become the largest city in the world with a population of over a million, while Paris rivaled the well-developed regionally traditional capital cities of Baghdad, Beijing, Istanbul 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

Glasgow slum in 1871

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.

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.

Distinction between cities and towns

There are probably as many different ways of conceiving what a city is as there are cities. A simple definition therefore has its attractions. The simplest is that a city is a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet.

Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man, 1977, p. 39.

The difference between towns and cities is differently understood in different parts of the world. Indeed, some languages other than English use a single word for both concepts. 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"); Italian: " villaggio", " paese" " città"—respectively "village", "village/town", "city/town"; , but other Romance languages don’t (French: " village", " ville").

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 England, city is reserved for very large settlements and smaller historic settlements with a Cathedral (e.g. Lichfield), while smaller settlements without a Cathedral are called towns, and smaller still are villages and hamlets. 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 centre of the city.


Buenos Aires, Argentina - the Avenida 9 de Julio is the largest boulevard in the world


Jermuk, Armenia, with a population of less than 5,000, still considered an urban community

Settlements in Armenia are classified under two categories: urban communities called cities (or towns) and rural communities called villages. As of 2007, Armenia has 915 communities, of which 49 are considered urban and 866 are considered rural. The capital, Yerevan, also has the status of a community.


Australia's most populous urban areas are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

The official term "city" is given to any Australian statistical division with a minimum of 10,000-30,000 people (varying by state); which is defined either as a contiguous urban area or a local government area (LGA).

For instance, within the wider urban area known as Perth, Australia's fourth most populous urban area, the City of Perth is a relatively small LGA geographically speaking, which also includes the Perth CBD. Informally, in Australian English the word city is used by Australians to describe the most prominent Central Activities District in their proximity. Some local areas containing such activities districts have ambiguous titles that actually use the word city either as or in their title, for instance for a long time the central locality of Brisbane and Canberra are officially simply "City". Due to Australia's high urbanisation, this often refers to the state's capital city. For example, residents of Mandurah saying "going to the city" is more likely to mean the Perth CBD but almost never in the context of the City of Perth. Conversely, residents of Townsville would likely be referring to the Townsville CBD than City of Townsville or Brisbane.

Canberra - the new capital of Australia that was planned by Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin

Local government in Australia can apply for City Status. Prior to the Federation of Australia, local councils from the Australian colonies applied directly to the Monarchy of the United Kingdom and were proclaimed a city, a title of some prestige, was assessed on factors such as area, population and rateable revenue. Since the start of the 20th century, local government acts in each state specify the criteria and thresholds and applications are made to the Governors of the Australian states. Population thresholds currently exist under Local government acts in most states including New South Wales (1919 - 25,000); South Australia (22,000); Western Australia (30,000) and Tasmania (10,000). In Victoria under the Local Government Act 1989 where until recently city status was based on rateable revenue, there is no current minimum threshold, however applications must be assessed to be "predominantly urban in character" rather than on population. Today successful application may result in additional state or federal attention for additional funds for infrastructure. However for various reasons, some councils neither seek or receive city status: for instance, Shire of Melton – in Melbourne's west – with a population of over 80,000 (2012) decided after several years of community consultation to defer applying for city status until it reaches 150,000.

Some former satellite cities have merged into larger cities (for instance, Ipswich, Queensland and Dandenong, Victoria), informally they are sometimes still called cities, although according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics they are officially only part of a larger metropolitan area or conurbation and as such are sometimes called Activity Centres by planners.


Azerbaijan recognizes 69 urban settlements as cities. The largest, with just over two million inhabitants, is the capital Baku. See: List of cities in Azerbaijan


Minsk, the most populous city in Belarus

In the Belarusian language two words mean "city" or "town" - "горад" (gorad) and "места" (myesta), where "gorad" 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").




Brasília, the capital of Brazil, was planned in the 1950s by the architect Oscar Niemeyer

Brazil is divided into states (Portuguese: estados) 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 District (where is Brasília, the national capital), 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 Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, both located on the heavily urbanized South East coast.


Plovdiv, Bulgaria

In Bulgaria the word "град" (grad) means city or town, although the word "градче" (gradche) can be used for small cities or towns. The Council of Ministers has the right to give or withdraw the status of the territorial unit and the president sets the name. In 2005 it was introduced that in order for a village to become a city it has to have developed social and technical infrastructure and have a population of more than 3500 people (in the resort cities – more than 1000).

There are settlements with a city status for historical and cultural reasons ( Melnik with a population of 358), or for political reasons ( Pravets, Kableshkovo, etc.).


In Canada, the granting of city status is handled by the individual provinces and territories. Therefore, city status definitions and criteria vary widely across the country. In British Columbia and Saskatchewan, towns can become cities after they reach a population of 5,000 people, but the threshold is 10,000 in Alberta, New Brunswick, and Ontario. In Manitoba, an urban municipality may not be named as a city unless its population meets or exceeds 7,500 people.

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 Scotia has abolished city status altogether, replacing it with regional municipality status.

In Quebec, 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.

China (People's Republic of China)

Beijing - the capital of China. the entrance to the Forbidden city from the largest square in the world

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

There is a formal definition of city in China provided by the Chinese government, commonly seen in maps and textbooks. A minimum 100,000 non-agricultural population in an urbanized area, usually the administrative centre of a county(县, "xian"), is required to establish it in an administrative sense as a city(市, "shi"). By its non-agricultural population is a city classified: 100,000-200,000 a small city, 200,000-500,000 a medium city, 500,000-1,000,000 a large city and >1,000,000 an extra-large city(特大城市). 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 half of its population still lives in rural areas.


Santiago de Chile, the largest city in Chile

Chile'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 to be urban areas.


In Colombia, the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) defined a city as an urban entity with more than 100,000 inhabitants. In total seventy one cities now have populations of 100,000 or more (2013). The population the country is concentrated in the Andean highlands and along the Caribbean coast. The nine eastern lowland departments, comprising about 54% of Colombia's area, have less than 3% of the population and a density of less than one person per square kilometer (two persons per square mile). Traditionally a rural society, movement to urban areas was very heavy in the mid-20th century, and Colombia is now one of the most urbanized countries in Latin America. The urban population increased from 31% of the total in 1938 to 60% in 1975, and by 2005 the figure stood at 72.7%. The population of Bogotá alone has increased from just over 300,000 in 1938 to approximately 8 million today.


Denmark abolished the legal distinction between borough (købstad in Danish) and town (by) with the administrative reform in 1970. Before that time boroughs were chartered towns exempt from the county jurisdiction.


In Egypt the word "مدينة" (madina) means city or town and there is no distinction between the two.

Cairo, Capital of Egypt


The French word for city is the same for that for a town, ville. In France, there is no distinction between a town and a city. There is only a difference between a city or town (ville), a village (village) which is smaller (around 50 to 2000 inhabitants), and a hamlet (hameau) which does not have more than around 50 inhabitants. The number of inhabitants that a city or a village is considered to have may vary among individuals. But petite ville (literally "small town", or town) usually refers to smaller villes and grande ville for the bigger ones. The term métropole ( metropolis) or grande ville (big town or city) can be used for the biggest cities.


In Finland, there is no distinction between "city" and "town", both being known by the word kaupunki. A big city is called "suurkaupunki", similar to "Großstadt" in German. In local government, a local governing municipality or kunta can designate itself as a kaupunki by a simple vote in council.


Berlin, the largest city in Germany

The German word "Stadt" means both "town" and "city", while a town with more than 100,000 inhabitants is called a Großstadt (lit. a big "Stadt", equivalent to a 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 municipalities in their own right (kreisfreie Städte). In 2006, there were 82 cities with 100,000+ inhabitants in Germany. Germany's largest cities are Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne and Frankfurt while the largest urban area is in the Rhine-Ruhr region with over 12 million inhabitants. Frankfurt, Munich, Düsseldorf, Berlin, Stuttgart and Cologne are characterized as world cities or global cities.


The city plays an important role in the history of ancient Greece, in the form of the city-state.

Acropolis of Athens.

Hong Kong

Legally speaking the City of Victoria or Victoria City is the only city in the territory. It is named the "City of Victoria" in statutory law. Kowloon (including New Kowloon) is often said to be twin cities together with Victoria City. In his address to the territory's Legislative Council in 1966 and 1968 Governor David Trench called Tsuen Wan, Shatin and Castle Peak (now named Tuen Mun) new cities.

On global scale, however, Hong Kong as a whole is often referred to as one city, like London, Tokyo, Sydney, Melbourne or Wellington, although it includes many non-contiguous new towns/satellite cities, rural areas, island communities inaccessible by road, natural reserves and country parks.



Rajarhat in Kolkata is a newly established township, consisting of gated high rise apartment complexes.
DLF IT Park, New Town (Kolkata)





The primary subdivisions for local government in the Republic of Ireland are 26 counties and 5 cities, the latter being Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford. Although Kilkenny is administratively a borough, it is entitled to use the title city for ceremonial and tourist purposes, having been described as such in a royal charter in 1601.


Jerusalem – the largest city of Israel
Old Jaffa hill – near Tel Aviv, Israel. city of 4000 years

The term "city" is not a legal term. The Israel Interior Minister has authority to classify the municipalities and local authorities for local councils. Usually communities larger than 20,000 residents are recognized as municipalities. Under special circumstances, the Minister of the Interior can declare a city municipality with only 5,000 city residents. The smallest municipality in Israel is Or Akiva with less than 15,000 inhabitants. In contrast, Ramat Hasharon remained a local council, though over 35,000 people lived there. The law specifies additional criteria: the level of urban development, stability of the coalition of the local Council, services available to residents, reasonable and proper financial management. The declaration of a settlement as a city is made by the interior minister after a special investigative committee has examined these criteria. Each municipality has a mayor and council, elected in local elections supervised by the Ministry of Interior. The number of council members is determined by the number of city residents:

  • Up to 5,000 residents – 9 members.
  • 5,000 to 25,000 residents – up to 15 members.
  • 25,000 to 100,000 residents – up to 21 members.
  • 100,000 residents and more – 21 to 31 members.

Setting the city (as distinct from the legal term here means a geographical term) as presented in the Israel pavilion in Venice Architecture Biennale in 2000: "A city is a hotbed of people that allows them to simultaneously maintain other relationships with a diverse level of intimacy while maintaining complete anonymity." ("Anonymous intimacy")


In Italy a city is called a città, a noun derived from the Latin civitas, but towns are also called città. 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 Rome, Milan, Naples and Turin, are called aree metropolitane (metropolitan areas) because they include several minor cities and towns in their areas. In the coat of arms, a golden crown tower stands for a city.



In Japan a city is called a shi (市) where as a town is called a machi or chō (町) and a village is called a mura or son (村). The term for town can be used like the English term when referring to the centre of a large city. The capital city, Tokyo, has a special designation and is also known as ku (区) which is similar to municipal arrondissement in France. The definitions of shi or a city are as follows:

  1. Population is more than 50,000.
  2. 60% or more of buildings are in the city centre.
  3. 60% or more of the households work for non-primary sector of the economy.
  4. Has a system to function as a city. The definition of town differs by each prefecture minimum requirement of 4,000 to 15,000.


Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

In Malaysia, there are populated areas which are granted city status by law (bandar raya). However, there are also highly urbanised and populated areas which does not have city status, but are sometimes colloquially also referred to as cities. City status is granted to a place within a local government area. Other populated areas which does not have city status are legally categorised as a municipality or town.


Mexico City, the largest metropolis in the Americas and one of the largest of the world

The Mexican population is increasingly urban, with close to 75% of the population living in cities. The five largest metropolitan areas of Mexico ( Greater Mexico City, Greater Guadalajara, Greater Monterrey, Greater Puebla and Greater Tijuana) are home to 30% of the country's population.

In 2004, a joint effort between CONAPO (National Council of Population), INEGI and the Secretariat of Social Development (SEDESOL) agreed to define metropolitan areas as either:

  • The group of two or more municipalities in which a city with a population of at least 50,000 is located whose urban area extends over the limit of the municipality that originally contained the core city incorporating either physically or under its area of direct influence other adjacent predominantly urban municipalities all of which have a high degree of social and economic integration or are relevant for urban politics and administration.
  • A single municipality in which a city of a population of at least one million is located and fully contained, (that is, it does not transcend the limits of a single municipality).


In the Netherlands a city is called stad, in common with other Germanic languages. In the Dutch language there is no distinction between town and city (both are stad). Small settlements are distinguished similarly as in English, being called dorp (village) or gehucht (hamlet). In medieval times, a settlement had to achieve city-rights to be called a stad. In modern times, there is no Dutch law saying what can be called a city or not, although 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 "small city". Settlements under about 20,000 may be called dorp, "village". The four largest cities are Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, which together form the heart of the Randstad metropolitan conurbation.


the city gate of Abuja the new capital of Nigeria

New Zealand

Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand

In New Zealand, a local authority may be proclaimed a city only if it meets certain criteria. Specifically, "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." Some early settlements, such as Nelson and Christchurch, were proclaimed cities by royal charter. Later, laws established criteria for a town to meet before it could officially be proclaimed a city, and these criteria have changed over time. As of 1 November 2010 (2010-11-01), 13 of New Zealand's 67 territorial authorities will be officially styled cities.

In informal usage, a city is simply a large, important urban centre, regardless of the composition of its local government (which may be a combination of one or more cities or districts). For example, Gisborne, which purports to be the first city to see the sun, has a population of only 44,500 (2006), many of whom live outside the Gisborne urban area; it is, therefore, administered by a district council, not a city council. Some city councils, such as Christchurch and Dunedin, also administer large areas of rural hinterland; the communities in these areas, such as the towns of Akaroa and Middlemarch, are not often thought of as part of their cities, except for certain legal and administrative purposes. Meanwhile, the cities of Wellington and Auckland are generally regarded as single cities, despite Wellington's and, until recently, Auckland's being divided into several local government areas.

Statistics New Zealand has introduced the concept of main urban areas, which have a minimum population of 30,000. The 16 main urban areas identified in 2001 and 2006 correspond closely to the urban settlements traditionally regarded as cities.


In Norway a city is called by and is derived from the Norse word býr meaning "a place with many buildings". Both cities and towns can be referred to as by; however, in recent years, storby (lit. large city) has been used for larger settlements. The status of "town" 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. An area with a population of at least 50,000 is counted as a "city". Since 1997, cities no longer have special administrative functions.

Oslo, the capital and largest city in Norway

Gwadar, the new port city of Pakistan


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; Lahore, Multan and Peshawar are examples. After independence and the rapid increase in population that followed caused Karachi to become the nation's largest city, while the rapid industrialisation in the north of the country resulted in new towns increasing greatly in population; such as Sialkot and Faisalabad, these two cities grow in population also because of agriculture, social development and high rate of natural increase, whilst Rawalpindi, traditionally a garrison town became a large city due to the decision to build a new capital nearby.

Karachi, the nation's largest city and financial hub.

The construction of the new capital city of Pakistan, Islamabad, was completed in 1966. In 2001, a new Act formalised the distinction, by granting the 10 largest cities and metropolitan areas the status of city district, which for the first time gave areas the status of cities. The port city of Gwadar is essentially a town but is often designated as a city. Many towns in the country such as Gilgit and Bahwalpur are considered to be cities.


Congress is the lone legislative entity that can incorporate cities. Provincial and municipal councils can pass resolutions indicating a desire to have a certain area (usually an already-existing municipality or a cluster of barangays) declared a city after the requirements for becoming a city are met. As per Republic Act No. 9009, these requirements include the following:

  • locally generated income of at least PHP 100 million (based on constant prices in the year 2000) for the last two consecutive years, as certified by the Department of Finance, AND
  • a population of 150,000 or more, as certified by the National Statistics Office (NSO); OR a contiguous territory of 100 square kilometers, as certified by the Land Management Bureau, with contiguity not being a requisite for areas that are on two or more islands.
Makati City, in Metro Manila, the financial capital of the Philippines


Warsaw is the largest city in Poland

In Poland 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.

Poland's largest cities are: Warsaw, Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk, Szczecin, Bydgoszcz, Lublin and Katowice.


As in Spanish, 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 not in Brazil.

There is also the notion of grande área metropolitana (great metropolitan area). There are two main metropolitan areas: Lisbon (the capital), in the centre of the country and Porto 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.


Bucharest, Romania

Cities and towns in Romania can have the status either of municipiu or oraş. Smaller villages that do not apply to the city status are called comuna/comune (f., sing./pl.) and sat/sate (m., sing./pl.). By 2001 law, published on July 24, 2001 (M.O. number 408), there are 172 cities in Romania, and the minimum requirements for a settlement to be acknowledge as a iii-3rd rank city status are:

  • Population: over 5,000 citizens
  • Non-agricultural related activities: 75% people
  • Network of drinking water coverage for homes: 70% of street covering
  • Network of liquid waste recycle from homes: 55% of street covering
  • Waste water recycling facility
  • Water access-points for fire related incidents: 60% of the street covering
  • Paved streets or more: 50%
  • Hospital seats: 7 every 1000th citizen
  • Medical health care: 1.8 doctors per 1000th citizen
  • Hotel rooms: 50 seats
  • Public and permanent waste disposal
  • Primary school for children and a complementary school or at least one high school.
  • Cultural facilities: One free-access library, one show room, one public gym
  • One public garden : 10 sqm / citizen

In respect to the density of the cities, if it is more than 25 km to the next city, there are further benefits the mayor can access, fundings included.

A municipality is the next status after city-status by the same law, and Romania has 82 municipalities, plus the Municipality of Bucharest.


According to 2012 statistics, there are 14 cities in Russia which have a population of more that 1 million people — Moscow (the capital), Saint-Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Omsk, Kazan, Chelyabinsk, Rostov-on-Don, Ufa, Volgograd, Perm and Krasnoyarsk. These cities are called 'Millionaire' cities. Moscow and Saint Petersburg are also called 'Multimillionaire' cities, as their population is over 2 million people. Cities with population of 500.000–1.000.000 people, like Saratov, Izhevsk and Vladivostok, are called 'Biggest cities'; Cities with population of 250.000–500.000 people are called 'Big cities', and all others are called just 'City'. To gain a city status in Russia, cities population must be over 12.000 people, and number of citizens, employed in agricultural industry should be less than 15%. However, there are a lot of cities with population less than 12.000, like Primorsk are cities according to authorities, as they were cities historically, and this status grants several privileges to the settlement. There are plenty of towns with population more that 12.000 people in Russia, as well. This is also connected to several privileges.

360° Panorama of the Red Square in Moscow
Yekaterinburg skyline


Singapore used to have a city council, which administered the modern day "downtown core" and its vicinity. In the 1948 Legislative Council election the municipal was divided into two constituencies, returning two candidates each (and two constituencies with two seats in the area administered by the rural board). Before receiving its royal charter in 1951, the city council was named Municipal Commission. The rest of the colony had a separate Rural Board. Chief Minister Lee Kuan Yew abolished the city council and the rural board. Today the entire island country is often regarded as one city.

South Africa

South Africa has three capitals.

South Korea

South Korea has a system of dividing into metropolitan cities, provinces, a special city (Seoul) and one specially self-governing province ( Jeju-do). 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.
Seoul is the world's second largest metropolitan area.

South Sudan

South Sudan plans to build a new capital that will be called Ramciel.


Malmö, the third largest city in Sweden, connected to Denmark's capital city Copenhagen with the Oresund Fixed Link

Sweden canceled the official legal term City (in Swedish: stad) in the year 1971. Only the word municipality (in Swedish: kommun) prevails, making no legal difference between Stockholm and a countryside municipality. Before that there were a number of terms like "stad"/Town, "köping"/large village etc. The definition of City/Town (stad) was merely that it was given such a title. Since the 1980s some municipalities (13 out of 290) being "stad" before 1971, again call themselves town (stad), but only in tourist advertising. This has no legal or administrative significance whatsoever, and the municipalities have to use the word "kommun" by law. In other cases the seat of the municipality is called "town".

Today's Swedish terminology makes no distinction between city and town; both concepts translate to the single word "stad", but sometimes city is rendered "storstad" ("stor"- meaning "big"), while town is rendered "småstad" ("små-" meaning "small"). Statistics Sweden defines a "stad" as an urban area (in Swedish: tätort) of at least 10,000 inhabitants.

Taiwan (Republic of China)


There have been three separate definitions of a city in Turkey. The older definition, which defined a city as a settlement with more than 20,000 inhabitants is out of use and in the a city is now usually defined as the administrative centre of a province ( Turkish: il) There are 81 provincial centers in Turkey. Some of the district centers (Turkish: ilçe) are more populous and developed than the provincial centers.

But in 1984, the concept of metropolitan centers ( Turkish: Büyükşehir) was introduced. According to definition (revised as of 2004), a metropolitan centre is a settlement with more than 750 000 inhabitants. At present 16 of the provincial centers are metropolitan centers. For example cities like Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, Bursa, Antalya, Kayseri, Adana.


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 in 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," the name "urban-type settlement" ("селище міського типу", "selyshche mis'koho typu") is used, and also (informal) "містечко" ("mistechko"). The latter Ukrainian word is related to the word "місто," and can be translated as "small town".

United Kingdom

The skyline of London, the capital and largest city in the UK

In the United Kingdom, a city is a town which has been known as a city since time immemorial, or which has received city status by letters patent. In England and Wales, prior to 1907 the criterion was simply the establishment of an Anglican Cathedral. For example the small town of Ripon 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.

Newest cities created in the United Kingdom were in:

  • 2012 (Diamond Jubilee): Chelmsford, Perth and St Asaph
  • 2002 (Queen's Jubilee): Lisburn, Newport, Newry, Preston and Stirling.
  • 2000 (Millennium): Brighton and Hove, Inverness and Wolverhampton.

In the United Kingdom, when people talk about cities, they generally include the suburbs in that. Some cathedral cities, such as St David's in Wales and Wells in England, are quite small, and are not routinely thought of as cities due to their small size. Other places such as Reading, Northampton, Luton, Bournemouth, Stockport and Milton Keynes all harbour populations of over 200,000 inhabitants but are not cities.

Since local government reorganisation in 1974 the title of city has been awarded to a number of local government districts which are not themselves towns. Each of these cities includes a number of towns, villages or rural areas including the urban area from which the city takes its name. Examples include the cities of Bradford, Leeds, Newport, Preston, Wakefield and Winchester.

The situation in London is a historical anomaly: the City of Westminster and the City of London are geographically small but historically significant parts of the Greater London conurbation that have independent city status. Central London is often erroneously referred to as a 'city', where the City of London refers strictly to the square mile northwest of the Tower of London. City is used here to refer to the metropolis that comprises central London, or areas within central London.

A Review of Scotland's Cities led to the Fair City of Perth, Scotland, initially losing city status, until it won the right to be called a City again in the 2012 Diamond Jubilee competition. 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, otherwise it is called a hamlet.

The UK's five largest cities are generally considered to be London, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow, but this is based on the population of the urban area as a whole.

United States

New York City is the most populous city in the United States and an influential global city
Los Angeles is the second most populous city in the United States
Chicago is the third most populous city in the United States

In the United States of America, the classification of population centers is a matter of state law; consequently, the definition of a city varies widely from state to state. In some states, a city may be run by an elected mayor and city council or a city manager and city council, while a town is governed by the people, a select board (or board of trustees), or open town meeting. There are some very large municipalities that are labeled as towns (such as Hempstead, New York, with a population of 755,785 in 2004 or Cary, North Carolina with a population of 139,633 in 2011 ) and some very small cities (such as Woodland Mills, Tennessee, with a population of 296 in 2000), and the line between town and city, if it exists at all, varies from state to state. The lack of a clear-cut definition of a city in the United States can lead to some counter-intuitive labeling; for example, before it was dissolved in 2002 Maza, North Dakota, with only 5 inhabitants, was a city as by North Dakota law any incorporated location is deemed a city regardless of size. California has both towns and cities but the terms "town" and "city" are considered synonymous. The nation's top five largest cities are New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia.

In some U.S. states, any incorporated place 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 converse 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 Village, which started as a quiet country settlement but was absorbed by the growing city.

In Illinois, cities must have a minimum population of 2,500 but in Nebraska, cities must have a minimum of only 800 residents. In Oregon, Kansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa, all incorporated municipalities are cities. In Ohio, 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 Nebraska, 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 makes no distinction between incorporated towns or cities.

In all of the New England 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 Virginia, 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 Norton has a population of 3,904 and the largest town of Blacksburg has a population of 39,573. The other U.S. independent cities are Baltimore, Maryland; St. Louis, Missouri; and Carson City, Nevada.

In Pennsylvania, municipalites 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. Parker, Pennsylvania is sometimes referred to as the "Smallest City in the U.S.A.". In Pennsylvania, a village is simply an unincorporated community within a township.


Venezuela'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.

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 São Paulo, London, Istanbul, New York City, Chicago, Dubai, Hong Kong, Paris, Shanghai, Singapore, Mexico City, Sydney and Tokyo.

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 Istanbul, Jerusalem, Karbala, Lisbon, Mashhad, Mecca, and Rome 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.

Modern global cities, like New York City, often include large central business districts that serve as hubs for economic activity.
Modern global cities, like New York City, often include large central business districts that serve as hubs for economic activity.

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 Paris, 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 19th century 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 the United States 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

Panoramic view of Tirana, Albania from Mount Dajt in 2004.

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. Knowledge-based development of cities, globalization of innovation networks, and broadband services are driving forces of a new city planning paradigm towards intelligent cities. Intelligent / smart cities use technology and communication to create more efficient agglomerations in terms of competitiveness, innovation, environment, energy, utilities, governance, and delivery of services to the citizen. Some companies are building brand new masterplanned cities from scratch on greenfield sites.

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