2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: General Geography

The city of Chicago, as seen from the sky
The city of Chicago, as seen from the sky

A city is an urban area that is differentiated from a town, village, or hamlet by size, population density, importance, or legal status. In most parts of the world, cities are generally substantial and nearly always have an urban core, but in the United States many incorporated areas which have a very modest population, or a suburban or even mostly rural character, are designated as cities. City can also be a synonym for " downtown" or a " city centre".

A city usually consists of residential, industrial and business areas together with administrative functions which may relate to a wider geographical area. A large share of a city's area is primarily taken up by housing, which is then supported by infrastructure such as roads, streets and often public transport routes such as a rapid transit system. Lakes and rivers may be the only undeveloped areas within the city. The study of cities is covered extensively in human geography.


Map of Haarlem, the Netherlands, of around 1550. The city is completely surrounded by a city wall and defensive canal. The square shape is inspired by Jerusalem
Map of Haarlem, the Netherlands, of around 1550. The city is completely surrounded by a city wall and defensive canal. The square shape is inspired by Jerusalem

The geographies of cities, both physical and human, are diverse. Cities are often coastal, with harbours for shipping, or situated near rivers to give an economic advantage. Water transport on rivers and oceans was (and in most cases remains) cheaper and more efficient than road transport over long distances.

Older European cities often have historically intact central areas where the streets are jumbled together, seemingly without a structural plan. This quality is a legacy of earlier unplanned or organic development, and is often perceived by today's tourists to be picturesque. In contrast, planned cities founded after the advent of the automobile tend to have expansive boulevards impractical to navigate on foot.

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 New World, and used for thousands of years in China. Derry was the first ever planned city in Ireland, begun in 1613, with the walls being completed 5 years later in 1618. The central diamond within a walled city with four gates was thought to be a good design for defence. The grid pattern chosen was widely copied in the colonies of British North America. However, the grid has been around for far longer than the British Empire. 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 even had its different districts, much like modern city planning today. Also in Medieval times we see a preference for linear planning. Good examples are the cities established in the south of France by various rulers and city expansions in old Dutch and Flemish cities.

Other forms may include a radial structure in which main roads converge on a central point, often the effect of successive growth over long time with concentric traces of town walls and citadels - recently supplemented by ring-roads that take traffic around the edge of a town. Many Dutch cities are structured this way: a central square surrounded by a concentric canals. Every city expansion would imply a new circle (canals + town walls). In cities like Amsterdam and Haarlem, and elsewhere, such as in Moscow, this pattern is still clearly visible.

History of cities

Towns and cities have a long history, although opinions vary on whether any particular ancient settlement can be considered to be a city. 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. 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 powerful 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 define as an absence of physical space between people and firms.

By this definition, the first cities we know of were located in Mesopotamia, such as Eridu, Uruk, and Ur, and in Egypt along the Nile, the Indus Valley Civilization and China. Before this time it was rare for settlements to reach significant size, although there were exceptions such as Jericho, Çatalhöyük and Mehrgarh. Among the early cities, Mohenjo-daro of the Indus Valley Civilization was the largest, with an estimated population of 41,250 , as well as the most developed in many ways, as it was the first to use urban planning, municipal governments, grid plans, drainage, flush toilets, urban sanitation systems, and sewage systems.

The growth of the world population, the growth of ancient empires, 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), and successive Chinese, Indian and Muslim capitals approaching or exceeding the half-million population level.

It is estimated that ancient Rome had a population of about half a million people by the end of the first century. Alexandria's population was also close to Rome's population at around the same time (in a census dated from 32 CE, Alexandria had 180,000 adult male citizens). Similar administrative, commercial, industrial and ceremonial centres emerged in other areas, most notably Baghdad, which later became the first city to exceed a population of one million by the 8th century.

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 weren't 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.

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.

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 economy fuelled by the silver of Peru. By the late 18th century, London had become the largest city in the world with a population of over a million, while Paris rivalled the well-developed regionally-traditional capital cities of Baghdad, Beijing, Istanbul and Kyoto.

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 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 about 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 a urban area.

Environmental effects

Modern cities are known for creating their own microclimates. This is due to the large clustering of hard surfaces that heat up in sunlight and that channel rainwater into underground ducts. As a result, city weather is often windier and cloudier than the weather in the surrounding countryside. Conversely, because these effects make cities warmer (urban heat shield or urban heat islands) than the surrounding area, tornadoes tend to go around cities. Additionally, towns can cause significant downstream weather effects.

Garbage and sewage are two major problems for cities, as is air pollution coming from internal combustion engines (see public transport). The impact of cities on places elsewhere, be it hinterlands or places far away, is considered in the notion of city footprinting (ecological footprint).

The difference between towns and cities

The difference between towns and cities is differently understood in different parts of the English speaking world. There is no one standard international 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. 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.

United Kingdom

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 — which is normally granted on the basis of size, importance or royal connection (traditional pointers have been whether the town has a cathedral or a university). Some cathedral cities, such as St David's in Wales and Wells in England, are quite small, and may not be known as cities in common parlance. Preston became England's newest city in the year 2002 to mark the Queen's jubilee, as did Newport in Wales, Stirling in Scotland, and Lisburn and Newry in Northern Ireland.

A similar system existed in the medieval Low Countries where a landlord would grant settlements certain privileges ( city rights) that settlements without city rights didn't have. This include the privilege to put up city walls, hold markets, or set up a judicial court.

Australia and New Zealand

In Australia and New Zealand, city is used to refer both to units of local government, and as a synonym for urban area. For instance the City of South Perth is part of the urban area known as Perth, commonly described as a city. On the other hand, Gisborne is known as the first city to see the sun, despite being administered by a district council, not a city council.

United States

In most U.S. states, a city is designated by the election of a mayor and city council, while a town is governed by a town manager, select board (or board of trustees), or open town meeting. There are some very large towns (such as Hempstead, New York, with a population of 755,785 in 2004) and some very small cities (such as Shafer, Minnesota, with a population of 343 in 2000), and the line between town and city, if it exists at all, varies from state to state. Cities n the United States do have many oddities, like Maza, North Dakota, the smallest city in the country, has only 5 inhabitants, but is still incorporated. It does not have an active government, and the mayoral hand changes frequently (due to the lack of city laws), but it is considered a relatively inactive government.

In many U.S. states, any incorporated town is called a city. Those places are also called towns, of course. If a distinction is being made between towns and cities, exactly what that distinction is often depends on the context—it 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 also make a distinction between villages and other forms of municipalities. Even though Americans are aware that "village" means something smaller than a town, the word has often been co-opted by enterprising developers to make their projects sound welcoming and friendly. The results are villages with 20 and 30-story high-rises, like Westwood Village in Los Angeles. Another 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 all the New England states, city status is conferred by the form of government, not population. Town government has a board of selectmen for the executive branch, and a town meeting for the legislative branch. 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, a town is an incorporated municipality which remains a part of an adjacent or surrounding county. All incorporated municipalities designated as cities are independent of the adjacent or surrounding county. The largest incorporated municipalities are all cities, although some smaller cities have a lower 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.

Global cities

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

A global city, also known as a world city, is a prominent centre of trade, banking, finance, innovations, 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. Examples of such cities include London, New York City, Paris, Tokyo and São Paulo. 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 terms 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 . Other global cities include Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Milan, Chicago and Singapore which are all classed as "Alpha World Cities" and San Francisco, Sydney, Toronto and Zürich, which are "Beta World Cities".

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 Rome, Istanbul and Mecca 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. To be successful, a city needs to have 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 Republic of 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).

The United States, in particular, has a culture of anti-urbanism that some say dates back as far as Thomas Jefferson who wrote that "The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government as sores do to the strength of the human body." On the businessmen who brought manufacturing industry into cities and hence increased the population density necessary to supply the workforce, he wrote "the manufactures of the great cities... have begotten a depravity of morals, a dependence and corruption, which renders them an undesirable accession to a country whose morals are sound." 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 on foot.

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.

Retrieved from ""