city, densely populated urban center, larger than a village or a town, whose inhabitants are engaged primarily in commerce and industry. In the United States a city is legally an incorporated municipality (see also city government; local government).

The Rise of Cities

Cities have appeared in diverse cultures, e.g., among the Aztecs, Maya, and Inca and in China and India, Mesopotamia and Egypt, and ancient Greece and Rome (see city-state). In all these civilizations cities were the centers of internal change and development. From the decline of Rome the cities were in eclipse, and in Western Europe their role as centers of learning and the arts passed to the monasteries. The 11th cent. saw the resurgence of vigorous cities, first in Italy and then in northern Europe, due mainly to a revival of trade; by the 13th cent., with the decline of feudalism, the dynamic life of the Middle Ages was centered in the cities. This time marks the rise of the great modern cities, e.g., Milan, London, Paris, and the Hanseatic cities.

The Modern City

The giant modern city is a product of the Industrial Revolution, which introduced large-scale manufacturing. Sheer size aggravated existing problems of urban life; some of them, such as sanitation, utilities, and distribution, have been better solved than others, such as housing and transport. As urban life came to furnish more remunerative and varied employment opportunities, rural populations increasingly were attracted, and by the 20th cent. some nations were faced with shortages of agricultural workers.

Modern cities are often complex, with subcities within them, e.g., Newark, N.J., falls inside the New York metropolis. The word megalopolis is sometimes used to describe the great swath of communities stretching N and S of New York City from Boston to Washington, D.C. In Great Britain the term conurbation refers to a similar cluster of urban areas such as the one centered on London. There are similar complexes of cities in Asia, notably that of Wuhan in China.

Among movements to reform urban life, some aim at abolishing cities as known today; this is the tradition exemplified by William Blaker, Henry Thoreau, William Morris, and Eric Gill. There are also less radical designs, like rational city planning, the development of rapid transit to distant suburbs, and garden cities. There have been many reforms aimed at restoring community life for the rootless strangers so numerous in modern cities; such is a common function of settlement houses, community centers, and other philanthropic and cooperative enterprises.


See H. Pirenne, Medieval Cities (tr. 1925, repr. 1956); G. Glotz, The Greek City and Its Institutions (tr. 1929, repr. 1965); M. Weber, The City (tr. 1958); L. Mumford, The City in History (1961); J. Jacobs, The Economy of Cities (1969); S. Thernstrom and R. Sennett, ed., Nineteenth-Century Cities (1969); W. A. Robson and D. E. Regan, ed., Great Cities of the World (3d ed., 2 vol., 1972); P. Geddes, City Development (1973); J. Gottman, The Coming of the Transactional City (1983); D. Harvey, Consciousness and the Urban Experience (1985); W. Rybczynski, City Life: Urban Expectations in a New World (1995).

Ideal planned community as envisioned by the British town planner Ebenezer Howard (1850–1928). It was to be a small city that combined the amenities of urban and rural life; it would be compact, with contained growth. At the center would be a garden ringed with a civic and cultural complex, a park, housing, and industry, the whole surrounded by an agricultural green belt. Traffic would move along radial avenues and ring roads. The first garden city was built at Letchworth, England, in 1903. Though Howard's ideas have been widely influential, imitators have often ignored his stipulation that the town be a self-contained, true mixed-use community.

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Political system consisting of an independent city with sovereignty over a fixed surrounding area for which it served as leader of religious, political, economic, and cultural life. The term was coined in the 19th century to describe ancient Greek and Phoenician settlements that differed from tribal or national systems in size, exclusivity, patriotism, and ability to resist incorporation by other communities. They may have developed when earlier tribal systems broke down and splintered groups established themselves as independent nuclei circa 1000–800 BC; by the 5th century BC they numbered in the hundreds, with Athens, Sparta, and Thebes among the most important. Incapable of forming any lasting union or federation, they eventually fell victim to the Macedonians, the Carthaginians, and the Roman empire. In the 11th century the city-state revived in Italy; the success of medieval Italy's city-states, including Pisa, Florence, Venice, and Genoa, was due to growing prosperity from trade with the East, and several survived into the 19th century. Germany's medieval city-states included Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck. The only city-state extant today is Vatican City.

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Programs pursued as a means of improving the urban environment and achieving certain social and economic objectives. Evidence of urban planning can be found in the ruins of ancient cities, including orderly street systems and conduits for water and sewage. During the Renaissance, European city areas were consciously planned to achieve circulation of the populace and provide fortification against invasion. Such concepts were exported to the New World, where William Penn, in founding the city of Philadelphia, developed the standard gridiron plan—the laying out of streets and plots of land adaptable to rapid change in land use. Modern urban planning and redevelopment arose in response to the disorder and squalor of the slums created by the Industrial Revolution. The urban planner best known for his transformation of Paris was Georges-Eugène Haussmann. City planners imposed regulatory laws establishing standards for housing, sanitation, water supply, sewage, and public health conditions, and introduced parks and playgrounds into congested city neighbourhoods. In the 20th century, zoning—the regulation of building activity according to use and location—came to be a key tool for city planners. Seealso Pierre-Charles L'Enfant.

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Relatively permanent and highly organized centre of population, of greater size or importance than a town or village. The first cities appeared in Neolithic times when the development of agricultural techniques assured surplus crop yields large enough to sustain a permanent population. Ancient Greece saw the creation of the city-state, a form also important in the emergence of the Roman empire as well as the medieval Italian trading centers of Venice, Genoa, and Florence. After the Middle Ages, cities came increasingly under the political control of centralized government and served the interests of the nation-state. The Industrial Revolution further transformed city life, as factory cities blossomed rapidly in England, northwestern Europe, and the northeastern U.S. By the mid-20th century, 30–60percnt of a country’s population might be living in its major urban centers. With the rise of the automobile came the growth of suburbs and urban sprawl, as factories, offices, and residences erected in earlier periods became aged and obsolete. Today many cities suffer from lack of adequate housing, sanitation, recreational space, and transportation facilities, and face problems of inner-city decay or burgeoning shantytowns. Local governments have sought to alleviate these problems through urban planning.

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in full State of the Vatican City

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.Independent papal state, southern Europe, within the commune of Rome, Italy. Area: 109 acres (44 hectares). Population (2005 est.): 800. Its medieval and Renaissance walls form its boundaries except on the southeast at St. Peter's Square. Within the walls is the world's smallest independent nation-state, with its own diplomatic missions, newspaper, post office, radio station, banking system, army of 100 Swiss Guards, and publishing house. Extraterritoriality of the state extends to Castel Gandolfo and to several churches and palaces in Rome proper. Its independent sovereignty was recognized in the Lateran Treaty of 1929. The pope has absolute executive, legislative, and judicial powers within the city. He appoints the members of the Vatican's government organs, which are separate from those of the Holy See, the name given to the government of the Roman Catholic Church. The many imposing buildings include St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Palace, and the Vatican Museums. Frescoes by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, by Pinturicchio in the Borgia Apartment, and by Raphael in the Stanze (rooms in the papal apartments) are also there. The Vatican Library contains a priceless collection of manuscripts from the pre-Christian and Christian eras. The pope and other representatives of the papal state travel widely to maintain international relations.

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City (pop., 2000: 181,743), capital of Utah, U.S. Located on the Jordan River, near the southeastern end of Great Salt Lake, it was founded in 1847 by Brigham Young and a group of 148 Mormons as a refuge from religious persecution. It was known as Great Salt Lake City until 1868. It prospered from rail connections to become a hub of western commerce and became the state capital in 1896. The largest city in the state, it lies at an altitude of 4,390 ft (1,338 m). It is a commercial centre for nearby mining operations and has diversified manufacturing industries. It is the headquarters of the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which influences the social, economic, political, and cultural life of the state and region. It is the site of the Mormon Temple and Tabernacle. It was the host city of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.

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City (pop., 2000: 2,173,831), Luzon Island, Philippines, northeast of Manila. Named for Pres. Manuel Quezon, who selected the site in 1939, it replaced Manila as the capital in 1948. Considered part of metropolitan Manila, it began to grow after World War II with the construction of many government buildings. The seat of government moved back to Manila in 1976. The city is home to two major universities.

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City (pop., 2000: 415,964), capital of Panama. Near the Pacific Ocean entrance of the Panama Canal, on the Bay of Panama, the site was originally an Indian fishing village. The old city was founded in 1519 but was completely destroyed by British buccaneer Henry Morgan in 1671. It was rebuilt in 1674 just west of the old site. In 1751 the area became part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada and later part of Colombia. It was the centre of the Panamanian revolt against Colombia in 1903, when it became the capital of Panama. After the canal opened in 1914, the city developed rapidly, becoming the commercial and transportation centre of the country. The economy depends largely on revenue from canal traffic and associated services.

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City (pop., 2000: 506,132), capital of Oklahoma, U.S. Settled during the Oklahoma land rush in 1889, it was incorporated as a city in 1890 and became the state capital in 1910. It expanded rapidly after the discovery of petroleum in the area in 1928. The largest city in the state and its main commercial, financial, industrial, and transportation centre, it is the chief marketing and processing point for the livestock industry. It is home to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Myriad Gardens, and an annual rodeo competition. In 1995 it was the site of a deadly act of domestic terrorism, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed, killing 168 people and injuring 500.

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Preeminent U.S. ballet company. The company is descended from the American Ballet, which was founded by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein in 1935 and revived as the Ballet Society in 1946; it assumed its current name in 1948. Under Balanchine's artistic direction, the company became the leading U.S. ballet troupe, combining European classical ballet with American characterization and innovation and exerting enormous influence on American dance. It moved to its permanent home, the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, in 1964. Later artistic directors Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins contributed numerous works to its repertoire. Its leading dancers have included Maria Tallchief, Edward Villella, Jacques d'Amboise, and Suzanne Farrell.

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Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, New York City.

City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S. and an important seaport, it consists of five boroughs: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. The site of a Dutch trading post on Manhattan Island, it was colonized as New Amsterdam by Dutch director general Peter Minuit, who bought it from the Indians in 1626. The colony surrendered to the British in 1664 and was renamed New York. It was the capital of the state (1784–97) and of the U.S. (1789–90). The economy grew after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, and the city expanded rapidly after the American Civil War, developing transportation and communications systems. In 1898 the five boroughs were merged into a single city. Long a magnet for immigrants to the U.S., it is a centre of world trade and finance, media, art, entertainment, and fashion. Because of its prominence and its central role in world commerce, the city was a target for acts of terrorism. In September 2001, hijackers intentionally flew airliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, destroying them and destroying or damaging several adjacent buildings; the attacks killed some 2,800 people. See September 11 attacks.

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City (pop., 2000: 441,545), western Missouri, U.S., on the Missouri River. The city is contiguous with Kansas City, Kan. First settled by French fur traders in 1821, it was known as Westport, prospering as a river port and as the terminus for the Santa Fe Trail and the Oregon Trail. Chartered in 1850 as the town of Kansas and as a city in 1853, it was renamed Kansas City in 1889 to distinguish it from the territory. The state's largest city, it is an important marketing and shipping centre for a vast agricultural region and has extensive grain-storage and food-processing facilities. It is the seat of the University of Missouri at Kansas City and the world headquarters for the Church of the Nazarene.

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City (pop., 2000: 240,055), northeastern New Jersey, U.S. It lies opposite New York City. First settled by Dutch trappers (1618) and known as Paulus Hook, it was purchased from the Delaware Indians and established as a permanent settlement by 1660. In 1779, during the American Revolution, Henry Lee won a victory there over the British. Renamed Jersey City in 1820, it is a manufacturing centre.

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City (pop., 2000: 39,636), capital of Missouri, U.S. Located on the Missouri River near the centre of the state, it was selected as the site of the state capital in 1821. Named for Thomas Jefferson, it was incorporated as a town in 1825 and as a city in 1839. Loyalties were divided during the American Civil War, but it remained in the Union. The Capitol, completed in 1918, contains murals by Thomas Hart Benton. It is the trading centre for surrounding farmlands and has diversified manufacturing. Lincoln University was founded there by black veterans of the Union army in 1866.

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formerly Saigon

City (pop., 2004 est.: city, 3,452,100; 2005 est.: urban agglom., 5,065,000), southern Vietnam. It lies along the Saigon River north of the Mekong River delta. The Vietnamese first entered the region, then part of the kingdom of Cambodia, in the 17th century. In 1862 the area, including the town, was ceded to France. After World War II Vietnam declared its independence, but French troops seized control and the First Indochina War began. The Geneva conference in 1954 divided the country, and Saigon became the capital of South Vietnam. In the Vietnam War, it was the headquarters for U.S. military operations; it was captured by North Vietnamese troops in 1975 and renamed for Ho Chi Minh. Rebuilding since the war has promoted its commercial importance.

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City (pop., 2005 est.: 4,291,000), capital of the Republic of Singapore. A free port centred on the southern part of Singapore island, it so dominates the island that the republic is now commonly considered a city-state. Known as the Garden City for its many parks and tree-lined streets, it offers glimpses into the cultures brought to it by immigrants from all parts of Asia. It was traditionally founded by a Shrivijayan prince and was an important Malay city in the 13th century. Destroyed by the Javanese in the 14th century, it was refounded by Stamford Raffles of the British East India Company in 1819. It became the capital of the Straits Settlements in 1833 and developed as a port and naval base; today it is one of the world's great commercial centres. Its thriving banking, insurance, and brokerage firms make it the chief trading and financial centre of Southeast Asia. It is home to the National University of Singapore (1980).

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Imperial Palace complex in Beijing, containing hundreds of buildings and some 9,000 rooms. It served the emperors of China from 1421 to 1911. No commoner or foreigner was allowed to enter it without special permission. The moated palaces, with their golden tiled roofs and red pillars, are surrounded by high walls with a tower on each corner. The palaces consist of the outer throne halls and an inner courtyard, each palace forming an architectural whole. North of the front gate, a great courtyard lies beyond five marble bridges. Farther north, raised on a marble terrace, is the massive, double-tiered Hall of Supreme Harmony, once the throne hall, one of the largest wooden structures in China. The palaces and buildings are now public museums.

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State Capitol, Carson City, Nev.

City (pop., 2000: 52,457), capital of Nevada, U.S. Located east of Lake Tahoe and south of Reno, it was settled in 1858 and named for Kit Carson. The discovery of silver in 1859 in the nearby Virginia City area stimulated Carson City's economy. The federal government established a mint at Carson City, which later became the Nevada State Museum. Carson City became the state capital in 1864 when Nevada gained statehood.

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City (pop., 2000: 49,050), Belize. The chief seaport and former capital of Belize, it lies at the mouth of the Belize River, which was until the 10th century a heavily populated trade artery of the Maya empire. The British settled the area in the 17th century. The city, built on ground only slightly above sea level, has been ravaged by hurricanes, so the capital was moved inland to Belmopan in 1970.

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City (pop., 2000: 40,517) and resort, southeastern New Jersey, U.S. Lying on narrow Absecon Island, the resort began to be developed in the mid-19th century. Amusement piers were constructed, and the first beachfront boardwalk was built there in 1870. The Miss America Pageant was established in Atlantic City in 1921. After World War II the city began to decline. In 1976 the state approved legalized gambling, and extensive development in Atlantic City provided a huge influx of money to the resort, but much of the surrounding area remained impoverished.

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A city is an urban area with a large population and a particular administrative, legal, or historical status.

Large industrialized cities generally have advanced systems for sanitation, utilities, land usage, housing, and transportation and more. This close proximity greatly facilitates interaction between people and firms, benefiting both parties in the process. However, there is debate now whether the age of technology and instantaneous communication with the use of the Internet are making cities obsolete.

A big city, or metropolis, may have suburbs. Such cities are usually associated with metropolitan areas and urban sprawl, creating large amounts of business commuters. Once a city sprawls far enough to reach another city, this region can be deemed a conurbation or megalopolis.

The birth of cities

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

Cities or agriculture first?

The conventional view holds that cities first formed after the Neolithic revolution. The Neolithic revolution brought agriculture, which made denser human populations possible, thereby supporting city development . The advent of farming encouraged hunter-gatherers to abandon nomadic lifestyles and to choose to settle near others who lived off of 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 as he provides a seemingly straightforward argument, which makes agricultural activity appear necessary before true cities can form.

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

In her book “The Economy of Cities,” Jane Jacobs makes the controversial claim that city-formation preceded the birth of agriculture. Jacobs does not lend her theory to any strict definition of a city, but her account suggestively contrasts what could only be thought of as primitive city-like activity to the activity occurring in neighboring hunter-gatherer settlements.

To argue that cities came first, Jacobs offers a fictitious scenario where a valued natural resource leads to primitive economic activity that eventually creates conditions for the discovery of grain culture. Jacobs calls the imaginary city New Obsidian, where a stock of obsidian is controlled and traded with neighboring hunting groups. Those that do not control the stock demand the obsidian, so hunters travel great distances to barter what they have. Hunters value obsidian because “[o]bsidian makes the sharpest tools to be had" . Hunters arrive with live animals and produce, providing New Obsidian with food imports. When New Obsidians want goods that they do not have access to at their settlement, they take the obsidian as a currency to other settlements for trade. This basic economic activity turns the little city into a sort of “depot” where, in addition to exporting obsidian, a service of obtaining, handling and trading of goods that are brought in from elsewhere are made available for secondary customers. This activity brings more people to the center as jobs are created and goods are being traded. Among the goods traded are seeds of all different sorts and they are stored in unprecedented combinations. In various ways, some accidental, the seeds are sown, and the variation in yields among the different types of seeds are readily observed, more readily than they would 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, New Obsidians find that their grain yields are the best and for the first time “the selection becomes deliberate and conscious. The choices made now are purposeful, and they are made among various strains of already cultivated crosses, and their crosses, mutants and hybrids . The new way of producing food allows for food surplus and the surplus is offset by the population increase that results from an increase in labor that the new production method has created. The new source of food allows New Obsidian to switch its imports from mostly food, to mostly other materials that neighboring settlements are rich in, but could not barter with before. The craftsman that develop in New Obsidian make good use of the explosion of the new material imports and the work to be done increases rapidly along with the population as neighboring settlements are absorbed by the city activities.

Why do cities form?

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

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

The inputs depend on the length of the perimeter:

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

So there are increasing returns to scale:

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

Also, economies of scale:

(4) I = 4O^{1/2}. This equation (combining (1) and (2)) shows that the same output requires less input. “Cities, then, economize on protection, and so protection against marauding barbarian armies is one reason why people have come together to live in cities…” .

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


Modern city planning has seen many different schemes for how a city should look. The most commonly seen pattern is the grid, favoured by the Romans, almost a rule in parts of the Americas, and used for thousands of years in China. Derry was the first ever planned city in Ireland, begun in 1613, with the walls being completed five years later. The central diamond within a walled city with four gates was thought to be a good design for defence. The grid pattern 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. Fifteen centuries earlier the Indus Valley Civilization was using grids in such cities as Mohenjo-Daro. Grid plans were popular among planners in the 19th century; such plans were typical in the American West, in places such as Salt Lake City and San Francisco. 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 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.


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 other’s 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 not all ancients cities fit into this well, but it is used as a general touchstone when considering ancient cities.

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

Ancient times

Early cities developed in a number of regions of the ancient world. Mesopotamia can claim the earliest cities, particularly Eridu, Uruk, and Ur. Although it has sometimes been claimed that ancient Egypt lacked urbanism, in fact several types of urban settlements were found in ancient times. The Indus Valley Civilization and China are two other areas of the Old World with major indigenous urban traditions. Among the early Old World cities, Mohenjo-daro of the Indus Valley Civilization in present-day Pakistan was one of the largest, with an estimated population of 40,000 or more. Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, the large Indus capitals, were among the first cities to use grid plans, drainage, flush toilets, urban sanitation systems, and sewage systems. At a somewhat later time, a distinctive urban tradition developed in the Khmer region of Cambodia, where Angkor grew into one of the largest cities (in area) the world has ever seen.

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

This roster of early urban traditions is notable for its diversity. Excavations at early urban sites show that some cities were sparsely-populated political capitals, others were trade centers, and still other cities had a primarily religious focus. Some cities had large dense populations whereas others carried out urban activities in the realms of politics or religion without having large associated populations. Theories that attempt to explain ancient urbanism by a single factor such as economic benefit fail to capture the range of variation documented by archaeologists (Smith 2002). The growth of the population of ancient civilizations, the formation of ancient empires concentrating political power, and the growth in commerce and manufacturing led to ever greater capital cities and centres of commerce and industry, with 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 a million people by the end of the first century BC, after growing continually during the 3rd, 2nd, and 1st centuries BCE. And it is generally considered the largest city before 19th century London. 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 CE that counted 180,000 adult male citizens in Alexandria. Similar administrative, commercial, industrial and ceremonial centres emerged in other areas, most notably Baghdad, which to some urban historians, later became the first city to exceed a population of one million by the 8th century instead of Rome.

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

Middle Ages

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

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 late 18th 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.citation needed

Industrial Age

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

External effects

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

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

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

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

The difference between towns and cities

The difference between towns and cities is differently understood in different parts of the world. Indeed, languages other than English often use a single word for both concepts (French ville, German Stadt, Swedish Stad, etc.). 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. Although city can refer to an agglomeration including suburban and satellite areas, the term is not usually applied to a conurbation (cluster) of distinct urban places, nor for a wider metropolitan area including more than one city, each acting as a focus for parts of the area. And the word "town" (also "downtown") may mean the center of the city.

Australia and New Zealand

In Australia, city in its broadest terms refers simply to any large enough town. Narrower usage can refer to a local government area, or colloquially to the central business district of a large urban area. For instance the City of South Perth is a local government area within the wider urban area known as Perth, commonly called Australia's fourth largest city. Residents of Perth might speak of travelling to the CBD as "going to the city".

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



In Canada the granting of city status is handled by the individual provinces and territories, so that the definitions and criteria vary widely across the country. In British Columbia and Saskatchewan towns can become cities after they reach a population of 5,000 people, but in Alberta the requirement is 10,000. Ontario sometimes confers city status on primarily rural areas, while Nova Scotia have abolished the title of city altogether. In Québec cité used to be different from ville (both translate to "city", the former being slightly poetic or archaic), but this difference was abolished in the late 90s.


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


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 as urban areas.


The German word for both "town" and "city" is Stadt, while a town with more than 100,000 inhabitants is called a Großstadt (major city), which is the most adequate equivalence for city (in terms of differentiating it from a town). On the other hand, most towns are communities belonging to a Landkreis (county), but there are some cities, usually with at least 50,000 inhabitants, that are counties by themselves (kreisfreie Städte).


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


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

Main article List of cities in Norway


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.


In Portugal an urban area is called "cidade" ou "vila". There is also a the notion of "Grande Área Metropolitana" and "Comunidade Urbana". In general, a "cidade" is a place with more than 8.000 electors (more or less 10.000 inhabitants) and at least half of the following services: hospital, pharmacy, fire department, theatre/cultural house, museum, library, hostel services, basic and secondary schools, public transport and gardens/urban parks. A cidade's coat of arms has five towers, while a vila's has only four. A Grande Área Metropolitana is a wide urban area with at least 350.000 inhabitants and is composed by at least 9 municipalities. A Comunidade Urbana must have more than 150.000 inhabitants. 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, being one of the most important western European cities. A city deeply connected with the sea, history, tourism and other services. Greater Metropolitan Area of Porto has over 2 million inhabitants developing a considerable part of the portuguese economy nowadays.

South Korea

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


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

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom (UK), a city is a town which has been known as a city since time immemorial, or which has received city status by letters patent — which is normally granted on the basis of size, importance or royal connection (the traditional test was whether the town had a cathedral) to gain city status. For example the small town of 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. 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 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 Review of Scotland's Cities led to the Fair City of Perth, Scotland, losing city status. By both legal and traditional definition, a town may be of any size, but must contain a market place. A village must contain a church. A small village without a church is called a hamlet.

United States

In the United States (USA), the definition of cities (and town, villages, townships, etc.) is a matter of state laws and the definitions vary widely by state. A city may, in some places, be run by an elected mayor and city council, while a town is governed by people, select board (or board of trustees), or open town meeting. There are some very large towns (such as Hempstead, New York, with a population of 755,785 in 2004) and some very small cities (such as Lake Angelus, Michigan, with a population of 326 in 2000), and the line between town and city, if it exists at all, varies from state to state. Cities in the United States do have many oddities, like Maza, North 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). California has both towns and cities but the terms "town" and "city" are considered synonymous.

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

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

In Illinois, cities must have a minimum population of 2,500 but in Nebraska, cities must have a minimum of only 800 residents. In Idaho, Oregon, Kansas, 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.

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

Global cities

A global city, also known as a world city, is a prominent centre of trade, banking, finance, 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 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. Other global cities include Singapore which is a city-state, Chicago, Los Angeles, Frankfurt, Milan and Hong Kong which are all classed as "Alpha World Cities" and San Francisco, Sydney, Toronto, Zürich, Madrid, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Brussels, Moscow and Seoul which are "Beta World Cities". A third tier containing Barcelona, Taipei, Lisbon, Osaka, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Montreal, Manila, Rome, Washington, Berlin, and Santiago, among others is called "Gamma 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, Delhi, Mumbai, Istanbul, Mecca, Mashhad, Karbala, Karachi, Lahore, Jerusalem and Lisbon are powerful in religious and historical terms but would not be considered "global cities." Additionally, it has been questioned whether the city itself can be regarded as an actor.

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

Inner city

In the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland, the term "inner city" is sometimes used with the connotation of being an area, perhaps a ghetto, where people are less wealthy and where there is more crime. These connotations are less common in other Western countries, as deprived areas are located in varying parts of other Western cities. In fact, with the gentrification of some formerly run-down central city areas the reverse connotation can apply. In Australia, for example, the term "outer suburban" applied to a person implies a lack of sophistication. In 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 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.

See also


Social problems in the city


  • Chandler, T. Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth: An Historical Census. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1987.
  • Geddes, Patrick, City Development (1904)
  • Modelski, G. World Cities: –3000 to 2000. Washington, DC: FAROS 2000, 2003.
  • Monti, Daniel J., Jr., The American City: A Social and Cultural History. Oxford, England and Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1999. 391 pp. ISBN 978-1-55786-918-0.
  • Mumford, Lewis, The City in History (1961)
  • Reader, John (2005) Cities. Vintage, New York.
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  • Weber, Max, The City, 1921. (tr. 1958)

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