The City


A city is a relatively large and permanent urban 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, an article of incorporation approved by the local state legislature distinguishes a city government from a town in Massachusetts. In the United Kingdom and parts of the Commonwealth of Nations, a city is traditionally a settlement with a royal charter. Historically, in Europe, a city was understood to be an urban settlement with a cathedral, hence the official status of St David's as a city in the United Kingdom despite its population of 1,797 in 2001.

Cities generally have advanced 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 sprawl, creating numerous business commuters traveling to urban centers of employment. Once a city sprawls far enough to reach another city, this region can be deemed a conurbation or megalopolis.


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 planned city in Ireland, begun in 1613, with the walls being completed five years later. The central diamond within a walled city with four gates was thought to be a good design for defence. The grid pattern was widely copied in the colonies of British North America.

The Ancient Greeks often gave their colonies around the Mediterranean a grid plan. One of the best examples is the city of 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 + town walls). In cities such as Amsterdam and Haarlem, and 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 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.[9] 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.