What Is a City?


23 Mar 2015 18 Dec 2017

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What properties characterizes a ‘city'? The definition of the term “city” is some what ambiguous. Our modern definition merely describes the physical characteristics of a city. However, I believe the definition has passed many ordeals to evolve into the current state as I will explain the few more popular explanations for “What is a city?”
Firstly, a city has the property of proximity where there are educational institutions, entertainment, medical facilities, friends and family etc with a good infrastructure system. Businesses enterprises will often situate themselves in a centralized hub where they have access to labour forces while being close to markets therefore it makes “daily commuting between residences and workplaces” (Filion & Bunting, 2006, pg.5) possible.

Mumford, on the other hand describes a city as a “geographic plexus, an economic organization, an institutional process, a theatre of social action, and an aesthetic symbol of collective unity” (Mumford, 2007, pg.87) by focussing on the social needs rather than physical structure. This means that art, politics, education, commerce only serves to make the “drama more richly significant, as a stage-set, well-designed, intensifies and underlines the gestures of the actors and the action of the play” (Mumford, 2007, pg.87).

Contrasting Mumford's concept with Wirth's, one observes a more focused perspective on urbanism and its effect on our quality of life. Wirth defines a city “as a relatively large, dense, and permanent settlement of socially heterogeneous individuals” (Wirth, 2007, pg.90). His argument is that the greater the number of individuals participating in a interaction process, the greater the potential differentiation is between them. These variations segregate individuals according to color, race, ethnic, social status and preferences. Although we are physically close, our social contacts are distant, which results in the declining significance of the family; the disappearance of the neighborhood and the undermining of the traditional basis of social solidarity.

After much consultation from scholars, the question: “What is a City?” is still difficult to answer. On basic observation, a city can simply be a workplace as suggested by Filion & Bunting. However I believe a city is a much more complex combination of hierarchies, both the physically and the socially, as Mumford and Wirth stated. A city is the organized interconnection between the site and structure and its people. Such as, the city needs a water system, different variety of jobs to offer its people, a governing system but these systems cannot operate without the people its accommodating, which is how it all connects and flows like a stage with its actors just like in Mumford's ‘theatre'. The city is a mere constitution of the people who reside in it. It is only a city, as long as it's residence will give the name and credibility in the social and physical hierarchy.

Work Cited

Bunting, Trudi. “Canadian Cities in Transition”, Third Edition. Canada: Oxford, 2006.

Mumford, Lewis “What is a City?” In The City Reader, Fourth Edition, eds. R. Legates and F. Stout, 85-89. London: Routledge, 2007.

Wirth, Louis “Urbanism as a Way of Life.” In The City Reader, Fourth Edition, eds. R. Legates and F. Stout, 90-97. London: Routledge, 2007.


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