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Defining the City and Levels of Urbanization

Publication Abstract

Frey, William H., and Zachary Zimmer. "Defining the City and Levels of Urbanization." PSC Research Report No. 98-423. 9 1998.

Compared to the entire history of human evolution, it has only been fairly recently that people have begun to live in dense urban agglomerations. Despite the rapid transformation of societies from primarily rural to primarily urban, and the importance of this evolution for the study of human populations, the notion of urban remains fleeting, changing from time to time, differing across political boundaries, and being modified depending upon the purpose that the definition of urban would serve. The difficulties encountered in defining urban create barriers to completely understanding the phenomenon and finding solutions to a host of social problems that involve the urban population.

In order to place the city of today into context, this paper is divided into two parts. First, we examine past, present and future trends in urban growth. To do this, we briefly review the history of urban formation, and then examine trends in urban growth, and in specific cities in the recent past and into the near future using population projections. Second, we elaborate on a number of concepts concerning the meaning of the term urban. We begin by defining the city of today in terms of several criteria, such as function and space. We then go on to concentrate on a single example, the United States, to further clarify the evolution of the city definition. We conclude by suggesting a new definition of the City that better defines today's agglomerations, the 'Functional Community Area'.

Dataset(s): Estimates and Projections of Urban and Rural Populations and of Urban Agglomerations. Compiled by United Nations (1994 revisions).

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