City - Distinction Between Cities and Towns

Distinction Between Cities and Towns

There are probably as many different ways of conceiving what a city is as there are cities. A simple definition therefore has its attractions. The simplest is that a city is a human settlement in which strangers are likely to meet.

Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man, 1977, p. 39.

The difference between towns and cities is differently understood in different parts of the world. Indeed, some languages other than English use a single word for both concepts. Iberian languages typically use a three-way designation (Catalan: “poble”, vila, “ciutat”; Galician: “aldea”, “vila”, “cidade”; Portuguese: “aldeia”, “vila”, “cidade”; Spanish: “pueblo”, “villa”, “ciudad”—respectively “village”, “town”, “city”); Italian: “villaggio”, "paese" “città”—respectively “village”, "village/town", “city/town”;, but other Romance languages don’t (French: “village”, “ville”).

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. In England, city is reserved for very large settlements and smaller historic settlements with a Cathedral (e.g. Lichfield), while smaller settlements without a Cathedral are called towns, and smaller still are villages and hamlets. In the US city is used for much smaller settlements.

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.

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