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What is a city?

By tennisjeff1 Apr 09, 2014 961 Words

URS 1006
31 March 2014
City Title
What is a city? People often confuse a city for a town. Merriam-Webster definition of a city is “A place where people live that is larger or more important than a town: an area where many people live and work.” (Merriam Webster definition). The definition of a town is “an urban area that has a name, defined boundaries, and local government, and that is generally larger than a village and smaller than a city.” The official definitions of these terms do not help clarify the question we are looking for. A city has many more characteristics than being a bigger version of a town. The characteristics of a city have changed over time. (NEED MORE ON INTRO)

Gordon Childe wrote an article, The Town Planning Review, in 1950 in which Childe defined an ancient historic city in ten different metrics. First, “In point of size the first cities must have been more extensive and more densely populated than any previous settlements.” Webster dictionary used this example as the main characteristic of a city. Second, “In composition and function the urban population already differed from that of any village.” Differentiation between people leads to specialization which is an essential quality for a city to thrive. Next, Childe stated that “Each primary producer paid over the tiny surplus he could wring from the soil with his still very limited technical equipment as tithe or tax to an imaginary deity or a divine king who thus concentrated the surplus.” Paying tax to a deity or a divine king doesn’t exist anymore but this is similar to paying taxes to the government and other types of federal taxes. Fourth, “Truly monumental public buildings not only distinguish each known city from any village but also symbolize the concentration of the social surplus.” Childe suggested that monumental public buildings such as libraries, religious buildings, and many more buildings that stand out from others help clarify what is a city. Childe’s next metric also only exists in historic times. “All those not engaged in food-production were of course supported in the first instance by the surplus accumulated in temple or royal granaries and were thus dependent on temple or court.” The United States Government has the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or more commonly known as the Food Stamp program. This program is similar in nature to this metric in how a federal or higher power would give out surplus in food to the less fortunate or those not helping produce. Childe’s sixth metric has to deal with recording data and having practical sciences to help a city survive and prosper. Not having documents recorded and doctors practicing science a city could not be able to survive. “They were in fact compelled to invent systems of recording and exact, but practically useful, sciences.” Childe’s next two steps exist in all types of places not just cities. He discusses how a historic city needs to have a system in writing and in the other metric a city would have to develop many items of symbolic art. Nowadays every place has art along with a form of writing. Metrics nine and ten deal with each other in how surplus is used to pay for importing raw materials needed for industries. These raw materials, then for the last metric, would be given to specialist craftsmen to create what their trait specializes in. Childe’s metrics are very helpful in determining how to define a city. Some of them deal with ancient times, but many of them are still used to give explanations on clarifying what is a city. Another great historian and sociologist who contributed to studying on cities and urban architecture was Lewis Mumford.

Mumford has written many books, articles, and other writings about cities. One of Mumford’s main books, “What is a City”, helped clarify and gave insight on what makes a city different. “The essential physical means of a city’s existence are the fixed site, the durable shelter, permanent facilities for assembly, interchange, and storage.” A city has to have certain physical means to be able to strive. Lewis Mumford described about the sociological concept of a city. (ADD MORE QUOTES ABOUT SOCIOLOGICAL ASPECTS)

One problem determining what is a city is the different classifications used by different countries. “The definition of a city in the UK is a place which has been granted city status by the monarch. There are 66 cities in the UK - 50 in England, five in Wales, six in Scotland and five in Northern Ireland.” This is the way United Kingdom classifies what is a city and what is not. United Kingdom doesn’t believe in size being a factor. St Davids is the smallest city in the United Kingdom with 1,600 inhabitants. “They certainly won't get any tax breaks or extra powers or a pretty new square.” What is so special of being a city if they don’t get anything different besides just the title of being a city? Some professors believe that the whole title of being a city is a status thing and nothing more. Being able to say the place where we live is a city and not a town anymore. Cities can also lose their status overnight for not meeting certain qualifications. “A place can also stop being a city overnight. Rochester lost its city status in 1998 due to a technical oversight when the local government structure was reorganized. It took four years for them to realize they had lost it.” For them to realize they haven’t been a city for four years after they lost it means how little some places in United Kingdom do not care about the official title of being a city. Possibly add another country?

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