An urban area is characterized by higher population density and vast human features in comparison to the areas surrounding it. Urban areas may be cities, towns or conurbations, but the term is not commonly extended to rural settlements such as villages and hamlets.
Urban areas are created and further developed by the process of urbanization. Measuring the extent of an urban area helps in analyzing population density and urban sprawl, and in determining urban and rural populations.
Unlike an urban area, a metropolitan area includes not only the urban area, but also satellite cities plus intervening rural land that is socio-economically connected to the urban core city, typically by employment ties through commuting, with the urban core city being the primary labor market.
In the US, Metropolitan areas tend to be defined using counties or county sized political units as building blocks of much larger, albeit more condensed population units. Counties tend to be stable political boundaries; economists prefer to work with economic and social statistics based on metropolitan areas. Urbanized areas are a more relevant statistic for determining per capita land usage and densities.
- 1 Definitions
- 2 See also
- 3 References
- 4 External links
Definitions vary somewhat between nations. European countries define urbanized areas on the basis of urban-type land use, not allowing any gaps of typically more than 200 m, and use satellite imagery instead of census blocks to determine the boundaries of the urban area. In less developed countries, in addition to land use and density requirements, a requirement that a large majority of the population, typically 75%, is not engaged in agriculture and/or fishing is sometimes used.
In Australia, urban areas are referred to as "urban centres" and are defined as population clusters of 1000 or more people, with a density of at least 200/km2.
According to IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) urban areas already concentrate 84.35% of the population, while the Southeast region remains the most populated one, with over 80 million inhabitants. The largest metropolitan areas in Brazil are São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte — all in the Southeastern Region — with 19.5, 11.5, and 5.1 million inhabitants respectively. The majority of state capitals are the largest cities in their states, except for Vitória, the capital of Espírito Santo, and Florianópolis, the capital of Santa Catarina. There are also non-capital metropolitan areas in the states of São Paulo (Campinas, Santos and the Paraíba Valley), Minas Gerais (Steel Valley), Rio Grande do Sul (Sinos Valley) and Santa Catarina (Itajaí Valley).
According to Statistics Canada, an urban area in Canada is an area with a population of at least 1,000 people where the density is no fewer than 400 persons per square km2. If two or more urban areas are within 2 km (1.2 mi) of each other by road, they are merged into a single urban area, provided they do not cross census metropolitan area or census agglomeration boundaries.
In the Canada 2011 Census, Statistics Canada redesignated urban areas with the new term "population centre"; the new term was chosen in order to better reflect the fact that urban vs. rural is not a strict division, but rather a continuum within which several distinct settlement patterns may exist. For example, a community may fit a strictly statistical definition of an urban area, but may not be commonly thought of as "urban" because it has a smaller population, or functions socially and economically as a suburb of another urban area rather than as a self-contained urban entity, or is geographically remote from other urban communities. Accordingly, the new definition set out three distinct types of population centres: small (population 1,000 to 29,999), medium (population 30,000 to 99,999) and large (population 100,000 or greater). Despite the change in terminology, however, the demographic definition of a population centre remains unchanged from that of an urban area: a population of at least 1,000 people where the density is no fewer than 400 persons per square km2.
Since 2000, China's cities have expanded at an average rate of 10% annually. It is estimated that China's urban population will increase by 400 million people by 2025, when its cities will house a combined population of over one billion. The country's urbanization rate increased from 17.4% to 46.6% between 1978 and 2009, a scale unprecedented in human history. Between 150 and 200 million migrant workers work part-time in the major cities, returning home to the countryside periodically with their earnings.
Today, China has dozens of cities with one million or more long-term residents, including the three global cities of Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai; by 2025, the country will be home to 221 cities with over a million inhabitants. The figures in the table below are from the 2008 census, and are only estimates of the urban populations within administrative city limits; a different ranking exists when considering the total municipal populations (which includes suburban and rural populations). The large "floating populations" of migrant workers make conducting censuses in urban areas difficult; the figures below include only long-term residents.
Largest cities or towns of China
Sixth National Population Census of the People's Republic of China (2010)
|10||Hong Kong||Hong Kong||7,055,071||20||Changchun||Jilin||3,341,700|
Similar to other Nordic countries, an urban area (taajama in Finnish) in Finland must have a building at least every 200 metres (660 ft) and at least 200 people. To be considered a town or a city (kaupunki), an urban area must have at least 15,000 people.
In France, an urban area is a zone (aire urbaine) encompassing an area of built-up growth (called an "urban unit" (unité urbaine) - close in definition to the North American urban area) and its commuter belt (couronne périurbaine). Although the official INSEE translation of aire urbaine is "urban area", most North Americans would find the same as being similar in definition to their metropolitan area.
The largest cities in France, in terms of urban area population, are Paris (12,223,100), Lyon (2,165,785), Marseille (1,718,281), Toulouse (1,232,398), Lille (1,158,306), Bordeaux (1,127,776), Nice (1,001,295), Nantes (873,133) and Strasbourg (761,042).
Germany has a number of large cities. There are 11 officially recognised metropolitan regions in Germany – and since 2006, 34 potential cities were identified which can be called a Regiopolis. The largest conurbation is the Rhine-Ruhr region (11.7 million in 2008[update]), including Düsseldorf (the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia), Cologne, Bonn, Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg, and Bochum.
Largest cities or towns of Germany
List of statistical offices in Germany 24 December 2010
|7||Düsseldorf||North Rhine-Westphalia||598,786||17||Wuppertal||North Rhine-Westphalia||349,721|
|8||Dortmund||North Rhine-Westphalia||580,444||18||Bonn||North Rhine-Westphalia||324,899|
|9||Essen||North Rhine-Westphalia||574,635||19||Bielefeld||North Rhine-Westphalia||323,270|
For the Census of India 2011, the definition of urban area is as follows:
- All places with a municipality, corporation, cantonment board or notified town area committee, etc.
- All other places which satisfied the following criteria:
- A minimum population of 5,000;
- At least 75% of the male main working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits; and
- A density of population of at least 400 persons per sq. km.
In Japan urbanized areas are defined as contiguous areas of densely inhabited districts (DIDs) using census enumeration districts as units with a density requirement of 4,000 inhabitants per square kilometre (10,000 /sq mi).
The Netherlands is the 24th most densely populated country in the world, with 404.6 inhabitants per square kilometre (1,048 /sq mi)—or 497 inhabitants per square kilometre (1,287 /sq mi) if only the land area is counted. The Randstad is the country's largest conurbation located in the west of the country and contains the four largest cities: Amsterdam in the province North Holland, Rotterdam and The Hague in the province South Holland, and Utrecht in the province Utrecht. The Randstad has a population of 7 million inhabitants and is the 6th largest metropolitan area in Europe.
Largest cities or towns of Netherlands
Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek 
|3||The Hague||South Holland||508,634||13||Haarlem||North Holland||154,600|
|6||Tilburg||North Brabant||209,788||16||Zaanstad||North Holland||150,510|
|9||Breda||North Brabant||179,823||19||Zoetermeer||South Holland||123,522|
Statistics Norway defines urban areas ("tettsteder") similarly to the other Nordic countries. Unlike in Denmark and Sweden, the distance between each building has to be of less than 50 m, although exceptions are made due to parks, industrial areas, rivers, and similar. Groups of houses less than 400 m from the main body of an urban area are included in the urban area.
With an estimated population of 16.3 M. Metro Manila is the most populous metropolitan area in the Philippines and the 11th in the world. However, the greater urban area is the 5th largest in the world with a population of 20,654,307 people (2010 estimate). Including Metro Manila, the Philippines has twelve metropolitan areas as defined by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA). Metro Angeles, Metro Bacolod, Metro Baguio, Metro Batangas, Metro Cagayan de Oro, Metro Cebu, Metro Dagupan, Metro Davao, MetroGuimaras, MetroIloilo, Metro Naga, Metro Olongapo.
Metro Angeles in Bulacan
Metro Bacolod in Negros Oriental
Metro Baguio in Beguet
Metro Batangas in Batangas
In Poland, official "urban" population figures simply refer to those localities which have the status of towns (miasta). The "rural" population is that of all areas outside the boundaries of these towns. This distinction may give a misleading impression in some cases, since some localities with only village status may have acquired larger and denser populations than many smaller towns.
In Russia, only the population residing in cities/towns and urban-type settlements is considered to be "urban". The city/town/urban-settlement designation means usually that the majority of the population is employed in areas other than agriculture, but the exact definitions vary from one federal subject to another.
Singapore is an island city-state in Southeast Asia. About 5.2 million people live and work within 700 square kilometres (270 sq mi), making Singapore the 3rd-most-densely populated country in the world after Monaco, another city-state. The entire island functions as a single metropolitan area. The city centre near the south of the island is surrounded by satellite towns, parks, reservoirs and industrial estates, which are connected to the centre and each other by a dense network of roads, expressways and metro railway lines dubbed MRT by locals. Singapore has a highly centralised, unitary government with a unicameral legislature (the City Council and the Rural Board were abolished in the 1960s). While there are town councils and mayors in Singapore, these are essentially property managers in charge of the maintenance of public housing within their constituency boundaries. They do not represent local authorities with any legislative or executive autonomy from the national government.
Largest cities or towns of South Africa
|4||Durban||KwaZulu-Natal||595,061||14||Port Elizabeth||Eastern Cape||312,392|
|5||Tembisa||Gauteng||463,109||15||Mitchells Plain||Western Cape||310,485|
|6||Cape Town||Western Cape||433,688||16||East London||Eastern Cape||267,007|
|8||Umlazi||KwaZulu-Natal||404,811||18||Bloemfontein||Free State (province)||256,185|
|10||Khayelitsha||Western Cape||391,749||20||iBhayi||Eastern Cape||237,799|
The largest cities of South Korea have an autonomous status equivalent to that of provinces. Seoul, the largest city and capital, is classified as a teukbyeolsi (Special City), while the next 6 largest cities (see the list below) are classified as gwangyeoksi (Metropolitan Cities; see Special cities of South Korea). Smaller cities are classified as si ("cities") and are under provincial jurisdiction, at the same level as counties (see Administrative divisions of South Korea).
Urban areas in Sweden (tätorter) are statistically defined localities, totally independent of the administrative subdivision of the country. There are 1956 such localities in Sweden, with a population ranging from 200 to 1,372,000 inhabitants.
The figures below are the 2011 estimates for the twenty largest urban populations within administrative city limits; a different ranking exists when considering the total metropolitan area populations (in such rankings the Taipei-Keelung metro area is by far the largest agglomeration).
Largest cities or towns of Taiwan
|1||New Taipei||New Taipei City||3,913,595||
The United Kingdom's Office for National Statistics has produced census results from urban areas since 1951, since 1981 based upon the extent of irreversible urban development indicated on Ordnance Survey maps. The definition is an extent of at least 20 ha and at least 1,500 census residents. Separate areas are linked if less than 200 m (220 yd) apart. Included are transportation features. The UK has five Urban Areas with a population over a million and a further sixty nine with a population over one hundred thousand.
In the United States, there are two categories of urban area. The term urbanized area denotes an urban area of 50,000 or more people. Urban areas under 50,000 people are called urban clusters. Urbanized areas were first delineated in the United States in the 1950 census, while urban clusters were added in the 2000 census. There are 1,371 urban areas and urban clusters with more than 10,000 people.
The U.S. Census Bureau defines an urban area as: "Core census block groups or blocks that have a population density of at least 1,000 people per square mile (386 per square kilometer) and surrounding census blocks that have an overall density of at least 500 people per square mile (193 per square kilometer)."
The largest urban area in the United States is the New York City metropolitan area. The population of the core city exceeds 8 million people, its metropolitan statistical area has a population that is over 19 million, and its combined statistical area population is over 22 million. The next five largest urban areas in the U.S. are Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Boston. About 82 percent of the population of the United States lives within the boundaries of an urbanized area as of December, 2010. Combined, these areas occupy about 2 percent of the United States. Many Americans live in agglomerations of cities, suburbs, and towns that are adjacent to a metropolitan area's largest city.
The concept of Urbanized Areas as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau is often used as a more accurate gauge of the size of a city, since in different cities and states the lines between city borders and the urbanized area of that city are often not the same. For example, the city of Greenville, South Carolina has a city population over 60,000 and an urbanized area population of over 400,000, while Greensboro, North Carolina has a city population over 200,000 and an urbanized area population of around 310,000 — meaning that Greenville is actually "larger" for some intents and purposes, but not for others, such as taxation, local elections, etc.
In the U.S. Department of Agriculture's natural resources inventory, urban areas are officially known as developed areas or urban and built-up areas. Such areas include cities, ethnic villages, other built-up areas of more than 10 ac (4 ha), industrial sites, railroad yards, cemeteries, airports, golf courses, shooting ranges, institutional and public administration sites, and similar areas. The 1997 national resources inventory placed over 98,000,000 ac (40,000,000 ha) in this category, an increase of 25,000,000 ac (10,000,000 ha) since 1982.
- Developed environments
- Rapid transit
- Urban biosphere reserve
- Urban climatology
- Urban culture
- Urban decay
- Urban planning
- Urban renewal
- Urban sprawl
- List of metro systems
- List of urban areas by population
- Largest urban areas of the European Union
- List of cities in the People's Republic of China by urban population
- List of United States urban areas
- List of conurbations in the United Kingdom
- Largest urban areas of Norway
- List of urban areas in the Nordic countries
- List of the 100 largest urban areas in Canada by population
- List of urban areas in Denmark by population
- Ranked list of New Zealand main urban areas
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- Statistics Finland Locality
- Kaupungin-maaseudun aluetypologian muodostamisperiaatteet -tekninen menetelmäkuvaus (Finnish)
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- "Regionales Monitoring 2010 - Daten und Karten zu den Europäischen Metropolregionen in Deutschland" (in German). Bundesamt für Bauwesen und Raumordnung. 2010. p. 10. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
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- Polish official population figures
- "Fortsatt stor ökning av befolkning i tätorter". Statistics Sweden. Retrieved 2011-06-24.
- KS01 Usual resident population: Census 2001, Key Statistics for urban areas
For the OS definition of an Urban Area, see the notes tab on the Excel version.
- World Urbanization Prospects: The 2007 Revision Population Database - accessed August 7, 2008
-  - accessed January, 2012
- This article incorporates public domain material from the Congressional Research Service document "Report for Congress: Agriculture: A Glossary of Terms, Programs, and Laws, 2005 Edition" by Jasper Womach.
- United Nations Statistics Division (UNSTAT): Definition of "urban"
- World Urban Areas All identified world urbanized areas 500,000+ and others: Population & Density.
- Geopolis: research group, University of Paris-Diderot, France for world urban areas
- Gridded Population of the World – contains links to urban area definitions and maps for over 230 countries/territories
- City Mayors – The World's Largest Urban Areas in 2006
- City Mayors – The World's Largest Urban Areas Projected for 2020