World's largest municipalities by population
of world cities
This is a non-exhaustive list of the world's most populous municipalities, defined according to the concept of city proper. In demography, city proper is one of the three basic concepts used to define urban areas and populations. The other two are urban agglomeration, and the metropolitan area. This list is limited to clear, unambiguously defined political jurisdictions which fall under the definition of municipality in the general sense of the word. For this list, "city proper" follows the definition of a locality with legally fixed boundaries and an administratively recognized urban status that is usually characterized by some form of local government. For this list, "Municipality" is defined as an administrative entity composed of a clearly defined territory, it commonly denotes a city, town, or village, or a small grouping of them. A municipality is typically governed by a mayor and a city council or municipal council. This list does not include metropolitan areas which may include multiple cities under the jurisdiction of separate city councils which do not come under a common government of that metropolitan area. The list does not count statistical areas. This list contains some of the world's most populous urban municipal units and their resident population.
Municipality can take on many meanings throughout the world. In the English language, "municipality" is a generic term for any type of urban unit. In some countries, a municipality is the smallest administrative subdivision to have its own democratically elected representative leadership. In other countries, such as China, a direct-controlled municipality is a city with equal status to a province. Some municipalities, such as Monaco or Singapore are sovereign states. For the purpose of this list, municipality is used in its strictly generic sense, i.e. as "a primarily urban political unit having corporate status and usually powers of self-government."
Most of the entries in this list will be generally recognized as cities. This list of municipalities has become necessary because there is a debate whether certain cities should be called cities. Some examples follow.
- Tokyo is a prefecture-level municipality in Japan that is governed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government It itself contains twenty-three special wards (特別区 -ku), which translate themselves to "cities" Tokyo also includes 26 more cities (市 -shi), five towns (町 -chō or machi), and eight villages (村 -son or -mura), each of which has a local government. Numerous outlying islands, which extend as far as 1850 km from central Tokyo, belong to Tokyo. All are part of Tokyo proper.
- China has four direct-controlled municipalities with a status equal to a province: Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing. These cities, especially Chongqing, can be quite large. The same applies to the sub-provincial cities and the prefecture-level cities of China. "To cope with growing administrative demands at the local level, China essentially reclassified counties as cities in order to allow local city governments to control the surrounding areas," as a United Nations University working paper notes.
- Metropolitan Lagos has a population of nearly 8 million according to the latest census. Official data by the Lagos State estimate the population of Metropolitan Lagos at more than 14 million. However, the Municipality of Lagos was disbanded in 1976 and divided into several administratively independent Local Government Areas. As a result, the most populous city in Africa, and one of the most populous and fastest growing cities in the world is not on this list.
- A similar situation exists in Australia, where large cities are divided into much smaller local government areas. This removes populous cities such as Sydney or Melbourne from this list. For a detailed discussion, see List of 25 largest Australian LGAs. Australia's largest LGA by population, Brisbane City Council, had a population of 1,052,458 in 2009.
- For similar reasons, cities such as Santiago, Chile or Manila, Philippines are not on this list.
- From Singapore to Vatican City, there are several cities that are sovereign countries.
A city can be loosely or narrowly defined, depending on the respective country. This can create controversy. This list therefore uses the more generic term "municipality." In most cases, its entries will be understood as cities.
State or province
Quite often, the status of a city or municipality can be elevated to the level of a state or province. Tokyo can be considered as a prefecture-level city in Japan, although it calls itself "Tokyo Metropolis". The direct-controlled municipalities of China have a similar rank. The Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in North Korea, the Republic of Korea in South Korea, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in Vietnam also adopt this concept. Other examples can be found throughout the world. Vienna has the rank of an Austrian state, Geneva and Basel-Stadt have the rank of Swiss cantons. Germany has several cities with the rank of a state: Hamburg, Bremen, and Berlin. Washington, D.C. is a federally administered municipality of the United States that is effectively treated as equivalent in most respects to one of the actual 50 States of the United States. To an outsider of a particular country, it is sometimes challenging to decide whether the entity can still be called a municipality, or should rather be called a province or state.
One attempt is to determine whether the entity is divided into sub-units with their own government, in which case the entity would not longer be treated as a municipality. This concept fails, because many bona fide cities/municipalities have such subdivisions. For instance, the German city-states Hamburg, Bremen, and Berlin are divided in districts with some form of a government. Berlin has Bezirke (districts) with their own mayor and borough council. The 16 boroughs of Mexico City have significant autonomy, and their heads of government are elected. The wards of Tokyo each have their own mayor. This list leaves the final determination of what is called a city or municipality to the sovereign states and the people who live there. If the entity is defined (in its own language) as a municipality or city, then this list counts it as such. If two or more entities form a metropolitan area without a common government, the entities are counted separately. If in doubt, common sense prevails.
This list treats the population data issued by the statistical bureau of the respective municipality as the most reliable source. Next up are statistical data provided by the statistical organizations of the respective countries. If the count differs, the count by the municipality prevails. This list attempts to use data that is as up to date as possible. In countries where there is a difference between the "registered" and the "floating" population, this list recognizes the sum of both, if available.
It is accepted and recognized that there can be considerable differences between the quality and precision of data. Even if a strict principle such as the administrative area is used, sources can report conflicting data. The following chart shows the differences between data sourced from the China Statistical Yearbook 2009 and data published by the local municipalities. In June 2007, Chongqing reported on its official web site a population number that was more than 3 million higher than what was reported in the Statistical Yearbook for the end of 2008. Beijing's number, reported in March 2010, was more than 5 million higher than what was reported in the Statistical Yearbook for the end of 2008. The actual census of 2010 came in 2.4 million lower than the 22 million reported earlier in state media.
|Administrative Division||Population Yearbook||Population local||Source for local|
For a comprehensive study of the challenges presented by a populous country such as China, refer to "Misconceptions and Complexities in the Study of China's Cities: Definitions, Statistics, and Implications," an article that appeared in the Journal of Eurasian Geography and Economics. This paper says: "Ironically, while journalists and scholars focusing on global urbanization tend to rely upon a set of population figures that overstates the actual population of Chinese cities, in the scholarly community studying Chinese cities, the opposite is true. In fact, almost of all researchers tend to use figures that understate the size of Chinese cities."
Most countries perform a census in regular intervals, commonly every 10 years. Some countries provide regular estimates, sometimes based on smaller samples (micro census). This list discourages the usage of independently compiled lists of city populations. These lists are sometimes unreliable or come to misleading results due to differing methodology. If no government data are available, third party sources may be used, but their usage should be noted in the comments section. This list does not recognize commuters.
The reader should be aware that there is no "right" way to define a city or municipality. "City proper" is one of the different ways. Other methods can be similarly valid, and result in similarly valid lists that show the population of a city from a different perspective. The principle of this list is that the definition of administrative boundaries is a matter of the sovereign states and countries. This list will not redraw borders. For the purpose of this list, a resident who lives within certain administrative boundaries counts as a resident of the municipality or city. As long as the administrative area is that of a bona fide municipality, this list will recognize its population as a whole, regardless of the size of the city or municipality. This list does not include metropolitan areas which may include multiple cities under the jurisdiction of separate city councils which do not come under a common government of that metropolitan area. For instance, Berlin and Brandenburg are separate, because they do not share a common government. For the purpose of this list, the whole Tokyo Metropolis is counted as a city, because it shares a common Metropolitan Government. As outlined in city proper, there can be diverging definitions of "city proper" from country to country, and for the purpose of different reports. For the sake of consistency, this list strives to use one common definition of "city proper", namely the area within the administrative boundaries. The list does not count statistical areas. The population density is calculated given the population and the surface area of the municipality. The list can be sorted. This list enumerates the population within the city limits of some of the world's most populous municipalities. This list is in no particular order. It can be sorted using the sort button in the column headers.
Municipalities by population (city proper)
- Lists of cities
- List of cities proper by population (applies inconsistent criteria to city proper)
- World's largest cities (explaining alternative measures)
- Cities of present-day nations and states
- List of capitals by population density
- List of towns and cities with 100,000 or more inhabitants
- Historical urban community sizes
- List of cities by population density (Based on the entire city proper)
- List of largest cities throughout history
- List of metropolitan areas by population (based on study by Richard Forstall, Richard Greene, and James Pick)
- List of urban areas by population (list of contiguous urban areas of the world based on Demographia)
- Rank mobility index (measure of a city's change in population rank among a group of cities)
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