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Satellite cities or satellite towns are smaller municipalities that are part of (or on the edge of) a larger metropolitan area and serve as regional population and employment centers. They differ from mere suburbs, subdivisions and especially bedroom communities in that they have employment bases sufficient to support their residential populations, and conceptually, could be self-sufficient communities outside of their larger metropolitan areas. However, they function as part of a metropolis and experience high levels of cross-commuting (that is, residents commuting out of and employees commuting into the city).
Satellite cities versus other types of settlement
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Satellite cities are different from and are sometimes confused with the following related patterns of development.
Satellite cities differ from suburbs in that they have distinct employment bases, commuter sheds, and cultural offerings from the central metropolis, as well as an independent municipal government. Satellite cities are not bedroom communities.
Satellite cities differ from edge cities, which are suburbs with large employment bases and cultural offerings, in that satellite cities must have a true historic downtown, a distinct independent municipal government, existed as a city prior to becoming interconnected with the larger metropolitan core, and are surrounded by a belt of rural land between themselves and the central city.
Conceptually, both satellite cities and some types of edge cities could be (and once were) self-sufficient communities outside of their larger metropolitan areas but have become interconnected due to the suburban expansion of the larger metropolis. However, while edge cities may have their own government and share many characteristics with satellite cities, they are much more physically integrated with the core city and would not exist in anything like their present form if not for the suburban expansion of their larger neighbor. Edge cities are activity nodes within a metro area, not miniature metro areas themselves.
Some satellite cities that are particularly close or well connected to their larger neighbors and/or have their own historic downtown may also qualify as the uptown variety of edge cities, but the terms are not synonymous.
In some cases, large metropolitan areas have multiple centers of close-to-equal importance. These multi-polar cities are often referred to as twin cities. Multi-polar cities differ from satellite cities in the following ways:
- Satellite cities are clearly much less important than the larger central city around which they are located, while the various nodes of multi-polar cities are much closer to each other in importance.
- Satellite cities are often separated from the central city by a substantial belt of rural or suburban territory, while twin cities may be fully integrated in physical form.
For example, Fort Worth, Texas is a twin of Dallas, Texas because though Fort Worth is somewhat smaller, it is proportionally close enough and physically integrated enough with Dallas to be considered a twin rather than a satellite. However, Waco, Texas is a satellite town of both cities. Generally speaking, cities that are listed as being part of the same urbanized area should be considered twins, rather than one having a satellite relationship to the other.
Conceptually, satellite cities are miniature metro areas on the fringe of larger ones. Satellite cities are sometimes listed as part of the larger metro area and sometimes listed as totally independent. In the United States, satellite cities are often (but not always) listed as independent Metropolitan Statistical Areas within a single Combined Statistical Area that is unified with the larger metropolis.
- Bedroom community
- Edge city
- List of United States urban areas
- New Urbanism
- Rural exodus
- Urban area
- Urban sprawl