city

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

city

city, densely populated urban center, larger than a village or a town, whose inhabitants are engaged primarily in commerce and industry. In the United States a city is legally an incorporated municipality (see also city government; local government).

The Rise of Cities

Cities have appeared in diverse cultures, e.g., among the Aztecs, Maya, and Inca and in China and India, Mesopotamia and Egypt, and ancient Greece and Rome (see city-state). In all these civilizations cities were the centers of internal change and development. From the decline of Rome the cities were in eclipse, and in Western Europe their role as centers of learning and the arts passed to the monasteries. The 11th cent. saw the resurgence of vigorous cities, first in Italy and then in northern Europe, due mainly to a revival of trade; by the 13th cent., with the decline of feudalism, the dynamic life of the Middle Ages was centered in the cities. This time marks the rise of the great modern cities, e.g., Milan, London, Paris, and the Hanseatic cities.

The Modern City

The giant modern city is a product of the Industrial Revolution, which introduced large-scale manufacturing. Sheer size aggravated existing problems of urban life; some of them, such as sanitation, utilities, and distribution, have been better solved than others, such as housing and transport. As urban life came to furnish more remunerative and varied employment opportunities, rural populations increasingly were attracted, and by the 20th cent. some nations were faced with shortages of agricultural workers.

Modern cities are often complex, with subcities within them, e.g., Newark, N.J., falls inside the New York metropolis. The word megalopolis is sometimes used to describe the great swath of communities stretching N and S of New York City from Boston to Washington, D.C. In Great Britain the term conurbation refers to a similar cluster of urban areas such as the one centered on London. There are similar complexes of cities in Asia, notably that of Wuhan in China.

Among movements to reform urban life, some aim at abolishing cities as known today; this is the tradition exemplified by William Blaker, Henry Thoreau, William Morris, and Eric Gill. There are also less radical designs, like rational city planning, the development of rapid transit to distant suburbs, and garden cities. There have been many reforms aimed at restoring community life for the rootless strangers so numerous in modern cities; such is a common function of settlement houses, community centers, and other philanthropic and cooperative enterprises.

Bibliography

See H. Pirenne, Medieval Cities (tr. 1925, repr. 1956); G. Glotz, The Greek City and Its Institutions (tr. 1929, repr. 1965); M. Weber, The City (tr. 1958); L. Mumford, The City in History (1961); J. Jacobs, The Economy of Cities (1969); S. Thernstrom and R. Sennett, ed., Nineteenth-Century Cities (1969); W. A. Robson and D. E. Regan, ed., Great Cities of the World (3d ed., 2 vol., 1972); P. Geddes, City Development (1973); J. Gottman, The Coming of the Transactional City (1983); D. Harvey, Consciousness and the Urban Experience (1985); W. Rybczynski, City Life: Urban Expectations in a New World (1995).

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