How do you define a City? 4 definitions of city boundaries

What is a city?

We all know Paris, London, Montreal, New York, Sydney are cities. More than that, cities are a networked node, in the innovation economy.

For the purposes of measuring and comparing city performance, there are a few definitions of a ‘city’. Key definitions include the following:

Catchment Area: City definition.

The most commonly used definition for the ‘large city view’ is the United Nations definition based on cities by population.

2thinknow largely use the United Nations definition for City Indicators that relate to the greater economic urban unit. This is normally the largest measure of a city, and should be regularly redefined to capture the mobility and economic activity of citizens within urban boundaries.

We have adapted the U.N definition, to become what we term the Effective Larger Catchment Area [ELCA]: defined around the functional current travel, economic and mobility connections of the city as a population center, based on the most current economic and geo-political situation (U.N. definitions can take some time to catch-up to fast-moving geo-political and economic events). Effective Larger Catchment Area is 2thinknow’s definition of a city boundary for working / business / industry  and some social segments in an innovation economy.

The 2thinknow ELCA definition will typically vary from the UN definition where there is an modern economic reason related to the functional flows of people and ideas within the greater urban catchment area, perhaps enabled by technology or other Human Infrastructure. It’s our commitment to always provide the most current data reflecting current actual city performance.

In our City Benchmarking Data program for 2thinknow can use either the United Nations or our own ELCA definition for each segment, based on each clients preference.

Greater Metropolitan Area: city definition

The traditional local larger area definition of a city, including suburbs (in Western cities). This is normally seen as the larger of the 2 population figures normally reported by government for cities. This metropolitan area is often defined by electoral boundaries, government statistics or legislation. Sometimes can be set by geography (i.e. mountain or river boundaries) or urban mobility systems.

In many cases this may be the same as ‘catchment area’ U.N. or ELCA definition.  The definitions and understanding of this vary on a country-by-country basis, and may be effected by electoral or local politics.

2thinknow can also use this figure for City Indicators in the City Benchmarking Data program. We can do this by applying this to our unique algorithms used to calculate local figures.

Inner City Area: city definition

Inner City Area is a practical conception focused on visitors to a city. Defined by easy transport access and property prices. In normal terms this is the inner-city CBD plus surrounding suburbs e.g. Melbourne plus inner-suburbs such as Carlton, Southbank, Docklands, Fitzroy. In Vienna this includes immediate districts outside the CBD surrounded by Ringstrasse. In larger global cities this is the broader ‘city area’ including all districts.

2thinknow City Benchmarking Data tracks this on some City Indicators. The Inner City Area can provide socio-economic support that the CBD can’t satisfy, 2thinknow have modeled ways to create and grow economic and social value in this broader area.

In some cities this may have a formal zone, a single council or an exact definition and title.

2thinknow provide this data for many City Indicators as well as the larger area, and favour this definition for tourism related indicators (as tourists may as a probability said to be more likely to visit inner-city suburbs than non-destination outer suburbs in a majority of cities).

CBD – Central Business District: city definition

The core CBD (or inner-city blocks) of the city. Typically this is a grid or centrally defined area set by political and property boundaries. This is typically the commercial and geographic centre point of a city, a definition may be tied to the GPO, main train station or Town Hall as the central point. Also referred to in some cases as “downtown”.

There are numerous further definitions of urban areas, zones and districts used in specific geographic areas. A theoretical U.N. definition of urban area is here, although arguably this is too general for broader economic analysis and improvement.

For the Innovation Cities Index.

For the Innovation Cities Index, 2thinknow use the most common interpretation of the City Indicator in terms of civic social and economic performance. (i.e. Cultural Exchange Indicators rely on inner-city area frequented by tourists, whereas a larger catchment area definition is used for Economic Indicators).

City Benchmarking Data.

2thinknow are able to work with differing definitions on a by-location basis. These definitions are interpreted by the city benchmarking data program by 2thinknow.

City benchmarking data is an affordable data source — far more affordable than inhouse alternatives, with a fixed price of under USD $25 per city per indicator(or around $3-7 per data point).The data maps actual city performance not statistics.

Customers seeking city performance data include city governments, corporations, listed technology companies,  state and federal governments, investors, R&D departments and those seeking location, investment and comparative information on the best cities. A broad range of City Indicators are available.

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Notes: This is in response to a question to @2thinknow on twitter via Emile Hooge, of Lyon.

If as a professional, you can argue it would be useful for there to be any modifications, additions or corrections to above, please contact us with your suggestion and we will credit any accepted suggestion to you and your institution.