Metropolitan Area, Physical City & City Center

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Downtown, the Central Business District: Land Use Issues in the U.S. & Abroad

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:04 Downtown
  • 0:51 Metropolitan Area
  • 1:52 Physical City
  • 3:00 Center City
  • 4:10 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Millions of people live in cities around the world, but what exactly are the different sections of an urban area? In this lesson, we'll explore the components of an urban area, including metropolitan area, physical city, and city center.


Nancy is getting ready to move to a new city, but she's not sure where she wants to live. There are many options: she can live right downtown or in another neighborhood further out, or she could live in the next town over.

An urban area is formed when cities and towns are located so close together that political boundaries become imaginary lines. For example, if Nancy moves to the town next to the big city, there won't be a clear difference when she's on one side of the town line versus the other. When she crosses the line into the next town, it will still look pretty much the same.

Let's look at the different components of an urban area: metropolitan area, physical city, and city center.

Metropolitan Area

When Nancy goes to visit her new city, she notices that the next town over is very much like the rest of the city. In fact, she wouldn't even know that she wasn't in the city anymore, except for the fact that there's a sign that tells her!

A metropolitan area contains a number of cities or towns that operate as an integrated whole. For example, the city where Nancy is moving and several smaller cities and towns nearby all blend together. People live in one town and work in another. Because the economics in the area are intertwined, they all work together as a whole.

A good example of a metropolitan area is New York City. Though the city itself is only a small geographic area, there are other towns and cities from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut that all work as an integrated whole.

Metropolitan areas are generally very large. If you think about a pyramid, a metropolitan area would be the base, the very largest area.

Physical City

A metropolitan area is very large, as we've seen. In fact, some metropolitan areas can stretch across many states! But what about just the city? For example, what if Nancy decides to move into the city limits and not live in one of the adjoining towns?

A physical city includes all neighborhoods within the city limits. For example, if Nancy chooses to live in the actual city and not in one of the nearby towns, she will be living in the physical city.

As we saw, New York City has a large metropolitan area, but the physical city is just five boroughs that are part of the city of New York. All of the other towns and cities close by might be in the metropolitan area, but not in the physical city.

If we think about our pyramid again, the physical city is one level above the metropolitan area. That is, it is smaller than the metropolitan area and is part of the metropolitan area, but it is still larger than another component of urban areas, the city center.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account