Urban Structure Models: United States vs. Abroad

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  • 0:03 Urban Areas
  • 0:48 Defining Urban Areas
  • 2:57 Demographic Differences
  • 4:23 Lesson Summary
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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.

Much of the world's population lives in cities. But are they the same all over the world? In this lesson, we'll take a look at urban areas, including how different countries define an urban area and demographic differences in cities around the world.

Urban Areas

Rena lives in a large city in the United States. She's grown up there, and she's very used to all the hustle and bustle of the city. But she wonders about some of her friends and family in other countries. Are the cities there like her city?

An urban area is a region of high population density, with mostly non-agricultural jobs. In America, cities like Chicago, New York, and Houston are all part of urban areas. Let's look closer at urban areas around the world, including how different countries define urban areas and some of the demographic differences.

Defining Urban Areas

Rena lives in a large city in the United States. Here, urban areas, like cities, are defined by population. That is, the place where Rena lives is a city because it is over a certain population. Below that population, it is considered to be rural.

Some countries, like the U.S., define urban areas by population. These countries might not have the same population threshold, but they all say, an urban area has to have this many people. For one country, the number required for an urban area might be 25,000, and for others, it might be 250,000. Still, others might say, 'You have to have this many people per square mile to be an urban area.' But the bottom line for all of these countries is that the number of people who live there determines whether a place is an urban area or not.

In contrast, many countries, especially in Europe, use satellite images to look at areas that have little or no agricultural land, and they define those as urban areas. If you imagine being in a spaceship over the Earth and looking down, you might see a bunch of lights all together, and then some lights that are much more spread out. For countries that use satellite images to define an urban area, they are looking for an area where there are many, many lights and very few dark areas.

Rena wonders which the better way to define an urban area is. Why can't every country just define by population or by satellite images?

There are problems with both methods, so each country has to choose the method that they believe is the best. On the one hand, defining by population seems pretty cut and dried. But some countries have much larger cities than others, so there are questions about what the population cutoff should be.

On the other hand, satellite imaging techniques could lead to some urban areas being missed if they are spread out or if the satellite images are not perfectly accurate. So, either way, there are some issues in defining an urban area.

Demographic Differences

Rena understands that different countries figure out what's an urban area differently, but does that mean that the cities are different? Or will her friends and family members in cities elsewhere in the world live in a place that's roughly similar to hers?

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