the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world
In historical terms, a city is a human settlement, after it has passed a certain vaguely-defined level of development. Typically, cities have larger populations, buildings and roads made of more-durable materials, and a more-organized government. As this description indicates, a city is a relative concept, suitable for distinguishing cities only from less-developed settlements, generally known as ‘villages’ or ‘towns’, and always in the judgement of one or more individuals, always with an element of subjectivity. Beyond a certain scale, though, the status of a settlement as a city is seldom in doubt. Cities, in this sense, are the defining feature of civilization; the Latin ‘CIV-’ means “city”.
The term ‘city’ has acquired an additional ambiguity in modern English usage, particularly in the United States. A city as a metropolitan area retains the sense of a large, continuous settlement. This contrasts with the city as municipality, which is a local government structure within a larger state, sometimes with a legal population requirement (with smaller municipalities again being ‘villages’ or ‘towns’, for instance). Metropolitan areas are generally taken to comprise multiple municipalities, typically one for the original settlement and the others as suburbs, and usually to be of significant (but also unspecified) size. That leaves no general way to distinguish between a municipality and a continuous settlement for smaller settlements, though that ambiguity is partially resolved by the fact that many of those settlements are incorporated as wholes.
A municipality is a legal government corporation, chartered (in the US) by the state, with identifiable legal boundaries to its jurisdiction, and the ability to make and enforce laws subject to higher state authority. We can speak of land as being incorporated or unincorporated with respect to state law on municipal formation; municipalities can expand through annexing unincorporated land, or, occasionally, through merging with other entities — municipalities, counties, townships, and the like. The predilection to identify regions as inherently bounded and official leads many to view municipalities as the “real” cities, such that a person living in a suburb of Chicago is said to “not really live in Chicago”. But the understanding of ‘Chicago’ as its entire metropolitan area is perfectly valid by the historical understanding of cities.
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