29 Types of City
John Spacey, August 22, 2018 updated on October 17, 2021
Cities are large human settlements. As complex systems, cities feel alive and are analogous to people or other living things. Indeed it is common to describe cities with the same words used to describe people such as lively, boring or friendly. The following are the basic types of city.
Global CityA city that acts as a hub for global systems such as the global economy. These are large, affluent cities that can handle large numbers of visitors and events each day without the locals even noticing.
Cosmopolitan CityA city with high cultural competence such that the locals commonly interact with people from different backgrounds in a generally inclusive, productive and positive way.
Planned CityA city that has been developed according to a plan with private capital funding most development. For example, the grid-like layout of many North American cities such that they have a repetitive and simple layout.
Emergent CityA city with a history of relatively free development whereby people built things without having to align to a unified plan. This is a chaotic process known as emergence. Emergent cities tend to have a great deal of character but are inefficient.
Centrally Planned CitiesCommunist cities or socialist cities where the government builds most or all of the buildings. These tend to be extremely repetitive and austere with row after row of indistinguishable low quality apartment blocks.
Overdesigned CitiesRigid urban planning bureaucracies that work to prevent any interesting architecture or neighborhoods from emerging. These tend to be repetitive and uninspiring but not necessarily austere.
Smart CitiesA marketing term for the use of information technology by cities. This can be used to make cities efficient and resilient or can create problems such as excessive controls and monitoring.
Vertical CitiesCities with high density achieved with tall buildings. These can be stimulating places with lively streets and significant public space or can be bland places with little public space and significant automobile infrastructure.
Overcrowded CitiesCities with high population density that lack space for everyone such that average residential space per person is low.
Low-Density CitiesCities with low-density such that they are sprawling as compared to their population. These consist of mostly single-family homes on large lots. This can feel disconnected and create high travel overhead such as traffic jams and long commutes.
Walkable CitiesCities with high walkability whereby people may walk or cycle to everything they need such as work, shopping, dining, entertainment, public space and services. This is accomplished with dense neighborhoods that are mixed-use.
Automotive CityA city that devotes a great deal of its land to automobile infrastructure. In some cases, these feel cold and disconnected. For example, they may lack public space.
Bubble CitiesCities that expanded rapidly in a period of economic excess followed by an economic decline that can slow development for many decades. When this occurs, these cities appear to be frozen in time.
Ghost TownA city in demographic decline or a bubble city that has been overbuilt to the extent that it has low occupancy.
Industrial CityA city with industrial infrastructure such as ports and facilities such as factories. These have jobs but may offer low quality of life due to factors such as pollution.
Advanced EconomyA city with an advanced economy. For example, a city with a thriving economy based on public services such as universities and high value commercial facilities such as the headquarters of multinational firms. This produces high salary jobs that may output little or no local pollution.
Capital CityA city that functions as a national or regional capital such that it has many government jobs and government contracts.
Financial CenterCities with an advanced economy may be concentrated in a single industry such as a financial center that has an economy largely based on financial services.
Fashion CapitalA city that greatly influences fashion on a global basis. These are often influential in other cultural areas such as art, cuisine and literature.
MetropolisA city with a core population over 1 million.
MegacityA city with a core population over 10 million.
ConurbationA region that physical resembles a very large single city that is politically divided into separate cities. For example, the Kanto region of Japan that includes Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama and Yokohama amongst other cities with a collective population over 42 million people.
Commuter TownA commuter town, or bedroom community, is a city where most of the residents commute to a larger city for work.
Edge CityAn edge city is a suburban city that has more jobs than local residents. An edge city sits on the edge of a larger city but has its own economy and culture.
Tourist CityA city that attracts a large number of tourists relative to the local population.
Historic CityA city with significant heritage such as historic buildings and sites.
Multicultural CityA city with many distinct ethnic neighborhoods with their own culture.
Melting PotA city that is ethnically diverse without separate ethnic neighborhoods.
Resilient CityA city that is sustainable for people and planet and resilient to stresses such as sudden change, disasters and shortages. This generally implies a high quality of life and a robustness that preserves this for future generations.
City TypesThis is the complete list of articles we have written about city types.
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