The Difference Between City Proper, Metro Area, and Urban Area
Last updated: Monday April 5th, 2021
When looking at different quizzes involving cities, you may notice that different population figures are used depending on the quiz. This is because there are several different ways to measure the population of a city. The main three JetPunk uses are city proper, metro area, and urban area.
City proper is the most basic way of measuring a city; it is just everything contained inside the city limits. This is a good, easy way to determine the population of a city (as well as many other things), but it does have several drawbacks. For one, especially for larger cities, city proper does not reflect what people think of as the boundaries of the city. Miami, for example, one of the largest cities in the United States when measured by metro or urban area, ranks 40th when measured by city proper, below cities like Colorado Springs, Tucson, and Fresno. The reason for this is that large cities almost always have suburbs, which, most of the time, are incorporated cities themselves.
Image from Google Earth
This means that the populations of these suburbs, which most people would consider to be a part of the larger city's population, are not included in the total. This also means that cities which seem to be of similar size can have drastic population differences, because some cities have a larger city proper and fewer suburbs (Tucson, Fresno), while others have a small, dense city proper with many suburbs (Miami, Atlanta).
As a solution to the problems with city proper, the US Census Bureau came up with a new measurement - the Metropolitan Statistical Area, or metro area. This method tries to get around the problem of suburbs, and certainly does a much better job at giving a realistic view of the true population of a city. However, this too has several problems; for one, metro areas are measured using whole counties. This isn't much of a problem in the eastern United States, where counties are small and most of the areas within them are built up. However, in western states, where counties are bigger, this becomes a real issue. Take the San Bernardino-Riverside metro area, for example, which includes the largest county in the United States.
By Plazak, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
The metro consists of multiple large cities and several suburbs, which are all counted because they are in San Bernardino county. The problem, however, comes when you consider that the actual area of the city lies within less than 1/8 the area of the county, which extends from Anaheim all the way to the Arizona border. This means that Lake Havasu, more than a four hour drive through the mountains from Riverside is still considered to be a part of the same city.
Finally, the method most quizzes use is urban area. This measurement is in between city proper and metro area; it includes the suburbs of a city, but stops when the built-up area stops. Depending on how broad of a definition is being used, urban area can be smaller than metro area or much larger. This is because many large cities that are close to each other can end up growing into each other, making one large city rather than two or three smaller ones. This is why JetPunk considers Guangzhou to be the largest city in the world, rather than Tokyo, because all of the Pearl River delta has grown together and become one large agglomeration.
By Adam Voiland - http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=86603, Public Domain, Link
This can become a problem, however, because often times these cities, while realistically connected, are culturally very different. This causes people in one city to want to be grouped separately from another, even if the cities themselves are joined together. Many people say that Guangzhou and Shenzhen are separate for this reason, and that is why almost no sources apart from citypopulation.de group them together.
- City proper is the most basic measurement, using the population inside the city limits, but it is inaccurate because it does not account for suburbs.
- Metro area uses the population inside of the counties, which includes suburbs but also includes some places that aren't part of the city.
- Urban area uses the population of the city and its suburbs, stopping when development stops.
Below is a table showing the city proper, metro area, and urban area populations of various cities.
|City||City Proper||Metro Area||Urban Area|
|New York City||8,623,000||20,300,000||22,400,000|
|San Bernardino||217,000||4,224,000||part of Los Angeles|