An Overview of The City

The City


Define the Term


When defining a city, there are many factors to consider. City status can differ by area (Bevan references UK ambiguity) (Bevan, 2014) or by time. Also, all cities are different, thus no one city definition can be applied to all. Therefore the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a “large town” (city, no date) is overly simplistic, not focusing on the concept of cities. It is obvious now that London is a city, with huge populous and immense geographical spread, however previously a city of this magnitude would be unimaginable. London still existed as a city, but not in a form recognisable as a city today. The definition of city can therefore only be expressed conceptually, and in the context of time.


Outline briefly the broad historical and social context from which the idea originally emerged


The first urbanised areas began emerging after the Agricultural Revolution, but these clusters of farmers and land workers were not cities. Agglomeration of populous could be first classed as cities with the emergence of writing, people organised into classes and when they were created by Kings, examples being seen in the 4th millennium BC and Mesopotamia (BBC, 2010) One city to emerge from this new breed of municipality was Athens, with a legacy that continues today. Athens was the first city conceptually similar to what we would deem a city today. Athenians were the first to come together “to form something great”, through the exchange of dramatic, artistic and the organisational ideas. (BBC, 2010) It was in Athens that Hippodamus’ wrote on urban planning. With his grid system helping to plan Miletus, Piraeus, and decades later Manhattan, Aristotle credited Hippodamus with the “invention of the art of planning cities”. (Boyd, no date)


Sociologically, while it is clear cities began the process of sharing ideas leading to collective human advancement, man’s social tendencies cannot be negated. (Reclus, 1895) As cities grew, their attractiveness, or need for resources, grew. Duranton cites the “magnetic theory of cities” as an explanatory model for the snowball-like growth of cities across time: people are magnetic particles, attracting each other. When they form clusters, the power of that attraction grows and, analogous with cities, there becomes a state of inertia. (Duranton, 1999)   This explains the growth of cities once they form, but the reality is that the rationale behind the agglomeration of people into one group differs each time.


How has the idea shaped business and economic activity over the past few centuries?


A city, rather than shaping one business area, catalyses many. Trade is a key dimension. In the earliest cities, inhabitants needed to trade with those in agricultural villages around the locality, later with an empire, for agricultural goods. This created an economic relationship between those near to the city, and then on a grander scale. (BBC, 2010) New York is an example of this. Originally, mercantile sailors craved proximity to easily trade their products, and trade continued in the form of a port when the English took over. (Glaesar, 2012) This example is not atypical.


Geography played a role in the location of cities across the world, leading to a huge variety of localised trade. As time and globalisation progressed, cities have not declined. Glaesar refers to the “central paradox of the modern metropolis” being the era in which reducing transport costs, allow cities to thrive. (Glaesar, 2012). There are a number of aspects as to how cities can influence business and economic activity today. Forbes magazine ranked London as the world’s most influential city due to geography (convenient time zone for Asian business and Eurozone advantages), transport links (particularly air) and concentration of multinationals HQs. (Kotkin, 2014). Although only 3 advantages, they illustrate the utility of cities for business. Through proximity, cities can act as a catalyst for development. It is interesting while many companies and start-ups alike could function in any area of the globe, they chose land where fellow developers and entrepreneurs are only a short drive away, such as in Silicon Valley.  (Holden, 2015)


The classic summarising example of proximal power in cites is Glaesar on the Florentine Renaissance; Brunelleschi realised the geometry of linear perspective, passed this to Donatello, and then onto Masaccio. The principle of urban organisation facilitating ideas continues to this day. (Glaesar, 2012)


What forces and influences do you think will shape the way it develops in the future?


Toffler, Negroponte and Pascal all believe that the agglomeration of people in cities will end, with Negroponte arguing that virtual reality will facilitate the evanescence of cities, as telecommunications technology evolves. (Toffler, 1999)  (Negroponte, 1996) (Pascal, 1987)


However, others reach a more sociotechnical conclusion (Graham, 1997), that “as telecommunications improve, the demand for interactions of all varieties should rise” citing the example of Silicon Valley. (Gasper and Glaesar, 1998).  It is apparent, after synthesising these views, that technology plays a supporting role in cities. Silicon Valley’s continuing growth (3 times faster than Californian average in 2014-2015) cannot be ignored, and Gasper and Glaesar were right to draw attention to this in their writings. (Massaro and Jennings, 2015) Therefore, the myth that technology and technology-based communication will facilitate the decline in the ingrained value of man to communicate in close proximity with others can be dispelled, and instead cities will continue to thrive.


Some see suburbanisation threatening future cities, as the number of people living an urban lifestyle must increase to maintain the community systems in place, through construction management, reconditioning of buildings and ethnic minority integration.  (Power and Wilson, 2000) This shows that telecommunications is not the only “threat” facing cities, and that those with power in the city must continue to innovate, not remaining stagnant industrially.


Finally, Glaesar concocts an analogy of somewhat debatable accuracy to emphasise cities as a solution to environmental issues:


“if the environmental footprint of the average suburban home is a size 15 hiking boot […] a New York apartment is a stiletto-heel size 6 Jimmy Choo”(Glaesar, 2012)


Although no statistics are offered to corroborate this, the idea is interesting. Cities produce massive amount CO2 but averaged across the city populous, it is better than suburbia. Change is needed the world over, but an encouragement of city growth could have profound implications for the future.


What questions about business and organisations have emerged for you as a result of you studies for this individual assignment?


  • Why is face-to-face networking more valuable than a virtual conference call, when one appears far easier?
  • Who in an organisation decides between high-quality labour and proximity or cheaper labour and land?



The City – a history, part 1, In Our Time – BBC Radio 4 (2010) BBC, 25 March.

Bevan, R. (2014) What makes a city a city – and does it really matter anyway?. Available at: (Accessed: 12 October 2015).

No. 2542: Hippodamus of Miletus (no date) Engines of Our Ingenuity – University of Houston, .

Duranton, G. (1999) ‘Distance, Land, and Proximity, Economic analysis and the evolution of cities’, Research Papers in Environmental and Spatial Analysis, 53.

Gaspar, J. and Glaeser, E. L. (1998) ‘Information Technology and the Future of Cities’, Journal of Urban Economics, 43(1), pp. 136–156. doi: 10.1006/juec.1996.2031.

Glaeser, E. (2012) Triumph of the City: How Urban Spaces Make Us Human. London: Pan Books.

Graham, S. (1997) ‘Telecommunications and the future of cities: debunking the myths’, Cities, 14(1), pp. 21–29. doi: 10.1016/S0264-2751(37)00037-8.

Holden, J. (2015) ‘The networking in Silicon Valley is unparalleled’. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2015).

Kotkin, J. (2014) ‘The World’s Most Influential Cities’, Forbes (August), .

Massaro, R. and Jennings, J. (2015) Population Growth in Silicon Valley. Available at: (Accessed: 18 October 2015).

Negroponte, N. (1996) Being Digital. 1st edn. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Pascal, A. (1987) ‘The Vanishing City’, Urban Studies, 24, pp. 597–603. doi: 10.1080/00420988720080821.

Power, A. and Wilson, W. J. (2000) ‘Social Exclusion and the Future of Cities’, LSE STICERD Research Papers, No. CASE035.Reclus, E. (1895) ‘The Evolution of Cities’, Boletín CF+S, (45).

Toffler, A. (1999) The Third Wave: The Classic Study of Tomorrow. New York: Random House Publishing Group.

city (no date) in Oxford Dictionary. Available at: (Accessed: 12 October 2015).

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