Wednesday, February 01, 2012

C is for City

Cities are as ancient as civilisation itself. As soon as we humans worked out that it was in our best interest to live together in settlements, it was only a matter of time until those settlements grew large, then larger still. Today, of course, cities are a very big deal—and today was an especially big deal for Auckland.

The United Nations estimated that by 2008 half the world’s population lived in cities. Other estimates suggest that three-quarters of the population of developed countries lives in cities, while only 44 percent of the population of less-developed countries do. [source]

The precise definition of what a city is varies from place to place, even within some countries (such as, different US states have different methods and mechanisms for creating cities). Nevertheless, at a minimum, a city generally refers to a specific geographic location governed by one government. That means it’s not a city’s metropolitan region, which is bigger in both area and population.

New Zealand has a useful definition to illustrate this, saying that in New Zealand, cities “must have a minimum population of 50,000, be predominantly urban in character, be a distinct entity and a major centre of activity within the region.” This is contained within the Local Government Act 1974.

Just today Auckland, my current home, reached a population of 1.5 million. It’s a very big deal for us and for New Zealand.

Auckland is by far New Zealand’s largest city. It has roughly a third of the entire country’s population—though that’s not enough to make the list of the 100 most populated cities in the world. The current Auckland Council was created by the New Zealand Parliament out of seven former city and district councils, and came into being in November 1, 2010. It covers 4,894 square kilometres (1,889.6 square miles), a fact that means Auckland is in the 20 largest cities by area (again, this refers only to cities and their specific geographic areas of jurisdiction, not to metropolitan regions).

The distinction between city and region is an important one, and not as obvious as one might think. For example, when a Kiwi talks about the population of, say, Los Angeles, Chicago or New York, they’re almost always talking about the region, not the legally defined city (until last year, the same would have been true if they were talking about Auckland; now, of course, city and region are the same).

This distinction shows up something that’s very different in North America and New Zealand: Suburbs. In North America, a suburb is an outlying town, not legally part of the city, but within commuting distance of it. In New Zealand, a suburb is a geographic area within the city—analogous to a neighbourhood in an American city. New Zealand suburbs are used by New Zealand Post for delivering mail and also by delivery companies.

I was born in a small city, grew up in suburbs, went to university in a small city, moved to Chicago, then to Auckland (twice—interrupted by a couple years spent in a small, rural town). I’ve learned through this that I’m a city boy. It doesn’t have to be a big city, and I don’t have to live in the heart of it, just as long as it has all the urban amenities a city has to offer. I particularly appreciate being able to get a service done or go get something in particular (like, for example, a part to repair something in the house) without having to drive hours or order online. I also enjoy the excitement and multi-culturalism that a city offers—that and all the entertainment and food options.

So, add it all up, and the city is best for me. I know plenty of people for whom that’s not true, though. So, what about you? Given your choice, would you rather live in a city, a small town or out in the country?
I took the photo at the top this post from North Head, Devonport, on Auckland’s North Shore, in 2006. You may notice that it’s also the background image for this blog.


Roger Owen Green said...

I've lived in a small city (Binghamton and Schenectady, NY), a college town, technically a village (New Paltz, NY), a couple large cities (Charlotte, NC, and Queens, NYC). I'm best, I think, in a medium-sized city like Albany, with a decent size metro area.

Good description, BTW, about the arcane levels of political geography. It's almost as though you were an old political science major, or something.

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

R.J. Dennis said...

Wow. It's always cool to hear about cities, towns, whatever reaching population milestones. Congrats to Auckland!

Sadly, I a city boy trapped in a country boy's life. I've lived across the street from a dairy farm most of my life. I don't live from Chicago, but rarely get the chance to go out there. I have lived for small times in Phoenix, Arizona and Denver, Colorado. While they weren't the best of living conditions (I lived in my car and a homeless shelter when I lived in those cities), I would not trade the experiences of living in a city for anything.

There's a change I may move soon, and if I do, it will be to a city. I cannot bring myself to live in the country anymore and the suburbs are scary. LOL

chubskulit said...

Beautiful city that is!

Crystal Palace & Carousel
Chubskulit, ABC Wednesday Team

Leslie: said...

I live in what is called a "village," but there are so many people moving into the area, it's bound to become a city soon! I'd love to visit NZ some day.

abcw team

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

This week I'm trying to be better about replying to comments.

Roger: Yeah, Auckland certainly isn't large compared to Chicago, but it's big enough for me (though they say it'll hit 2 million in the next decade). As for the description, I think I may know the odd old political science major—and he is very odd.

R.J.: Coincidentally, when I first moved to Chicago, I had nowhere to live, either; my car came in handy, but I also relied on the kindness of strangers—hm, there are probably stories in that. Anyway, I agree—I wouldn't trade the experiences, either!

chubskulit: Thanks! And, I like your blog!

Leslie: Auckland hit a million shortly after I arrived in New Zealand, more than a decade and a half ago, and now it's 1.5 million, and the place has changed very noticeably. So, I can appreciate what you mean. Do vist—there's always room for more!