L[i/o]ving cities

Posts tagged ‘limit’


In this trilogy I have previously talked about two of the dimensions of the city limits. I have talked about the physical limits of the cities and about their influence outside their physical limit. In this new post I am going to extend into the implication of the city limits and I want to talk briefly about how these limits have an influence on people and on people relations.

In this case I want to focus on how human relations have been altered with the city expansion/explosion. I think that there is an essential question, the bigger the city, the weaker the social control. So we can find an interesting paradox where agglomeration means some kind of isolation or liberation to people.

On the one hand, we know that in small towns and in closed communities there is a big social control from the rest of the people. In these settlements you are supported by the rest of the community but also controlled by the community rules. On the other hand, we know that in big cities your are more free to do whatever you want, although you are supported by fewer people than in smaller communities.

If I continue with this example it is funny to see how both sides of the story (bigger and smaller communities) have managed to try to get the good things of the other. For example, in small cities people usually go to more populated cities to spend time doing some activities that are not possible in the small cities and that express the individual likes of people (theatre, cinema, sport events, shopping…). On the other hand, people in big cities usually go to the same bars or cafes, or need to start different activities to meet people with similar likes.

I think that in big cities we enhance our individual side and in small towns we enhance our social or collective side. In any case, as people with complex behaviors, we have to reinforce the side of us that we are lacking due to the size of the city in which we are living. That implies that our individual behavior suits better a certain city topology. Of course, as we change our behavior during life, we will feel more comfortable in different types of cities along life.

Summarizing, in the first city limits post I have concluded that the size of the city is directly related to the physical possibility of communication. In the second city limit post I have concluded that as places for relation, the influence of the city network has to be considered worldwide. Finally, in this third city limits post I have explained that individually, different cities suit us better or worse depending on our own behavior. So maybe these three posts are not really useful to have a definition of the city limit, but I think that the importance of this city limit to understand its implication on personal relations is clear.



In the former post, The City Limits I: The City Itself, I talked about the ways of understanding the physical limit of cities. In this post, I still want to talk about the city limits but from a different point of view, not related to physical dimensions. In this case I want to talk about the intangible limit of the cities or the city hinterland.

In the last post I argued about the physical possibilities of mobility as the key factor to consider the limit of the city itself. But apart from the physical occupation of the land, it is true that cities have a bigger influence. For example, if we are talking about the world cities network we can see how there is a small number of cities that form part of this network, while the rest of the cities are just serving the principal nodes. We can see it clearly if we look at airports networks. Those main cities (known by everybody) which have the international connections are the world nodes and have the power to connect people from all over the world. That is an interesting key point, because again we are linking the physical possibility of moving and the transport ways of doing it.

We can also talk about the influence of cities economy. I have made an easy exercise, taking the 2008 GDP of several cities (PricewaterhouseCoopers UK Economic Outlook November 2009) and countries (Wikipedia). I have related the GDP of some mayor cities with their countries GDPs. The result is the following:

  • New York City 9,6% of USA GDP
  • Madrid 16,7% of Spain GDP
  • Paris 22,1% of France GDP
  • London 25,0% of United Kingdom GDP
  • Tokyo 27,4% of Japan GDP
  • Mexico D.F. 37,5%of Mexico GDP

These figures show how important is the mayor cities economy in the national (and in the international) level. We can also talk about political importance. To instantiate this reality I have found the following figure from Taylor et al. In the figure we can find a world formed through the great metropolis, but as decision centers who finally are the places which are ruling the world.

These three examples that I have exposed are another way to understand the city limits apart from their own physical limit. As we have seen, the holistic vision of the world as a sum of the biggest cities and not as a sum of countries is based in heavy foundations that guide us to understand their political, economic and connecting importance. So if in the former post we have said that the city is limited by the mobility possibilities, in this post we can say that, maybe, the cities have no limit if we understand them as the network where things happen in this world.


There is a big issue that has not been answered properly by urban planners, architects, engineers, geographers and other people who study cities. The issue is the one related to the city limits. Obviously, it is difficult to define it and more difficult to do it in a few blog posts, but I want to make an approach to some matters that are important in this question in the following three posts.

We are witnessing a huge urbanization and an accelerated process in city growing. But, apart from the urbanization process question, there is a more interesting question for which I do not have an answer, and it is How big can a city be? I have not found a definition of city containing the size component yet.

Despite this I already know that cities somehow are defined by people gathered, so maybe we can have some answers thinking about that matter. Going through this path we can think that people also need some “stuff” for living. Firstly, I am sure that people need to feed themselves, but nowadays food production happens outside the city, so this will not be the key factor to define our cities limit, although it was before the 15th century. Secondly we can think about energy, but we can reach the same formerly conclusion, energy can be produced in a “national” scenario, so it cannot be the defining question. We can also think about a great number of issues and we usually reach the same conclusion, we can think about information, goods, money, etc. and we have to assume that this ´stuff´ can come from out of the city limits.

To solve this problem I started to think more in people´s relations and in the advantage of proximity relations between people and I found one service that has to be given in the city to take advantage of agglomeration, transportation. Transport has to solve the physical problem of communication inside the city and it has to solve the problem in a certain time. It is assumed that a person can´t spend longer than a certain time to go and return to or from his house (one hour/one hour and a half maximum per trip). So with the fastest transport modes that we nowadays have, cars and metropolitan railways, we could imagine a city limit defined by their influential area and by the time that a person can spend in transport in a single day.

I think that this is an interesting point of view, because we can see cities as relational systems more than agglomeration places and this vision allows to link people with the city limit through the physical needs of communication.

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