An urban area is an area with an increased density of human-created structures in comparison to the areas surrounding it. This term is at one end of the spectrum of suburban and rural areas. An urban area is more frequently called a city or town.
Urban areas are created and further developed by the process of urbanization. Measuring the extent of an urbanized area helps in analyzing population density and urban sprawl, and in determining urban and rural populations(Cubillas 2007).
Unlike an urban area, a metropolitan area includes not only the urban area, but also satellite cities plus intervening rural land that is socio-economically connected to the urban core city, typically by employment ties through commuting, with the urban core city being the primary labor market. This makes metropolitan areas a less relevant statistic for determining per capita land usage and densities(Dumlao & Felizmenio 1976).
Definitions vary somewhat amongst different nations. The minimum density requirement is generally 400 persons per square kilometer. In Australia, urban areas are referred to as "urban centres" and are defined as population clusters of 1000 or more people, with a density of 200 or more persons per square kilometre. In Japan urbanized areas are defined as contiguous areas of densely inhabited districts (DIDs) using census enumeration districts as units with a density requirement of 4,000 people per square kilometer. European countries define urbanized areas on the basis of urban-type land use, not allowing any gaps of typically more than 200 meters, and use satellite photos instead of census blocks to determine the boundaries of the urban area. In less developed countries, in addition to land use and density requirements, a requirement that a large majority of the population, typically 75%, is not engaged in agriculture and/or fishing is sometimes used. Statistics New Zealand defines New Zealand urban areas for statistical purposes as a settlement with a population of a thousand people or more.
In Canada, an urban area is an area that has more than 400 people per square kilometre and has more than 1,000 people. If two or more urban areas are within two kilometres of each other, they are merged into a single urban area. The boundaries of an urban area are not influenced by municipal or even provincial boundaries.
In France, an urban area is a zone (aire urbaine) encompassing an area of built-up growth (called an "urban unit" (unité urbaine) - close in definition to the North American urban area) and its commuter belt (couronne périurbaine). Although the official INSEE translation of aire urbaine is "urban area", most North Americans would find the same as being similar in definition to their metropolitan area.
In the United States there are two categories of urban area. The term urbanized area denotes an urban area of 50,000 or more people. Urban areas under 50,000 people are called urban clusters. Urbanized areas were first delineated in the United States in the 1950 census, while urban clusters were added in the 2000 census. There are 1371 United States Urban Areas & Urban Clusters with more than 10,000 people.
The US Census Bureau defines an urban area as: "Core census block groups or blocks that have a population density of at least 1,000 people per square mile (386 per square kilometer) and surrounding census blocks that have an overall density of at least 500 people per square mile (193 per square kilometer)."
The concept of Urbanized Areas as defined by the US Census Bureau are often used as a more accurate gauge of the size of a city, since in different cities and states the lines between city borders and the urbanized area of that city are often not the same. For example, the city of Greenville, South Carolina has a city population under 60,000 but an urbanized area over 300,000, while Greensboro, North Carolina has a city population over 200,000 but an urbanized area population of around 270,000--meaning that Greenville is actually "larger" for some intents and purposes, but not for others, such as taxation, local elections, etc.
- Ranked list of New Zealand main urban areas
- Largest urban areas of the European Union
- Largest urban areas of the United States
- "1216.0 - Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC), 2001". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 2007-10-09.
- "urban area (ua), 2001 census - Geographic Units". Statistics Canada. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
- (French) "Nomenclatures Définitions - Méthodes - Unité urbaine" (HTML). Retrieved 2007-07-20.
- (French) "Nomenclatures Définitions - Méthodes - Aire urbaine" (HTML). Retrieved 2007-07-07.
- World Urban Areas All identified world urbanized areas 500,000+ and others: Population & Density. Author seeks advice on any that appear to be missing: email@example.com
- United States Urbanized Areas All 452 urbanized areas from 2000 census: Population, Land Area & Density
- U.S. Census Bureau: Maps of urban areas
- U.S. Census Bureau: Maps of urban clusters
- U.S. Census Bureau: Census 2000 Urban and Rural Classification
- Geopolis research group at the University of Avignon, France for European urban areas
- Gridded Population of the World - contains links to urban area definitions and maps for over 230 countries/territories
- City Mayors - The World's Largest Urban Areas in 2006
- City Mayors - The World's Largest Urban Areas Projected for 2020