The 21st Century has been characterized as the Century of the City. Today, approximately 80% of the U.S. population lives within an urban metropolitan area. Cities are the true engines of America’s greatness and urbanism in general have long been acknowledged as the primary drivers of economic, cultural and civic development throughout the world. In the U.S. they are the centers of population growth, economic activity, technological advancement, cultural diversity and have taken the lead in our country’s quest to grow and thrive in the global economy.
However, when we use the term “City” we often use it inappropriately to identify only the downtown urban core area of a city instead of the larger metropolis associated with that urban core. For example, New York City is not just the island of Manhattan. New York City is a metropolis with five boroughs and the greater New York metropolitan area extends into three states and has a population that exceeds 20 million people. In fact the greater New York Metropolitan Region is the ninth largest “megacity” in the world and the only one in the top ten that is located in North America. So what is needed is a better understanding of what the term “City” truly encompasses and represents. Today our sense of place is increasingly defined by the greater cohesive metropolitan area and the term needs to be redefined to express its true magnitude and power. We can no longer think of a City in the narrow geopolitical context that exists today. We can no longer afford to view it as the isolated core of the city or by the city limits drawn on a map. Together, the urban city core, the city boundaries, suburbia, exurbia and the region have been fused into a new and vibrant entity that is greater than the sum of its parts.
We need to begin to use the proper nomenclature that really defines the true diversity, magnitude and economic potential of this cohesive urban entity. Perhaps another way to think about our cities is to look to historical references of the past as well as present day models and consider the use of the term “City State” as the most appropriate way to think of our major urban metropolises. Today, there are numerous examples such as the “Federal City” of Washington D.C. or international models such as Singapore or Hong Kong that could broadly serve as an inspiration and model for a new geopolitical reality.
What is needed is a new geopolitical governance model that is grounded by the need to address our current social, political and economic parameters such as crime, growth, inequality, sprawl, environmental degradation, jobs, and transportation issues. Unfortunately, there is currently no legitimate home grown political governance model in place to address these larger geopolitical issues.
However, there is an excellent model that accurately defines our “geospatial” metropolitan urbanism. And that model is used by the U.S. Government and the nomenclature used for the model is the “Metropolitan Statistical Area” (MSA).