What Is a City? An Essential Definition for Sustainability

  • Peter J. MarcotullioEmail author
  • William Solecki
Part of the Human-Environment Interactions book series (HUEN, volume 3)


The debate over the definition of the city and the elements of the urbanization process has a long history in the social sciences. These debates highlighted the significant differences in social outcomes between studies that defined cities as social entities and those that examined cities as strictly social processes. With increasing interest in environmental and resource management concerns, the debate over what a city is and what are the processes of urbanization have taken on even greater importance. While, in one sense, it has become easier to identify “the urban” due to new imaging and mapping technologies, taking the definition of cities as simply entities has important consequences for our ability to identify sustainable pathways. There is much that environmental and ecological studies can bring to the definition of the city, but a there is also much that these studies can learn from previous social research. By focusing on cities as entities and ignoring social processes, these new studies may conflate numerous developmental processes, and at the same time ignore the fundamental aspects that define the urban, resulting in a misunderstanding of social, economic and environmental consequences.


Definition of city Urbanization process City as entity City as quality Urban ecosystem approaches 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography, Hunter CollegeCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Sustainable Cities, Department of Geography, Hunter CollegeCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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