The world that is coming into emergence in the 21st century is preeminently a world of cities. More than half of the population of the earth now lives in urban areas according to a recent report by the United Nations (2007). The trend toward increasing levels of urbanization is one that will certainly continue for the foreseeable future, despite predictions in some quarters that the digital revolution will rapidly undermine any continuing benefits to be obtained from geographical proximity (Cairncross 1997; O’Brien 1992). So it is well worth returning, at the outset, to the perpetually contentious question as to what cities are and why they remain such a prominent element of the geographic landscape. An initial but not very informative approach to defining a city is to fix on its dominant empirical form and to say that it comprises a large, dense settlement of people. This answer is formally correct but evades the central issue of the essential social dynamics that account for the existence and internal configuration of large, dense settlements of people in the first place. We can certainly say, with support from Childe (1950), that there must be an agricultural surplus before cities can come into existence, but this proposition does not carry us very far either.
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