What's In A City?

Exploring the boundaries and metropolitan areas of U.S. cities

Jeffrey Shen

Mar 22, 2020

Cities are often represented as dots on a map, but in reality, their boundaries are rarely ever that simple (exception: Mooresboro, NC). If you’ve ever seen the boundaries of, say, San Jose, CA or Houston, TX, you’ll know that municipal boundaries don’t always line up with what we think a city looks like.

This means that even something as simple as the population of a city depends on what we consider that city’s boundaries to be. So, I decided to explore the various ways we can consider the boundaries of cities and their surrounding metropolitan areas:

Let's start with Los Angeles, my home and the second largest city in the U.S.
Here are the city boundaries, containing around four million people.
You'll notice these boundaries don't actually include many places we think are part of L.A.
In fact, Los Angeles proper doesn't even include "East Los Angeles", which is a separate, unincorporated municipality.
If we instead look at the "L.A.-Long Beach-Anaheim Urbanized Area" (as determined by the Census), the boundaries fit more of what we expect L.A. to look like.
This area, which contains over 12 million people (four million more than New York City), is probably what most people have in mind when they say "Los Angeles."
Importantly, this region only includes "urbanized areas", or Census-designated regions with over 50,000 people, which excludes many suburbs and towns that might be considered part of the Greater Los Angeles Area.
Another region to consider is the L.A. Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget as a region which "consists of a city and surrounding communities that are linked by social and economic factors."
This area, which contains over 13.2 million people, does a good job approximating what we think the "Greater Los Angeles Area" looks like.
Alternatively, we could consider the L.A. Combined Statistical Area, which is defined as a region containing economically linked metropolitan and micropolitan areas.
This region has a population of over 18.7 million people (nearly half of California's population), and contains other cities like Ventura that might also be considered part of the Greater Los Angeles Area.
As you can see, there are many different ways to define the boundaries of L.A. and its surrounding metropolitan area. Keep scrolling to explore more U.S. Cities!


Never miss a post.

We'll never spam your account or give away your email.

Related Posts