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The first cities developed as trading and administrative centers in the Middle East and Asia several thousand years ago.  Today, Tokyo, the world's largest city, has more than 38 million inhabitants, and the majority of people on planet Earth live in cities.  However, the word city can be variously defined in different places and contexts.  For example, in many sparsely populated areas, a large town is considered a city.  In the United States and some other countries, a city is an urban area with defined boundaries.  In Europe, a town with a cathedral is usually considered a city.  The most important city of any nation is its capital city, where the national government is usually based.  However, the national capital is not always the largest city in the country.
United States Capitol - Washington, DC
United States Capitol
Washington, DC

City dwellers require various services, some of which — like potable water and public safety — may be provided by governmental bodies while others — like sanitation and public transportation — may be organized as quasi-government entities or left to private enterprises.  Well-run cities that provide services efficiently tend to be prosperous and enjoyable places to live, while poorly-run cities can often become unhealthy and unpleasant places where traffic congestion, decrepit infrastructure, and criminal activity abound.

The oldest part of a city is often called the center city or downtown.  Radiating out from the commercial center are industrial and residential zones, all connected by a network of roads.  Many cities grow up around their historical centers with no overall plan.  However, some cities, like Washington, DC and Brasilia, were carefully planned and mapped out before any construction began.

city center - isometric rendering
City Center
Isometric View

Land is expensive at the center of a city, so commercial developments often expand upward rather than outward.  Although some people live near city centers, many families choose to live in less crowded suburban areas where backyard gardens and quiet parks provide welcome respites from busy city streets.

aerial view of midtown New York City
Midtown New York City
Aerial View

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