What makes a city?
Contrary to popular belief, not every city has a spectacular cathedral that dominates the skyline: it’s true that many cities do boast architectural masterpieces but it’s not actually a prerequisite. This is because historically, cities were settlements with a cathedral and those places still remain cities today, irrespective of population size. Therefore, many settlements that are now comparatively small, such as Ely, (population 20,100 in 2011), Wells, (12,000 in 2018) or Salisbury (40,300 in 2011) have long had city status. Compare this with Southend’s core population of around 183,000.
Neither is physical size by area important; for example, England’s smallest ciy is ‘The City of London’ and is only a little over 1 square mile. England’s largest City? Perhaps it might be Greater Manchester, or how about Birmingham? Not even close – that title belongs to ‘The City of Carlisle’ at a whopping 401 square miles!
So, what makes a city today? Obviously, a cathedral is frequently a common factor, but so is having a university, thriving business community and a large population. Many factors play a part in building the case for city status.
However, local government structures, despite often being called ‘city councils’, do not have a direct connection to whether somewhere has the status of a city. In law, a city council could be a unitary authority like Manchester, a district council such as Cambridge or even small parish council as seen in Truro.