How Do You Build a Successful City?


By John Liu | USA

Last year, Phoenix surpassed Philadelphia as the 5th largest city in the US. I live in Houston, Texas, where it is the 4th largest city in the US, and that got me thinking, what makes a city a city. What is the minimum population required to be a city? What is the classification of a city? What makes some cities so special?

Before we talk about cities today,  let’s talk about what it means to be a city and places before the Industrial Revolution. Merriam-Webster defines a city as a place where people work and live and cities are bigger than towns. This definition is very vague and does not specifically states the criteria for a city. In order to be a city, the minimum population needs to be around 1,500 to 50,000. That is just the minimum population. Size is not all; it also has to have some kind of political importance.  Cities also have taxes in place to help support the local government.

So what makes Houston a bigger and more complex city then, let’s say, West, Texas?

First, proximity to water. The ten biggest cities by population in the USA are located next to a water source. It has always been the best way to trade goods because it is so cheap to transport the goods. Today, shipping is still the cheapest method of hauling enormous amounts of goods. It is also a transportation station. Back in 1892, Ellis Island was the best way to get to the US and by the time it closed in 1954, 12 million immigrants called the United States home. Many Asian immigrants made it to the US via San Francisco and there is a strong number of Asians in this country.

Secondly, food and potable water. It is our basic need that has to be achieved and you cannot survive without water after three days. So getting to a water source is important. There is also food that you can get from the water like fish.

The third aspect is resources. This is probably the most important reason why cities are where they are at. Most major cities are not located in the mountains because they are far away from a water source. (with the exception Denver; they are located near the rocky mountains because it has a large amount of silver in its deposit and minerals that are crucial). These cities need resources to sustain themselves.

Lastly, the jobs and affordability. The Sunbelt area, where Houston is located, is one of the fastest growing cities along Phoenix, is one of the most affordable areas to live and it is an area where most elders want to spend their days after they retire. But why do so many people still live in North, especially that San Francisco and New York City is so pricey to live? Both of these places have a lot of jobs to offer. In Houston, we have the largest medical center in the world so many scientists and doctors live over here. In San Francisco, it is the tech giants like Twitter that many tech geeks live over there.

So as cities continue to grow, the futures of millions are on the line finding jobs in these big cities and continue to grow the local urban economies of America.