An urban area is an area with an increased density of human-created structures in comparison to the areas surrounding it. Urban areas may be cities, towns or conurbations, but the term is not commonly extended to rural settlements such as villages and hamlets.
Urban areas are created and further developed by the process of urbanization. Measuring the extent of an urbanized area helps in analyzing population density and urban sprawl, and in determining urban and rural populations(Cubillas 2007).
Unlike an urban area, a metropolitan area includes not only the urban area, but also satellite cities plus intervening rural land that is socio-economically connected to the urban core city, typically by employment ties through commuting, with the urban core city being the primary labor market. In fact, urbanized areas agglomerate and grow as the core population/economic activity center within a larger metropolitan area or envelope.
Metropolitan areas tend to be defined using counties or county sized political units as building blocks. Counties tend to be stable political boundaries; economists prefer to work with economic and social statistics based on metropolitan areas. Urbanized areas are a more relevant statistic for determining per capita land usage and densities (Dumlao & Felizmenio 1976).
Definitions vary somewhat amongst different nations. The minimum density requirement is generally 400 persons per square kilometer. European countries define urbanized areas on the basis of urban-type land use, not allowing any gaps of typically more than 200 meters, and use satellite photos instead of census blocks to determine the boundaries of the urban area. In less developed countries, in addition to land use and density requirements, a requirement that a large majority of the population, typically 75%, is not engaged in agriculture and/or fishing is sometimes used.
In Australia, urban areas are referred to as "urban centres" and are defined as population clusters of 1000 or more people, with a density of 200 or more persons per square kilometre.
In Canada, an urban area is an area that has more than 400 people per square kilometre and has more than 1,000 people. If two or more urban areas are within two kilometres of each other, they are merged into a single urban area. The boundaries of an urban area are not influenced by municipal or even provincial boundaries.
In China, an urban area is an urban district, city and town with a population density higher than 7,500 persons per square kilometre. As for urban districts with a population density lower than 1,500 persons per square kilometre, only the population that lives in streets, town sites, and adjacent villages is counted as urban population.
In France, an urban area is a zone (aire urbaine) encompassing an area of built-up growth (called an "urban unit" (unit urbaine) - close in definition to the North American urban area) and its commuter belt (couronne priurbaine). Although the official INSEE translation of aire urbaine is "urban area", most North Americans would find the same as being similar in definition to their metropolitan area.
In Japan urbanized areas are defined as contiguous areas of densely inhabited districts (DIDs) using census enumeration districts as units with a density requirement of 4,000 people per square kilometer.
Statistics New Zealand defines New Zealand urban areas for statistical purposes as a settlement with a population of a thousand people or more.
In Poland, official "urban" population figures simply refer to those localities which have the status of towns (miasta). The "rural" population is that of all areas outside the boundaries of these towns. This distinction may give a misleading impression in some cases, since some localities with only village status may have acquired larger and denser populations than many smaller towns.
Urban areas in Sweden (torter) are statistically defined localities, totally independent of the administrative subdisvision of the country. There are 1,940 such localities in Sweden, with a population ranging from 200 to 1,252,000 inhabitants.
In the United States there are two categories of urban area. The term urbanized area denotes an urban area of 50,000 or more people. Urban areas under 50,000 people are called urban clusters. Urbanized areas were first delineated in the United States in the 1950 census, while urban clusters were added in the 2000 census. There are 1371 United States Urban Areas & Urban Clusters with more than 10,000 people.
The US Census Bureau defines an urban area as: "Core census block groups or blocks that have a population density of at least 1,000 people per square mile (386 per square kilometer) and surrounding census blocks that have an overall density of at least 500 people per square mile (193 per square kilometer)."
The concept of Urbanized Areas as defined by the US Census Bureau are often used as a more accurate gauge of the size of a city, since in different cities and states the lines between city borders and the urbanized area of that city are often not the same. For example, the city of Greenville, South Carolina has a city population under 60,000 but an urbanized area over 300,000, while Greensboro, North Carolina has a city population over 200,000 but an urbanized area population of around 270,000--meaning that Greenville is actually "larger" for some intents and purposes, but not for others, such as taxation, local elections, etc.
About 70% of the population of the United States lives within the boundaries of urbanized area (210 out of 300 million). Combined, these area occupy about 2% of the United States. The majority of urbanized area residents are suburbanites; core central city residents make up about 30% of the urbanized area population (about 60 out of 210 million).