The richness of any discussion; comes for either participants from various knowledge areas or well versed professionals..
In these discussion all had addressed the areas and people.. none spoke about transportation, economies and land-use.. Yet, very interesting..
Why are American cities bigger than European cities?
Actually the concept of ‘‘city’’ differs between USA and Europe. And it’s ironic the fact that according the American view of a city, Europe has much more big cities than the US:
But, at first, take in account that while in the US there are just 4 cities exceeding 2 million inhabitants within their city limits (New York: 9, Los Angeles: 4, Chicago: 3 and Houston: 2), Europe has 10 cities bigger than that (Istanbul: 15, Moscow: 13, London: 9, Saint Petersbourg: 5, Berlin and Madrid: 3, Paris, Rome, Kiev, Bucharest: 2). As you see 3 European cities are at least as big as New York, the biggest American city.
However, the biggest difference between US and Europe is about the way they see a Metropolitan Area. Europe is a much more densely populated place and it’s way harder to set the limits of Metropolitan Areas, so, many cities that in America would be considered as part of the same Metropolitan Area, in Europe are seen as different Metro Areas (probably for historical reasons, who knows?).
In England, p.ex., London’s Commuters Belt had a total of 19 million people in 2011 (and around 20,5 million people in 2018), in an area similar to New York’s Metropolitan Area (11000 km2; 20,3 million in 2018), while Los Angeles in a larger area (12500 km2) is home to ‘‘just’’ 13,5 million people, 1 million more than Paris which covers a similar area (Ile de France region is about 12000 km2, too).
In West Germany, in an area of just 7000 km2 (slightly bigger than Delaware), live about 11 million people in a complex of cities called Rhine-Ruhr (places like Dusseldorf, Bonn, Dortmund, Leverkusen, etc., are in that complex) where the open areas between the cities rarely surpasses the 2 kilometres (1,5 mile). In the United States this would be considered as one single Metro Area; indeed, Chicago’s Metro Area is viewed as one huge city, despite covering 3000 km2 more area than the Rhine-Ruhr and having less population.
Another example: in the San Francisco Bay Area live 8,5 million people in an area of 26000 km2, while those 8,5 million live in just 8500 km2 in Randstad (an urban region in Netherlands, which includes cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Haarlem, The Hague, etc.; however, these cities are never mentioned as a Metropolitan Area, while the Bay Area is often seen as a single entity under the ‘‘San Francisco’’ label).
And these are just some of the big European Union cities. In the rest of Europe, Moscow p.ex. has 13 million people within the city limts, in just 2500 km2, and Istanbul 15 million in 5000 km2, but at the same time they have 18 and 19 million people urban areas respectively in surfaces smaller than the SFO Bay Area.
Indeed, if you look at population figures in the USA, metropolitan areas are much larger than in Europe. The reason is that America has much fewer villages and small places than Europe. Historically, the population of European immigrants settled in the cities than in the countryside, and when people moved within the US, it was to go to a metropolitan area, not to the country, which made the trend even more pronounced. It is amazing to see that even in places like the Northeast, you very quickly pass from metropolis to wilderness.
However, American cities often don’t look like cities in the European sense of the term. They are more like large suburbs. Even a city like Philadelphia with 4 million people (big in Europe) looks smallish, because its city center is small, its transportation network is tiny, almost everyone lives in far spreading suburbia, in which you sometimes cannot even walk. I guess places like Dallas, Denver etc must feel even more so.
A European city, even a small one like Strasbourg, will have a consistent old center, a large network of trams, you can walk or bicycle anywhere so it feels very different.
If you understand “America” — as US citizens tend to do — to be synonymous with “USA”. This is likely the case here, since the asker appears to be from Virginia.
(Metropolitan areas in the US might be larger by area though than equally populated metros in Europe. I assume that’s not what the asker means by “bigger”.)
Below is a list of population counts of the ten biggest metropolitan areas in Europe and the USA. Only for the US metros in places 1, 8 and 9 is it true that they are more populous than the identically-ranked European metro.
According to this list, the mean population of the ten most populous metros in the USA is 7.52 million, in Europe it’s 8.77 million.
- NYC 19.5m
- LA 12.8m
- Chicago 9.5m
- Dallas-Fort Worth 6.4m
- Philadelphia 6.0m
- Houston 5.9m
- Washington DC 5.6m
- Miami 5.6m
- Atlanta 5.3m
- Boston 4.6m
- Moscow 14.8m
- Istanbul 13.6m
- London 12.5m
- Paris 10.5m
- Milano 8.9m
- Napoli 6.9m
- Roma 5.6m
- Madrid 5.4m
- St Petersburg 4.8m
- Ruhrgebiet 4.7m.
[Sources >>(2010 column); (2011 column)]
If one considers American cities in the proper sense, I guess most US metros will drop from the above list, with the exception of NYC and LA, and be replaced by Ciudad de México, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Lima, Bogotá etc. Then, and only then, is the assumption of the question correct.
Let’s dig a bit into each matter:
- The EU’s population has a whopping 510 million inhabitants, almost 200 million more than the US. However, when it comes to size the EU is almost half the land area of that of the US. Hence less space to live and more densely populated cities.
- EU cities are no peanut sized places, London and Paris have over 10 million inhabitants, less than NY, but larger than any US city a part from LA. The large sized cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam, Madrid, Rome, Berlin, Munich, etc., would be as big as SF, Boston, Philly, Chicago, etc. by population.
- Mid sized cities would be more prevalent and in some cases equal or bigger than the US counterpart.
- Bottom line : US and European cities are similar in sizes when it comes to number of inhabitants.
- This is where both regions differ massively, the EU has very limited space and is highly urbanized and connected. Whereas the US is vast and has tons of empty space.
- When you have a lot of space and a laissez-faire sort of way of life, people do whatever they want with space, hence the super sprawl you see in US cities.
- As other have mentioned, the car has not been the defining development model for European cities, as a result, more effort is put into developing transport systems that service most its citizens. By contrast US cities often lack proper mass transport system infrastructure as people are used or prefer to use cars to move around.
- Urban sprawl and suburban developments are present in European cities as well, but rarely to the extent of US cities. And most of the times there are regional, commuter or light rail systems and buses that connect with the wider city in a convenient manner.
- Compact and dense commercial urban centres are also prevalent in many European cities, as a result, they tend to be more densely populated and smaller in area size.
In short, I would say that historical, geographical, cultural and economic reasons are behind as to why US cities are larger in area compared to the US city.
Population wise, they don’t differ that much.
Compare this to Europe. There are no deserts occupying 1/3 of the total area. Except for the Alps and the northernmost parts, there are cities everywhere. The European population are spread on thousands of cities. Not a few as in the US.
That and the much older history.