What Is an Urban Settlement?

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An urban settlement is a densely populated area comprising mostly man-made structures that contain all of a society's administrative, cultural, residential and religious functions. In some countries, like the Soviet Union and India, official urban municipalities may be considered an urban settlement if they meet population and density criteria set by the country's government.

Population

Depending on the country in which it is located, an urban settlement could have a population of just a few thousand. In more developed countries, an area is not considered urban until it has at least 20,000 people. The majority of the population must sustain itself without relying on agricultural occupations for work.

Density

In the United States, the U.S. Census Bureau defines an urban area as having more than 50,000 people and at least 1,000 people per square mile. Since 2000, the bureau bases its classification solely on population density regardless if the area is incorporated or unincorporated as a municipality.

Economics

Since the majority of people living in an urban settlement work outside agriculture, professional occupations and industrial manufacturing provide the economy's basis. A centralized government and banking system exist with residents relying on a cash or credit system as opposed to barter.

Size

An urban settlement's size depends largely on its population, with the area growing as more people settle there. Most countries have very specific population minimums before a settlement is considered urban; but a town, a city and a metropolitan area are a few types of urban settlements. Some countries define town and city differently based on size and population, and others use the terms interchangeably. As more people arrive, the number and types of services increase, which creates a pattern of development.

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