The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “city” as any inhabited place of greater size, population, or importance than a town or village. The line between a town and a city can often be blurry, however. Just how large can a town get before it becomes a city?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 39% of the American population — which totals 328.2 million — reside in cities of at least 50,000 people. But out of the roughly 19,500 incorporated cities, towns, and villages in the United States as of 2018, only slightly more than 300 of them had populations above 100,000 people; only 89 had more than 250,000 people; and only 10 were home to a million or more residents. (Some international cities are far bigger than anything in the U.S., of course. Here are nine cities with more than 20 million people.)
To determine the largest cities in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed population data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey, assembling a list of the 50 most populous. For each of these cities, we also collected land area and total area (land and water) from the Census Bureau’s TIGERweb data files. (Area figures are current as of Jan. 1, 2021, except those for Louisville/Jefferson County, Kentucky, which date from 2010). We calculated density using land area and population figures. (Check out the largest city in every state.)
According to recent research from the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, the national average population density in the U.S. stands at 94 people per square mile. The typical metropolitan area has 283 people per square mile, while mega-cities in the U.S. can have thousands or even tens of thousands. The 50 cities on this list range from 1,080 people per square mile (Oklahoma City) to 27,747 (New York City).