Questions and Answers on How Cities Work

tall city buildings and surface parking lots seen from several stories up

Last Updated: October 24, 2022

On this page you will find a form for asking us questions about how cities work. Before we get to that, we will give you a few insights into how you can satisfy some of your own curiosity about urban dynamics by digging into the many pages on this website.

You would think that the people who have questions about how cities work would be rural dwellers or the few suburbanites who truly haven't been to the city in ages.  But even city residents sometimes wonder about what lies beneath the street, how a city government really makes decisions, whether social service agencies really coordinate with one another or whether their efforts are disjointed, and how and why certain parts of a city attract used car dealerships or artists or technology start-up companies, while others do not.

It is just not possible to explain once and for all time the dynamics of cities, because an urban system has many thousands of variables and is constantly in flux. Think of a family system in which each pair of people has a relationship; cities are like families of families, in which all the possible associations are too complex to even diagram.

That is actually a good thing, as this churn of people, ideas, styles, trends, and accidental interaction produces the innovation that underpins a good economy and the community attachment that keeps people emotionally involved and willing to sacrifice for their city.

When we started the website, we asked for general community development questions, and as time went by and the questions and answers started stacking up, we noticed that a few were really theoretical. One about cities in space was even abstract and futuristic.

So we thought a category about how cities work at the overview level would capture these outlier submissions and bring an interesting dimension to the conversation. 

Our emphasis on practicality and straight talk on this site is what makes us unique and attractive to many people, but every once in a while, we want to dream and just ask questions about probable cause and effect relationships in urban systems overall.  So do you.

While urban research from time to time provides evidence of strong support for one theory or another, the difficulties of isolating variables and keeping the measurement accurate as the culture changes still means that much of what makes urban areas function well is still elusive.  That's just a fancy way of saying that it will be hard to prove our answers are wrong.

Join in on the fun by completing the invitation form a couple of paragraphs below this.  When we decide we can say something meaningful about your question, we answer and set it up so that other visitors can disagree with us, add comments, and generally move a discussion forward.  Below the form, you can see what others have asked, but we bet your question won't be here yet. Please ask; in this arena, there are definitely no stupid questions.

If you do not want to ask a question, or feel you cannot form a question adequately, here are a couple of other ways you can use this website to help you with figuring out how cities work.

First, feel free to use the search box that appears at the top of almost every page, including this one. Second, check out our navigation for logical divisions of topics. Third, you could go to our sitemap and either browse for a topic relevant to you, or check out that yellow box near the top. In the yellow box, we have compiled lists of pages helpful to possible audiences for this website, such as small towns, planning commission members, neighborhoods facing lots of challenges, suburbs, and so forth. These lists often provide even better clues than simply the navigation, since community develop topics tend to overlap any nice divisions we might make.

Just below is the form you can use to ask a question, and also there you will find links to the questions others have asked, and our answers (and possibly answers provided by other readers).

Have A Question About How Cities Work?

Would you like to ask the other visitors and the editors a question about what makes cities tick? Here's your place to ask about real or hypothetical cities of the future, and then check back for answers.

Other Questions and Answers

Click below to see contributions from other visitors, and answers.

Difference between regeneration and redevelopment 
Visitor Question: What's the difference between Regeneration and Redevelopment? Editors Reply: We have to imagine that you thought we were never …

Cities funding CDCs 
Visitor Question: Are there any restrictions on Cities or local units of government funding CDCs? Editors Reply: There are no general restrictions …

Difference between development and redevelopment 
Visitor Question: What is the difference between development and redevelopment? How can I know which is which? Editors' Reply: We should point …

Where development projects get money 
How do real estate developments get the money they need? Do all of the funds come from people's pocketbooks, or does every development fleece the taxpayer? …

Typical Percentage of Land Uses 
Visitor Question: What proportion of the land in cities and towns typically is taken up by each type of land use? Editors Reply: The answer to this …

Too many parking lots in big city downtowns 
More and more parking lots are taking up space in the downtown areas of major cities, it seems to me. I travel several days a week on business and this …

Is it healthier to live in the suburbs or the city 
I was wondering whether it's better to live in a suburban atmosphere or in the heart of the city? There is more pollution in the city, but I'm hoping …

Cities in space? 
Do you think it's time to think about cities in space? How would they be planned? How would they be different from cities on earth? Editors' Reply: …

Landmarks and city development 
Are landmarks essential the city's development? What happens if a city seems to have few landmarks? What if a suburb's main landmark is a major discount …

Click here to write your own.

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