The definition of cities and towns

This is more pr less just to record some musings, but might be of interest to some readers.

A weather group I follow recently became engaged in a debate about where to measure the elevation of a town.  This followed from an article in a newspaper, (? it was the Daily Mail) which described Lithgow as the coldest city in Australia. 

This led to a response by one of the expert members of the group:
Lithgow's old Birdwood Street station has the longest record (84 years) of Lithgow stations and is close to the city centre. Its whole-of-record mean annual temp is 12.3°while its 1971-2000 30-year mean is 12.55. Comparing apples with apples, Ballarat AP's 1971-2000 mean is 12.15 and Orange's is 11.75, though that is at the AP which is higher and slightly colder than the city itself. Orange Ag Stn, which is just in the city proper unfortunately began in 1976, but its 25 complete years in the 1971-2000 period gives an annual mean of 12.3. So by a whisker, both Ballarat and Orange are "colder" than Lithgow. 
A link was also included to a Wikipedia page about cities in Australia.  At least NSW used to have a definition! 

My memory was that South Australia used to have a rule that a city had a population of 10,000 or more which meant that in the 1970s the only cities were: the Adelaide conurbation, Whyalla and Mount Gambier.  Port Lincoln was close so any thoughts about ABS doing tests of population counts ended up there to see if they'd got across the line.

Noting the link between elevation and temperature it was noted that within an urban area there can be a range of elevations:
Going from a quick perusal of a contour map, the highest point in the Orange City LGA looks to be around 990m; for Armidale City LGA around 1140m. It seems that Armidale has quite a lot of country above 1000m while Orange has plenty above 800m.
Mt Macedon is a good example of varying elevation. There is only one road through town and the Mt Macedon town sign at the southern end is about 470m asl and the town sign at the northern approach is 880m asl :) Mt Macedon (village) is usually listed as around 620m.
Another contributor commented on the history of town/city elevations:
Locations with railway stations, past and present, were usually the first surveyed for elevation and the town took its elevation from that of the railway station, or to be more precise, the rail level at the mid-point of the station platform, which is the case for Millthorpe. Post Office elevations sometimes were used for the town/city if they were surveyed for them. 
I expressed my view that I preferred a definition based on service provision rather than population.  In the UK - 50 years or more ago - the following rules of thumb applied:

  • City - had a cathedral;
  • Town  - had a livestock market;
  • Village  - had a church
  • Hamlet - group of houses without a church (but quite possibly a pub)!

Of course, these days economics and the New World Order have probably wrecked several of those criteria.  Livestock markets will have been centralised, churches closed due to falling congregations and pubs closed as the licences are transferred to more profitable locations in the cities.

In the same way in Australia many rail lines have closed (and, with enlightened Councils been transformed into rail trails) and Post Offices transformed into houses.

This led me to recall some of the work leading to the ABS Index of Remoteness which had some basis on the distance of a Collection District from the nearest centre with various levels of medical service.  Perhaps we could have a definition based on medical and educational facilities?

  • City: has a full service hospital and a tertiary educational facility.  This would make Queanbeyan a city through the Tafe campus;
  • Town: has a high school and a base hospital.  Braidwood fits in here.;
  • Village: has a primary school and a medical practice.  Bungendore comes in here.  Even if it scores a High School the lack of a hospital keeps it as a village.
  • Locality: everywhere else, including Carwoola and Hoskinstown.
I'm not sure what to do with places within a conurbation, but am inclined to treat the whole contiguous mess as one entity.  So:
  • Paramatta, Cambelltown and Liverpool etc would all fall within the Sydney Metropolitan City; 
  • Woolongong and Shellharbour (and possibly Shoalhaven) would be the Illawarra City.


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