Quite which milestone a town must pass in order to be called a city is, as measures and maps so often are, a bone of scholarly contention. Judging by the response to each new year’s city status competition in the UK, it’s a matter of public confusion too. Really, how does a village like St Davids, in Pembrokeshire – population 1,600 – get to wear the same badge as New York City, which, at 8.4 million, counts five and a half thousand times more inhabitants?

Urban agglomerations only properly started to grow with the advent of the internal combustion engine, making of New York and its fellow metropolises the elevated symbols of the 20th century. But as spatial analysts and cartography specialists Michael Batty and James Cheshire point out, size is only the half of it. The 21st century is comprehensively exploding what a city can be. Megalopolises are stitching entire provinces – even countries – together. The diffuse nature of the metaversal locale, meanwhile, means its spread encompasses the globe itself, in patterns invisible to the naked eye. The city of the future is here, there and everywhere.

Elsewhere, a wildlife conservation specialist details how the current, record outbreak of bird flu could hit the UK’s wild birds the hardest. And an expert in trade union activism explains what British university staff aim to achieve by, from tomorrow, convening what could turn out to be the largest strike ever in the higher education sector in this country.

Dale Berning Sawa

Commissioning Editor, Cities + Society


The era of the megalopolis: how the world’s cities are merging

James Cheshire, UCL; Michael Batty, UCL

Quite how to gauge the size of a city – or where one ends and the next begins – is getting harder to determine. The 21st century belongs to the limitless city.

In the UK, more than 150 cases of bird flu have been reported between September and November of this year alone. Mark Agnor/ Shutterstock

Bird flu: UK is seeing its largest ever outbreak – which may prove particularly deadly for wild birds

Alastair Ward, University of Leeds

The UK government has set up a special task force to investigate.

University staff on strike in 2019. Lee Iveson/Shutterstock

Why UK universities are going on strike

Heather Connolly, Grenoble École de Management (GEM)

University staff to walk out for three days in what may be the largest ever in the higher education sector.

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