Big City, Small Town, or Something In Between

When you’re looking for a new place to live, the type of city you’re moving to is an important factor in your decision. You might want to live in the heart of a bustling downtown, or find peace and quiet in the countryside. However, someone from New York City might have a different definition of a big city than someone from North Dakota. offers nine different location types for user searches, so it is important to understand what each of those terms really means.

Major Urban Area

Cities in this category fall within metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) with a population of greater than 1 million residents. An MSA doesn’t necessarily mean a single city – it can include a range of cities and even counties that are all part of a single urban environment. MSAs are defined by the U.S. Census and you can read more about them here.

This category includes the largest cities in the country, like New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Some of the less-populous cities in this category include Cincinnati, Ohio; Tulsa, Okla.; and Buffalo, New York.

Suburb – Major Urban Area

Because an MSA isn’t limited to a single city, it also can encompass smaller cities and towns close to a major urban area. You may not want to live right in the middle of a big city, but you might want to be close by to enjoy all the amenities that a big city can offer. A suburb of a major urban area includes any cities or large unincorporated townships with a population of less than 100,000 that are within an MSA with a population of 1 million or more.

Large Urban Area

These cities are within MSAs that have populations between 250,000 to 1 million residents. It’s important to keep in mind that the individual cities within this category may have populations less than 250,000. Even though the cities are smaller, they are still part of a larger MSA. This category includes cities like Tucson, Ariz., and El Paso, Texas.

Suburb – Large Urban Area

A suburb for a large urban area includes any cities with a population of less than 75,000 that are within an MSA with a population between 250,000 and 1 million residents.

Mid-Sized Urban Area

Mid-sized urban areas include any cities within an MSA with a population of less than 250,000. This includes cities like Yakima, Wash.; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Tyler, Texas.

Suburb – Mid-Sized Urban Area

These suburbs include any cities with a population of less than 50,000 that are within an MSA with a population of less than 250,000.

Small Urban Area

These locations are outside of the metropolitan statistical areas. They include cities inside of counties with a population greater than 20,000. Although they can sometimes have fairly large populations (e.g., Hawaii County with a population of 185,000), none of them are defined as an MSA. This can occur if there is a low population density or few neighboring cities.

Small Town

If you’re looking for space away from big cities, then you might want to live in one of the thousands of small towns in the United States. This category includes any city within a county that has a population between 2,500 and 20,000.

Rural Area

This category includes any city within a county that has a population of less than 2,500. These will be the places to go to get away from it all and enjoy a quieter environment.


No matter what size city or town you want to live in, there are many options to choose from. You can select the location type suits you best on and find the right place to live your best life, no however you choose to define it. Dwellics ranks more than 60,000 cities, towns and neighborhoods within large metropolitan areas all across America. Check out our “Top 100 Best Cities To Raise A Family” rankings for the South, West, Midwest, and Northeast U.S., or enter your own specific wants and needs and our city ranking tool will generate a unique list based on your selections.

To see our “Top 100 Best Cities” ranking lists, click here.

To learn more about city size definitions, check out the following links:
Metropolitan Statistical Areas
Rural-Urban Continuum Code
Defining Suburbs

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