Urban areas

My posting on micropolitans, or micropolitan areas, touched on the more familiar technical term metropolitan area; both are defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. Then I reflected on ordinary-language use for reference to urban areas. There are several alternatives, including semi-technical alternatives to X metropolitan area (in particular, Greater X). And sometimes they pile up.

Usage of these expressions varies from person to person, the boundaries are (as is common with ordinary-language terms) often unclear, and some of the expressions are specific to particular cities.

For some sense of the complexity, see the beginning of the Wikipedia entry on Greater Boston:

Greater Boston is the area of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts surrounding the city of Boston. Due to ambiguity in usage, the size of the area referred to can be anywhere between that of the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) of Boston and that of the city’s combined statistical area (CSA), which includes the metro areas of Providence, Rhode Island and Worcester, Massachusetts.

By contrast, Metro Boston is usually reserved to signify the “inner core” surrounding the City of Boston, while “Greater Boston” usually at least overlaps the North and South Shores, as well as MetroWest and the Merrimack Valley.

Metro Boston seems to be reasonably common, but Metro Chicago (though attested) is rarer. In contrast, Chicagoland is very common, while Bostonland (though attested) is rarer. Both patterns are generally available in the language (alongside the somewhat more technical Greater X), but there are different preferences in different places.

So, for Chicago, we get Greater Chicago, the Chicago area, and the very popular Chicagoland. No doubt some people in the area see subtle differences between these alternatives, beyond the rough stylistic difference (with Greater Chicago more formal/technical and Chicagoland more vernacular).

The patterns can combine: the Chicagoland area, greater Chicagoland, the greater Chicago area, all attested in substantial numbers. And possibly the most common of all: the greater [or Greater] Chicagoland area [or Area], as in these cites:

[furnace service] Serving The Greater Chicagoland Area (link)

Moving services in the Greater Chicagoland Area (link)

Robert Champion – Artistic Director – Robert is an artist, musician, fabricator, broadcaster and storyteller living in the greater Chicagoland area. (link)

So, putting aside Metro Chicago, there are seven alternatives: Greater Chicago, the Chicago area, Chicagoland; Greater Chicagoland, the greater Chicago area; and the greater Chicagoland area. It would make a interesting, though challenging, project to tease out who tends to use which of these, in which contexts, and for what purposes.


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