Last night we watched a programme presented by Nicholas Crane about towns – this one was on Perth, Scotland. The main theme was the desire of Perth to be considered a city not a town. Nicholas Crane thought people should be happy to be part of a town, since towns have values and attributes that are desirable. Generally the people of Perth didn’t share this view; they thought they were a city and if not they should be.
The whole business of becoming or not being a city was confusing to us. In New Zealand it is a matter of numbers. “A city, as defined in the Local Government Act 1974, must have a minimum population of 50,000, be predominantly urban in character, be a distinct entity and a major centre of activity within the region.” The ‘distinct entity’ part of this might be what causes some problems where we seem to have smaller city inside larger ones. People think of Auckland as the city, but it used to consist of at least two cities, maybe even three. It has now, by government decree, become one ‘super city’ (ie one mayor and council oversees what used to be divided up into smaller areas) and I presume that means Manukau City is no longer, but I am not sure about that.
I don’t know what happens when a city goes under 50,000 having been that. I see my home city of Invercargill is 50,365 or similar at the last census of 2006 (census of 2011 postponed because of earthquake), but it was up about 500 on the last census, which means it dropped under 50,000. I don’t remember anyone commenting on this.
The other way to be a city in New Zealand is to have a cathedral. Only Nelson is under the population size and has a cathedral. Around 1859 Queen Victoria signed Letters Patent to establish a Bishop’s See there and allow a cathedral. (I don’t know why.)
But Nicholas didn’t talk of population as a criterion for British cities. He said it was just up to the monarch. And Perth had never been a city – it had killed a king (James 1) in the 15th century and that was that. It had been granted borough status and that was all it ever had. (It does only have 42,000 people or so, so seems a bit small to me to be a city anyway.)
I am sure I had discussions about cities and numbers before on the BBC or somewhere, but I don’t recall anyone telling me it was an arbitrary matter decided by government and the Crown. I have no idea of the history of cities and don’t know if London’s growth was a late arrival in comparison to other European countries or if they all sprang up about the same time, and if European countries generally had the same structure in deciding citydom. And what would decide the monarch to grant city status to a place that didn’t already have it? Could she whip it away from somewhere that had been considered a city?
We went to Perth once – we couldn’t find a park anywhere so after driving round the city two or three times we left Perth, and headed to Scone. Where we have favourable memories of the Scottish Heritage or whatever it was country mansion/historical site. We didn’t belong to whatever was running it, but it was late in the day and we just wanted a meal, so they didn’t make us pay. The man at the gate told us we could bring a bottle of Oyster Bay chardonnay next time we were there. He might be waiting a while.