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There are cities people talk about as huge, and endless...but when you step foot in them, they feel just like a small town. I could think of many examples of cities that are huge, and feel small, and small cities that feel bigger then most bigger cities. Firstly, Toronto. Its a mid-sized city, but for Canadian standards its "the mother of cities". So, when I stepped into Toronto, it felt so small. For a city a bit bigger then Houston, it feels much smaller.

Also, from living experience, Toronto feels so much more smaller then another city in the neighbourhood--Hamilton. Hamilton, Ontario is a city south of Toronto, and one fifth its size. I've been noticing my habits and behaviours regarding both cities. If I wanted to travel half a mile in Toronto, I would walk, but if I wanted to travel half a mile in Hamilton, I would take a car. Here are some differences between Toronto and Hamilton:
  • Toronto's main street layout is North/South, whereas Hamilton is East/West.
  • Hamilton's suburbs are geographically seperated (mountain), whereas Toronto's are not
  • There is a single core in Hamilton (Jackson Square), whereas Toronto has various ones (Yonge/Dundas, University/Front, Spadina/Dundas, Yonge/Bloor).
  • There are two university campuses right in the downtown of Toronto, but none in Hamilton.
  • Toronto is hyped, whereas Hamilton is fairly unpopular and unknown.
Maybe its just from personal experience, or maybe we could find a relationship between what makes a city feel big or small. What are your experiences?
 

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"Neighborhoodism" is one factor. When each neighborhood feels like it is isolated from others, or at least if each neighborhood has a distinct function or way of doing things, then that gives the feel of a smaller place.

P.S., I don't know how you can call Toronto a "mid-sized city". Toronto's population is in the millions, and I don't know of anyone that does not consider a multi-million-resident city as mid-sized.
 

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spaghetti polonaise
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IMO the density and height of the buildings is an important factor.
In many districts of Hamburg you would feel like in a small city with just a few ten-thousand inhabitants because of the space between buildings, the greenery etc.
On the other hand standing in the centre of Castellon de la Plana (100k city near Valencia, Spain) you can get the impression of standing in a city with at least three times the population than it actually has. The reason is that the average building height in the centre there seems to be at 7-10 stories (which is higher than that of Hamburgs city-centre, which is at 5-7 stories average).
 

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always on
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simple.
Open planning makes a city feel small.
Dense, perimetral quarters with impressive corner buildings make a city look huge.
 

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Hm, I heard already a few who said that the city I live in, Vienna is compact or feels smaller than the 1.6 mio inhabitants it has.

But that hardly can be due to a lack of monumental buildings and impressive corner buildings. It also has the density that is usual for large European cities.
 

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Mơמkƹ͛ƴ∆ґ&#4
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So, when I stepped into Toronto, it felt so small. For a city a bit bigger then Houston, it feels much smaller.

Also, from living experience, Toronto feels so much more smaller then another city in the neighbourhood--Hamilton.
uhh..sure. :|

Also, you mention multiple core, such as Yonge/Dundas, University/Front, Spadina/Dundas, and Yonge/Bloor...they are all connected into once big core.

As you can see here, they are all individual "focal-points", but still flow together.
 

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Ecce Homo
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Narrow minded people (as its residents) can make even a bigger city in something very small and weak.
 

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Toronto is a bit of an oddball...in places, it certainly feels big, due to the sheer amount of highrises and huge densities. But a lot of it still has it's 19th and early 20th century scale (Main Streets and nabes), which looks and feels like being in smaller towns and cities of Ontario, except there's just a whole lot more of it. And as a matter of fact, a lot of it was separate little towns and villages that the city incorporated and grew around.

Trees and setbacks are the other big factors that set Toronto apart from many "big" cities...nothing calms or tames the "big city" oppresiveness like setbacks with large trees. Plus, it's large natural areas and ravines bring a "wilderness" feel right in the heart of the city (not to mention the huge amount of wild critters that inhabit the inner city).

Toronto is a little bit Manhattan and a little bit Mayberry...you can live in an apartment in one of the densest neighbourhoods in NA...or in a little house with the white picket fence....all within walking distance.

Both these pics are of downtown Toronto (in fact, they are only a few blocks apart)...but world's apart.









KGB
 

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Mơמkƹ͛ƴ∆ґ&#4
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Toronto is a bit of an oddball...in places, it certainly feels big, due to the sheer amount of highrises and huge densities. But a lot of it still has it's 19th and early 20th century scale (Main Streets and nabes), which looks and feels like being in smaller towns and cities of Ontario, except there's just a whole lot more of it. And as a matter of fact, a lot of it was separate little towns and villages that the city incorporated and grew around.
There are a few differences however, which really set it apart and make it feel as though you are simply in a calmer hood in the middle of a large city...which you are.

Most notably is the traffic, but also the scale (as you say, it goes on and on, compared to smaller places where it doesn't), density (Victorians are usally rows or semi-detached as opposed to the mostly detached ones in smaller cities. They are also smaller and interspersed with apartments), amentities (streetcars, diverse range of businesses, etc.), ever-present highrises in the distance, and just the general "vibe".
 

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Mơמkƹ͛ƴ∆ґ&#4
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Agreed, Toronto definitely feels a lot smaller than comparable cities (by size) in Europe, for example.
Maybe its just me being a skyscraper nerd...but in most European cities, I've never felt that there seems to be too much difference between say, a city of 6 million and one of 2 million, aside from crowds and the continuity of the urban area, as the architecture and built form are all pretty similar.

Going back to that point on the skyscrapers - I think of this is a good tool for measuring size, as typically, the larger and more plentiful the highrises are, the bigger and denser the city. When there are none to compare though, the lines between big and small begin to become less easily identifiable.

For example, Madrid feels like a huge city - highrise blocks, more modern architecture, and freeways everywhere. Paris does too, with grand boulevardes and stately architecture (same in Madrid as well), but drop someone in say, Milan or Barcelona, and estimating a size becomes rather difficult, until the city is further explored to reveal the size of the cities.
 

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Indie Bean
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An interesting question, and the way it is presented is proof that people percieve things differently.

I've spent most of my adult life in downtown Toronto or the older neighbourhoods adjacent to downtown.

It feels big to me.

When I go to NYC, I don't appreciate a big difference, other than the scale (it keeps going). To me, downtown Toronto delivers a similar pace (my experiences in NYC are not extensive, but they are enough to know that it didn't blow my socks off like it would for someone from Iowa). I've been in bigger crowds in Toronto than I have ever seen in NYC (but realize that NYC delivers bigger crowds on a more consistent basis). 8AM Monday morning on Bay St. is just as busy as the same time on Wall St (or at least that has in my experience). Post 9/11, I have seen nothing in Manhattan that feels as dense as Bay and King.

I totally need to go to Tokyo or Sao Paulo. Maybe they will knock my socks off.

Ironically you mention Houston, which did not feel big at all to me, unless you measure size in terms of land consumption. Houston has a very respectable downtown from a skyscraper perspective, but the city takes on a suburban feel quickly. I guess if you live inside the 610 loop you might feel like you live in a big city. But if you live in Katy, you must feel disconnected from urbanity. Ironically, I could be in Hamilton before someone from Kay could be in Houston (or Viagra Falls if the traffic was bad on the I-10), and Hamilton is considered a totally separate CMA.

Speaking of Hamilton, I'm not sure how it fits into this discussion from a feels big perspective. I quite like Hamilton, but have never felt like I am in a big city when I am there. If anything, it only makes Toronto feel bigger having a CMA of close to 1 million people next to it that nobody has ever heard of.

(Disclaimer: Lest this turns into a C vs. C, I'm not knocking NYC or Houston. I've thoroughly enjoyed my times in both cities.)
 

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the reason toronto feels small(er) to be is the dense downtown and very quick drop-off to housing outside the core. you can walk 10 minutes from being surrounded by 60-storey buildings and be in kensington which is the most quiant and low-rise neighbourhood around...another big part is the city's obsession with traffic lights, making traffic realllly slow and giving it more of a small-town pace and vibe.
 

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I think it depends on the way you enter the city in question. If, for example, you fly into an airport relatively close to the city core, and take a train or other form of public transit into town, and spend most of your time in the core, you won't necessarily get a sense of scale of the whole city region.

It's a much different experience if you fly into Haneda and enter Tokyo, than if you drive in from the south, coming up through Yokohama before getting into Tokyo proper.
 

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In some part of Paris feel small if you don't raise the head . :)

 

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ONE WORLD
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The City of London CBD looks like this from the air:



However on the streets below its built on the oldest part of the 2000 year old city. Despite being heavily bombed in the war many medieval streets remain, as does the medieval streetplan. Its thus the oldest and newest part of the city simultaneously:

800 year old St Ethelburga's




there are 115 churches in the Square Mile





and hundreds of Victorian alleys hiding excellent pubs:



looking up:
 

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For me, it's the opposite...what makes a small city feel big?



Hartford is a pretty urban place, yet it's very small (~125,000 city). The city sometimes feels bigger to me than it really is. Most of the buildings here are of the apartment block variety, and the city has quite a few apartment towers scattered throughout. It feels big at times. Hartford grew up in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and has the planning of that age.

Most of the city is walkable (I can walk from my place to downtown in less than 20 minutes), and unless you work in the suburbs, you don't need a car. (Hartford has one of the highest % of homes in the US without a car, at 36.2%). Although there are chain restaurants all over the place, there is still a thriving small business enviorment here.

But the catch is...it's only about 45 square kilometers, very small for an American city. The urbanity plummets on all sides, and gets suburban real quick. The vast majority of the Hartford area is as suburban as you can get...actually, the Hartford suburbs are one of the least-dense and autocentric in the East coast of the US.

Sometimes...I feel like I live in an oasis of urbanity. :nuts:
 
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