headline-bigHeadline English

Living in a big city

America is full of vast, empty spaces. Europe, by contrast, seems full of humans. Its history was shaped by a lack of room. Ironically, Europe’s lack of room partly reflects the fact that its large cities have relatively few people.

America and the euro zone have similar total populations, but America’s 50 largest metropolitan areas are home to 164m people, compared with just 102m in the euro area. This striking difference has big consequences.

Western Europe’s per-person GDP is 72% of America’s. A recent study suggests that some three-quarters of this gap (1) can be explained by Europe’s relatively small cities. More Americans than Europeans live in big cities. There is a particularly significant difference in the size of each region’s medium cities. These are cities which are a little smaller than New York and Paris.

What advantages do large cities have? In the industrial era, isolated businesses had a disadvantage versus compact urban supply chains. Today cities have a productivity advantage because of ideas rather than costs. When one firm in a city introduces a new technique, product or design, nearby firms may quickly copy it. One firm’s innovation increases its own productivity but also spills over (2) to other businesses.

That makes more densely (3) populated places more attractive to people who want to share knowledge. And knowledge-sharing among such people tends to make cities more productive as they get bigger. This connection between size, skills and productivity is not simply due to high-tech workers choosing to live in more populous places. The cities themselves seem to promote learning.

What explains Europe’s relatively small cities? Regulatory barriers to growth may be to blame. Tight zoning (4) rules limit housing and raise prices. There are also linguistic barriers.They make it more difficult for immigrants to move to cities.



  1. What is, according to the article, the difference between Europe and the US in terms of space?
  2. What is, according to the article, the major cause of the gap in GDP between the US and Europe?
  3. Explain the meaning of ‘urban’ (4th paragraph). Note that ‘supply chain’ (same paragraph) means ‘the network of producers, transporters, etc. that participate in the sale, delivery and production of a particular product’.
  4. According to the article, what economic advantages does a big city provide?
  5. Are cities more productive because they simply attract better workers?
  6. Why are, according to the article, European cities smaller than American?
  7. Do you prefer living in big city over living in a small town or in the countryside?
  8. What do you think of the quality of life in Czech cities?


gap (1) – a big difference between two situations, amounts, groups of people, etc.

spill over (2) – to indirectly affect something in a positive way, to have an indirect positive effect on something

dense(ly) (3) – made of or containing a lot of things or people that are very close together

zoning (4) – a system of choosing areas


You can find additional explanation and more examples to help you understand and use English words and phrases at https://dictionary.reference.com, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/, https://www.merriam-webster.com/ or https://www.ldoceonline.com/