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72 Suburbs in Search of a City

This famous quote by Dorothy Parker reminded me that as a result of my recent move I keep hearing this question from friends and family: How big exactly is Los Angeles?

There’s no simple answer. In other countries, there seems to be an ongoing consolidation among neighboring communities. Not so in the L.A. area. Therefore I will be writing “city of Los Angeles” to mean the incorporated city of L.A. – as opposed to the larger L.A. metropolitan area.

The city of Los Angeles covers an area of 503 square miles. Click on the map to the right to see a map of Los Angeles county (and the county’s location in the state of California). Areas marked in red demarcate the city of Los Angeles. Other areas are often referred to as Los Angeles, but they are independent incorporated cities (grey) or unincorporated communities in the county of Los Angeles. To have the port of Los Angeles inside the city limits, a long, narrow corridor following the Harbor Freeway connects South L.A. with San Pedro.

Now that we got that out of the way, here are the numbers:

▶ Los Angeles is the second most populous city in the United States.

▶ The city of Los Angeles has a population of 3.8 million

▶ The L.A. metro area (more or less equivalent to the EU’s Larger Urban Zone, or LUZ) has a population of 12.9 million

▶ And the CSA (Combined Statistical Area, a grouping of adjacent metropolitan and/or micropolitan statistical areas) has a population of 17.8 million.

How big is a 503 square mile area? On the left is an interesting map of Los Angeles that has the outlines of other U.S. cities superimposed. Among them you will see some familiar names. Since those city maps have not been distorted, they sometimes protrude into areas outside the city of Los Angeles. Since they also leave some city areas uncovered, however, it evens out to within one square mile. The map on the left also illustrates the point about lack of consolidation: The city of San Francisco in its incorporated limits is outright tiny.

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