North America is a fairly populous and highly developed continent, so it’s fair to say that many of the largest cities in this continent are bigger and better than most of the other cities in other parts of the world. Of course, it also matters how you actually define “largest”, but all in all the North American cities are faring favourably on every aspect.
Just in case you need a little help with Geography, “North America” is not just comprised of the US, Canada, and Mexico. It also includes the countries in Central America and the Caribbean nations, and Greenland as well. Still, when it comes to major cities we are usually talking about those that are located in the US, Canada, and Mexico.
Largest Cities in North America in Terms of Area
This measurement seems fairly simple, but it’s not exactly clear-cut. But in terms of the metropolitan area size, here are the largest cities in North America:
- New York, NY. It’s the largest metropolitan area in the world, at 8,683 sq. km.
- Chicago, Illinois. 5,498 sq. km.
- Atlanta, Georgia. 5,083. sq. km.
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 4,661 sq. km.
- Boston, Massachusetts. 4,497 sq. km.
- Los Angeles, California. 4,320 sq. km.
- Dallas / Fort Worth, Texas. 3.644 sq. km.
- Houston, Texas. 3,355 sq. km.
- Detroit, Michigan. 3,267 sq. km.
- Washington, D.C. 2,996 sq. km.
Mexico City is at #27 with 2,072 sq. km and Montreal is the largest Canadian city with 1,740 sq. km. and ranks #33 in the continent.
Largest Cities in North America in Terms of Population
In most cases, though, the makers of these lists tend to consider the population when they say “the largest cities in North America”. Again, there’s some confusion because some people only look at the metropolitan areas while others don’t. So for the sake of consistency, let’s consider the population with the metropolitan areas included. Here are the cities that made it to our list:
- New York, USA. (20,464,000)
- Mexico City, Mexico. (19,463,000)
- Los Angeles, USA. (14,900,000)
- Chicago, USA. (9,121,000)
- Toronto, Canada. (6,139,000)
- Dallas-Fort Worth, USA. (5,874,000)
- San Francisco-San Jose, USA. (5,864,000)
- Miami, USA. (5,582,000)
- Philadelphia, USA. (5,474,000)
- Houston, USA. (5,383,000)
Largest Cities in North America in Terms of GDP
GDP means Gross Domestic Product, and it’s the monetary value of all the goods and services produced within the borders of the city within a given year. Basically, it’s a measurement of how rich and profitable a city is:
- New York City, New York. $1.21 trillion
- Los Angeles, California. $790 billion
- Chicago, Illinois. $525 billion
- Washington DC. $415 billion
- Mexico City, Mexico. $411 billion
- Houston, Texas. $400 billion
- Dallas, Texas. $368 billion
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. $324 billion
- Boston, Massachusetts. $321 billion
- San Francisco, California. $307 billion
The prominence of New York City and Los Angeles at the top isn’t surprising, given that the Big Apple is where many notable businesses are located, and it’s where Wall Street is. LA is a famous city for its entertainment products, and its movies and music records bring in billions of dollars in revenue every year.
But all in all, the cities that appear on this list are not so surprising, as they constitute the commercial centers in North America. Mexico City’s inclusion is because it is the main city of Mexico, and it is the acknowledged business center of the whole country. What may be surprising for some is that none of the major Canadian cities made it to the top ten.
Largest GDP in North America in Terms of GDP Per Capita
GDP is all well and good, but it still needs to be distributed among the people. So in this case we get the GDP of the city and then divide it by the number of people who live there. It’s a more accurate measurement for the standard of living in a city.
For example, if you have a household of 10 people and the total earnings is $10,000 a week, then the household has $1,000 to spend per person. Another household may be “less wealthy” because it only earns $8,000 a week in total. But if there are only 5 people in that household, then the standard of living is higher because each person has $1,600 to spend.
For cities, the results are quite surprising:
- San Jose, California. $77,440
- Hartford, Connecticut. $76,510
- Boston, Massachusetts. $70,390
- Bridgeport, Connecticut. $68,570
- Washington DC. $68,530
- Seattle, Washington. $67,830
- San Francisco. $66,790
- Calgary, Alberta, Canada. $65,540
- New York City, New York. $64,460
- Portland, Arizona. $64,370
Surprisingly, Connecticut comes out looking well on this list. New York City is way down the list however, because of its huge population and Los Angeles and Chicago are way down (Houston is #11.) The absence of Mexico City is also notable, although the huge population number in that city is well known.
What’s surprising is that only Calgary made it to the list among Canadian cities, and even the more prominent cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver are nowhere to be found. It probably helped that in 2006, the population of Calgary was less than a million people, which may have boosted its GDP per capita.
If you’re looking to get a job or start a business, you’ll do well to look at these lists and find a location that fits your preferences. These cities have the space for you, and they are home to a large population, which can constitute your potential customers. And besides, they also have the money to buy your goods and services.
No matter how you look at it, the largest cities in North America are where you’d expect it: in the US. The American cities on average have more land, more people, more wealth, and better distribution of wealth compared to all others on this continent.