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In France an aire urbaine (literally: "urban area") is roughly the equivalent of a US Metropolitan Statistical Area. The name is extremely confusing because in English an "urban area" is not the same thing as a "metropolitan area". In English an urban area is a contiguously built-up area, which is smaller than a metropolitan area, as explained below. Despite its name, a French aire urbaine is indeed a metropolitan area. What is called "urban area" in English is called unité urbaine (literally: "urban unit") in France.
An aire urbaine comprises a city, its independent suburbs, as well as its satellite towns and cities separated by some agricultural land. Metropolitan areas in the US also include satellite towns and the agricultural land in between. This reflects the modern phenomenon of long commutes where people may live in towns separated from the core of the urbanized metropolis by some agricultural land, but still work in the core of the metropolis. In that perspective, a metropolitan area is no more conceived as strictly speaking the urbanized area centered on a city, but rather as a hub of towns and suburbs around a central urban core where people interact and commute.
The official definition of an aire urbaine is given by the INSEE (the national statistics office of France) as: an agglomeration of communes (municipalities) situated on an unbroken and enclave-free tract of land, made up of (1) an urban core (pôle urbain), i.e. the communes of the contiguously urbanized area around the city center; and (2) the communes in the peri-urban ring (outside of the urban core) in which at least 40% of the resident population in employment works in the communes of the urban core or in the other communes of the peri-urban ring. A pôle urbain is a unité urbaine (see first paragraph) in which there exists at least 5,000 jobs and which does not belong to the peri-urban ring of another pôle urbain.
Here is a list of the fifteen largest aires urbaines of France based on population at the 1999 census:
|Yearly percent change|
(figures do not include the part of Lille's
metropolitan area which lies on Belgian territory)
(figures do not include the part of Strasbourg's
metropolitan area which lies on German territory, see Eurodistrict)
||– 0.17 %
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