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Independent city

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Independent city

An independent city or independent town is a city or town that does not form part of another general-purpose local government entity (such as a county).

Historical precursors

In the Holy Roman Empire, and to a degree in its successor states the German Confederation and the German Empire, so-called "free imperial cities" (nominative singular freie Reichsstadt, nominative plural freie Reichsstädte) held the legal status of imperial immediacy, according to which they were not subinfeudated to any vassal ruler and were instead subject to the authority of the Emperor alone. Examples included Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck, along with others that gained and/or lost the privileges of immediacy over the course of the Empire's history.

National capitals

In general

A number of countries have made their national capitals into separate entities.

Examples include:

Federal capitals

In countries with a federal structure, the federal capital is often separate from other jurisdictions in the country, and frequently has a unique system of government.

Examples include:

  • Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, is a separate entity counted not as one of the states of the country but rather as a federal capital territory.
  • Brasília, the capital of Brazil, is located in the Federal District — the same was created especially for the purpose of housing the Federal capital city.
  • Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is a separate bi-lingual (Dutch-French) region (the Brussels-Capital Region), independent of both Flanders and Wallonia, despite being entirely surrounded by Flanders (of which it is also the regional capital) and sharing a common language with both Wallonia (French) and Flanders (Dutch).
  • Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, received the status of "Autonomous City" via a 1994 amendment to the country's constitution. Previously, Buenos Aires had been designated as a "Capital District".
  • Canberra, the capital of Australia, is located in the Australian Capital Territory.
  • Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, is located in a Capital District.
  • Mexico City, the capital of the United Mexican States (Mexico), is coterminous with the Federal District (Distrito Federal). The 31 states and the Federal District are collectively called "federal entities" (entidades federativas in Spanish).
  • Moscow, the capital of Russia, itself forms a Federal City, a capital territory, which is one of the 83 federal subjects of Russia.
  • New Delhi – the capital city of India – and the old city of Delhi together form the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
  • Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, is not within any of the 50 states. It is located in and is co-terminous with (that is, has the same boundaries as) the District of Columbia. The two form one entity. Although the District of Columbia was originally created as a capital territory out of parts of Maryland and Virginia, the portion from Virginia was removed from the Federal District and returned to Virginia in 1846.


People's Republic of China

In mainland China under the administrative division system of the People's Republic of China, the municipalities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing are centrally-administered province-level regions, and they do not belong to any particular province. Additionally, there are several vice provincial cities that are nominally under provinces but in reality have economic policies independent of their respective provinces.

Within some provinces, there are some cities that are directly under provinces, bypassing an administrative level (prefectures and prefecture-level cities).

Hong Kong and Macau are two Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of China which have a high degree of autonomy, except in acts of state like diplomatic relations and national defence.

Republic of China (Taiwan)

In Taiwan Area under the administrative division system of the Republic of China, some cities are directly administered by the Executive Yuan, some are administered by provinces (the province of Taiwan is nominal), and some are subordinate to counties. The centrally-administered (Taipei City, Kaohsiung City, New Taipei City, Taichung City, and Tainan City) and province-administered ones are like independent cities under this definition.

South Korea

In addition to its nine provinces, South Korea has seven province-level "metropolitan cities." By far the largest among these in terms of population is the capital, Seoul, called a teukbyeol-si (특별시; literally, special city), which is home to more than 20% of the entire population of the country. The remaining six independent cities are called gwangyeok-si (광역시; literally, large city) whose names are: Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, Incheon, Gwangju, and Ulsan.

Historically, these independent cities have been carved from the province that surrounds them. Consequently, they typically share a strong regional and cultural identity with the adjoining province(s). For instance, Gwangju, located at the center of Jeolla region, is heavily associated with the region. Seoul and Incheon are said to make up the National Capital Area along with the densely populated Gyeonggi that almost completely encompasses them.

One interesting relic of the newer independent cities is that, in some cases, the government administrative buildings (docheong) of the provinces they were once a part of are still located within city boundaries, meaning that these provinces have capitals that are not within their borders.

In 2006, the ruling party floated a proposal to completely eliminate all current province and independent-city borders. This plan would divide the entire republic into fifty or sixty city- or county-level administrations, similar to the system in Japan. The plan was intended to help reduce regional discrimination and animosity by eliminating provincial identity.


Many major cities in the Philippines are independent cities, classified as either "highly urbanized" or "independent component" cities. These cities are administratively and legally not subject to a province, and thus do not share their tax revenues with any province. In practise, most cities are often still grouped with provinces that they were partitioned from for the sake of convenience and simplicity. The national government and its agencies serve these cities through sub-offices for each region, to which the cities are indirectly subject. There are 38 such cities, with 16 being located in Metro Manila (including the City of Manila, the national capital); eight in the rest of Luzon and its surrounding islands; seven in the Visayas island group; and seven in Mindanao and its surrounding islands.



In Austria, a similar concept is the statutory city.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The city of Brčko has the status of a "district", governed by the top-level country administration (Bosnia and Herzegovina). It is independent of both Entities that constitute Bosnia and Herzegovina (Republika Srpska and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina). All other cities and municipalities are under the jurisdiction of the Entity (in Republika Srpska) or under the jurisdiction of cantons (Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina).


The capital city of Sofia has the status of oblast (region).


The capital city of Zagreb has the status equal to županija (county), whereas all other cities and municipalities are under a county jurisdiction.

Historically, Croatian cities became independent by being named a "royal free city".


The city of Paris is both a département and a commune; it is the only French city with this status. The Council of Paris (Conseil de Paris) exercises functions similar to those of a departmental council (conseil général) and a city council (conseil municipal). However, Paris and the départements closest to it are part of the Île-de-France région.


In Germany, different states have the kreisfreie Stadt (literally, "County-Free City") administrative division. The division is named Stadtkreis ("Urban County") in Baden-Württemberg.

Examples of German independent cities are:

Additionally, the German city-states of Berlin and Hamburg function as federal states. The city-state Free Hanseatic City of Bremen consists solely of the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven (which was originally founded as an ocean port for the city of Bremen).


In Hungary, 23 of the cities are "cities with county rights". These cities have equal rights with the 19 counties of Hungary.


See also: local government in Ireland

Cork, Dublin and Galway are governed by independent city councils.


In Norway, Oslo is both a municipality (kommune) and a county (fylke) within itself.


In Poland, many of the biggest cities comprise their own city counties (formally "cities with county rights"). They are suitably marked on the list of counties in Poland.

Russian Federation

In the Russian Federation, Moscow and Saint Petersburg are both subjects of the federation and cities themselves.


In Spain, there exist two so-called autonomous cities, autonomous communities. These two cities hold their special status because they are not large enough to be considered regions on their own. Nonetheless, they function as autonomous communities with a high degree of self-administration and law-making powers.


In Ukraine, the cities of Kiev and Sevastopol are part of the country constituent regions along with the autonomous republic of Crimea (ARK), and 24 other oblasts (see Oblasts of Ukraine).

United Kingdom

In the UK, having city status gives the city's local government no additional inherent powers; city status depends on a grant from the monarch and merely confers on the place so-designated the right to call itself a city. Many cities and large urban areas are unitary authorities, meaning they have their own local government, separate from the surrounding county. (However a number of large urban areas have a number of unitary authorities, such as Greater Manchester, which mean they do not have a unified, city-wide local government.) County borough referred to a borough or a city, independent of county council control in England and Wales from 1889 to 1974 with the term continuing in use in Northern Ireland. Wales re-introduced the term in 1994 for use with certain unitary authorities.

North America


In the Canadian province of Ontario, the same type of city is referred to as a single-tier municipality (there are also separated municipalities). In Quebec, they are often called separated cities, as they are not Regional County Municipalities. Cities and towns in Alberta are not part of rural municipalities such as counties. In New Brunswick, all county government was abolished in 1967.[1] Therefore, in theory, all cities, townships, and settlements in New Brunswick could be considered independent cities.

United States

There are 41 independent cities in the United States, with 38 of these in Virginia (in Virginia, cities are separate from counties even if they function as county seats). The three others are Baltimore, Maryland; St. Louis, Missouri; and Carson City, Nevada.

While resembling an independent city, New York City is a sui generis jurisdiction, with the city divided into five boroughs, each of which is territorially coterminous with a county of New York State.

Another type of locality is known as a consolidated city–county. In a consolidated city–county, as in an independent city, there is one single local government. But in a consolidated city–county, the city and the county nominally both exist, although they are the same entity (the City of Denver, Colorado, and Denver County; the City of San Francisco, California, and San Francisco County; the city of Jacksonville, FL and Duval County; the City of Butte, Montana, and Silver Bow County), whereas in an independent city, the county does not even nominally exist (Falls Church, Virginia; Carson City, Nevada). In some consolidated city–county schemes, the city will dominate the county but not be entirely coterminous with it: for instance, Marion County, Indiana and Indianapolis are consolidated in Unigov but the smaller Marion municipalities of Beech Grove, Lawrence, Speedway, and Southport are not included, nor is the town of Cumberland, which spans Marion and Hancock Country.


  1. ^ "Environment and Local Government / Environnement et Gouvernements locaux". Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
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