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The word city and the related civilization come, via Old French, from the Latin root civitas, originally meaning citizenship or community member and eventually coming to correspond with urbs, meaning city in a more physical sense.

Town siting has varied through history according to natural, technological, economic, and military contexts.

In cities such as and also Moscow, this pattern is still clearly visible.

A system of rectilinear city streets and land plots, known as the grid plan, has been used for millennia in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

In more recent history, such forms were supplemented by ring roads moving traffic around the outskirts of a town.

Dutch cities such as Amsterdam and Haarlem are structured as a central square surrounded by concentric canals marking every expansion.

Urban-type settlement extends far beyond the traditional boundaries of the city proper Decentralization and dispersal of city functions (commercial, industrial, residential, cultural, political) has transformed the very meaning of the term and has challenged geographers seeking to classify territories according to an urban-rural binary.

Beyond these "geomorphic" features, cities can develop internal patterns, due to natural growth or to city planning.

(This arrangement contrasts with the more typically horizontal relationships in a tribe or village accomplishing common goals through informal agreements between neighbors, or through leadership of a chief.) The governments may be based on heredity, religion, military power, work projects such as canal building, food distribution, land ownership, agriculture, commerce, manufacturing, finance, or a combination of these.

Societies that live in cities are often called civilizations.

Physical environment generally constrains the form in which a city is built.

If located on a mountainside, it may rely on terraces and winding roads.

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