I have traveled to many cities within the U.S., and to some outside of it. Probably not nearly as many as many of my fellow noders, but a few. Enough that I, as a native New Yorker, find myself often looking out over the skyline of some other burg and saying to myself "this doesn't really look like a real city."
That, of course, raises the question: What is a real city(tm)? Not in the objective sense, but to me? What determines whether a city is a 'city' or a 'town' in my catalog? Los Angeles is a town. San Francisco is a city. Boston is a city, but a small one. Chicago is a city. London is a city. San Diego is not. Houston is most emphatically not. Hong Kong is a 'hell yes.' So what is it?
I figured it out during my most recent trip to Houston. Sitting in the 13th floor cafeteria of the office building I was imprisoned in, I was staring out the 15-foot high windows, probably the only good thing on the menu. Then it hit me. When I looked north, there was a city (albeit a thin one) - but when I looked East or West, there was nothing but blue sky. At 13 stories. And even the buildings north of me weren't that close together.
I turned to a colleague and asked him "Hey, if Spider-man were here in town, do you think he'd be able to webswing, or would he have to walk?"
My colleague opened his mouth, stopped himself, squinted out the three compass directions we could see, then shook his head decisively and said "Nah, he might be able to swing a couple blocks, then he'd be screwed."
Bingo. Not a city.
That's the core of it. If Spider-man could make his way around by webslinging, it's a city. If, over more than say 50% of the official territory within 'city limits' he'd have to walk like the rest of us schmucks (okay, okay, he could run across rooftops maybe, but still) then it's not a city.
New York is a biased choice, but it's a city. All of Orange County is a frigging suburb. Houston has maybe a six-by-six block area that's a city. The rest of it looks like L.A.
WaldemarExkul adds the following subtest: If he can't websling, can he walk? If he can, it's probably a nice town. If he'd need a car - and we all know Spider-man can't afford a car - then it's likely "nowhere."