[ ur-buhn ]
See synonyms for urban on Thesaurus.com
  1. of, relating to, or designating a city or town: densely populated urban areas.

  2. living, located, or taking place in a city: urban rooftop gardening.

  1. characteristic of or accustomed to cities; citified: He’s an urban type—I can’t picture him enjoying a whole week at our cabin in the woods.

  2. of or relating to the experience, lifestyle, or culture of African Americans living in economically depressed inner-city neighborhoods: Their first album had a hard, urban vibe.

  3. Offensive. (used as a euphemism for Black or African American, rather than in reference to cities or their residents): a drug problem that particularly impacts the urban residents in this small town.

Origin of urban

First recorded in 1610–20; from Latin urbānus, equivalent to urb- (stem of urbs ) “city” + -ānus adjective suffix; see -an

word story For urban

In the United States, racial identities have historically been interwoven with disparate economic and geographical experiences. This has given rise to a coded language in which the terms urban and suburban have distinct racial connotations.
In the early 20th century, factories in northern cities recruited large numbers of African Americans from southern states. This migration north transformed the historically rural Black American experience into an urban one.
In the 1950s, courts outlawed segregation and mandated the racial integration of schools, resulting in decades of white flight . Many white families abandoned inner-city neighborhoods, relocating themselves and their assets to suburban communities. Discrimination over the years kept suburbia largely white and wealthy, enjoying well-funded school districts and other amenities.
Meanwhile, urban life, especially in the inner city , became increasingly associated with poverty and decay. In response, the government built housing projects for low-income residents, but this further concentrated poverty in isolated neighborhoods (ghettos that became popularly known as 'hoods ).
By the end of the 20th century, inner-city urban life was associated with African Americans of low socioeconomic status. Similarly, in discussions about poverty, crime, and drugs, the terms inner-city and urban became convenient euphemisms for Black —a way to avoid implying causality between race and life circumstance.
The term urban can factually describe a particular living situation, for example, urban poverty versus rural poverty. However, as a euphemism for slums, crime, or race, the use of the term urban is inaccurate, outdated, and offensive.
Such use is inaccurate and outdated because city neighborhoods have been steadily changing. Urban renewal and gentrification have brought new residents and assets to city centers. Urban poverty still exists, but its current manifestation doesn’t match the stereotypes of decay, gang violence, and drug culture built around news stories and images from the 1970s and 1980s.
Even more offensive is the inaccurate substitution of urban to mean Black when not referring to city dwellers. If two cowboys get into a fist fight in a rural honky-tonk, and if one of them is white and one is Black, the reporting of that story should in no way refer to one of those men as urban .
Even accurate use of the word urban may raise troubling racial issues. If someone who authentically claims an urban identity creates a line of clothing and markets it to suburban consumers, is calling that clothing urban acceptable? Does the Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album promote recognition of R & B fusion artists, or does it mean that there are two separate but equal Grammy Awards for Album of the Year?
It should be clear whether one is talking about race (Black civil rights leaders), poverty (educational opportunities for low socioeconomic status students), or geography (urban food insecurity and rural hunger).
While the terms urban or inner-city can evoke one specific minority experience in the United States, they should not be used interchangeably with racial identity words like Black or African American . Nor should suburban be used indiscriminately to reference white America. Each of these circumstances and identities is a mix of class and geography, albeit with strong racial associations. The terms urban and suburban should therefore be used mindfully and only when evoking all aspects of those specific American experiences.

Other words from urban

  • an·ti·ur·ban, adjective
  • non·ur·ban, adjective
  • sem·i·ur·ban, adjective
  • un·ur·ban, adjective

Words that may be confused with urban

Words Nearby urban

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use urban in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for urban


/ (ˈɜːbən) /

  1. of, relating to, or constituting a city or town

  2. living in a city or town

  1. (of music) emerging and developing in densely populated areas of large cities, esp those populated by people of African or Caribbean origin: Compare rural

Origin of urban

C17: from Latin urbānus, from urbs city

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012