Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Belated Trivia Answers

Way back in April I posted two trivia questions, one about large mammals and one about large state capitals. I never got around to finishing giving the two-part answer about the state capitals, so here we go. The most populous state capital is Phoenix, AZ, the 6th-largest city in the country. The second-largest capital city is Indianapolis, IN, farther down the list at #12. Columbus is next, at #15, and Austin is at #16. Boston is #20. Washington, the national capital, is next at #21. Here's my source, from the Census Bureau.

I thought this was an interesting question because it illustrates the tendency in the United States (followed later in Brasilia, Canberra, and New Delhi) to place the government off in its own purpose-built city, separating political power from economic power, selecting capitals based on centralized geography, and balancing rural vs. urban needs. I'd be willing to bet that in no country with multiple first-level divisions (i.e., states, provinces, prefectures, etc.) do they even come close to having 9 of the 10 biggest cities in the country not be capitals of their respective provinces.

Incidentally, another acceptable answer for the second-largest capital city in the U.S. would have been Honolulu. There are no levels of government in Hawaii below the county level; the counties there are merely divided into administrative districts. So if one considers Honolulu as just the unincorporated contiguous urban area that the Census Bureau calls a CDP, or Census-Designated Place, it comes in at #47 in the rankings. But if one considers the whole of Honolulu County as the equivalent of a city government, its population of 876,156 would supplant Indianapolis for #12 on the list of city populations.

You can see a whole bunch of ranked Census lists on this page.

Update: I checked Canada, and up north 4 of the top 10 cities in the country are capitals of provinces, and the capital of the country is also in the top 10. Going off of the metropolitan areas in Mexico, 5 of the top 10 are capitals of states, plus the equivalent of the incorporated part of Mexico City is coextensive with the Distrito Federal. Each of the 10 largest cities in Brazil are capitals of either their state or the Federal District. In Australia, where there are only 8 states or territories, 6 of the top 10 urban areas are capitals, and the largest city in each state or territory is its capital.

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