The survey of 500 European cities includes all cities with populations of more than 150,000 (497 cities) and three cities with populations of 149,000 citizens. While City Mayors carried out its research in the autumn of 2003, some of the statistical raw material is based on local censuses going back to the mid-nineties. For example, the figures for UK towns and cities were collected between 1996 and 1998. The data for Germany is based on 1999 government statistics, while the figures for France go back more than ten years. Some of the most recent statistics are from Russia (1999) and Denmark (2001).
With the exception of UK towns, the City Mayors survey provides population figures for cities with legally defined boundaries, with recognised urban status and with their own local government. The figures do not take into account suburban settlements or other heavily populated areas outside city boundaries. Some of the population figures for towns in the United Kingdom include neighbouring rural areas if they and the towns share local government.
Some 212 million people, or more than 29 per cent of Europe’s total population, live in the Continent's 500 largest cities. Europe’s population is estimated at 727 million, with 379 million people living in the European Union, prior to its expansion in 2004.
The percentage of people living in large cities (Großstädte in German), ie those with populations of more than 150,000 residents, varies noticeably from country to country. Of Europe’s largest countries, France has the lowest number of large-city dwellers. Only 10.4 per cent of French men and women live in the country's larger cities. Russia has one of the highest figures. Here almost 42 per cent of inhabitants are residents of large towns and cities. Countries, that belonged to the former Soviet Union are credited with similar high percentage figures. In the Ukraine, 37 per cent of the country’s citizens live in cities with more than 150,000 residents. The equivalent figure for Belarus is 40 per cent.
The development historically of Germany and Italy led to the formation of a large number of important but smaller cities. The percentage of people living in larger cities or Großstädte is therefore relatively low. In Germany some 26 per cent of the population live in Großstädten, while only 21 per cent of Italians reside in cities with populations of more than 150,000 people.
In Poland, in a country where the rural population is still a major force, some 24 per cent of people live in large towns and cities. With more than seven million residents, London, the UK capital, accounts for almost 12 per cent of the country’s population. On paper, some 51 per cent of Britons live in towns and cities with more than 150,000 inhabitants. However, this figure is distorted because some smaller towns have been administratively amalgamated with their surrounding rural districts.
Russia boasts 116 cities with more than 150,000 residents, while in Germany 51 cities enjoy Großstadt status. France is a large country with relatively few large cities. Only 16 French towns and cities house above 150,000 people. The equivalent figures for Spain, Italy and Poland are 37, 25 and 24 respectively.