I'm facing a pressing issue with choosing a proper way to call a place (city, town), regardless of its size.

1) Has to describe places of any size (from pop. 5 to 5 mil.)

2) Must describe any location that is inhabited and/or has any administrative boundaries

3) Should be easy-to-understand by Americans specifically

Basically, things like "locality", "community", "municipality", "administrative unit", "metropolitan area" etc cross my mind, but I am not too sure how exactly it will be perceived - which one is more common, and which one will be the best fit for a native ear to hear to describe both NYC and a village of 2 houses (given it is on the map).

Thanks in advance for your options, which I hope will be a great many for me to choose from! :-)

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    I'm voting to close this because questions about naming things are off-topic: "Naming, including naming programming variables/classes" – curiousdannii Mar 19 '18 at 11:29
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    This isn't about brainstorming a name, motto or a brand name, variable and what not. This is a valid linguistic issue non-native speakers like me studying English face and this will be a crime against the purpose of this whole community to not give native speakers a chance to shine a light on this legitimate question? :-) – MaxT Mar 19 '18 at 11:31
  • 'Settlement' is the hypernym, but it tends to sound rather bucolic. However, ELU expects those submitting questions to do and add reasonable research (a search for 'town' in a thesaurus), and reasonable analysis (why you're not happy with x, y and z), so this question is off-topic. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 19 '18 at 11:31
  • @MaxT Then please remove the UI context from your question, and provide a sample sentence :) – curiousdannii Mar 19 '18 at 11:33
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    'Habitation' covers any area of settlement. – Nigel J Mar 19 '18 at 14:25

To be very general, you might choose settlement:

"A settlement is a place where people have come to live and have built homes."1

An interesting article on settlement to refer to different sizes can be found on the BBC's GCSE Bitesize. I added an image they use for clarification below (credit goes to the BBC's GCSE Bitesize):

Image from the BBC's GCSE Bitesize explaining settlement hierarchies

Example sentences:

"The village is a settlement of just fifty houses."1

"A large Roman settlement has been discovered just outside the French town."4

"‘In the 1730s Slovenians and Croatians established small agricultural settlements in Georgia.’"5

"‘By the end of the nineteenth century, Cajuns had established settlements in the Louisiana-Texas border region.’"5

"‘Libya boasts the ruins of ancient Greek outposts, Phoenician settlements and Berber cities.’"5

"London [...] is the capital and most populous city of England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south east of the island of Great Britain, London has been a major settlement for two millennia."6

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  • Sure, but doesn't this sound a bit awkward in a normal speech and connotate a small place? If a person sees settlement as a title for a list with both NYC and Buford in it? – MaxT Mar 19 '18 at 11:33
  • @MaxT It's used for London over millennia (it was large then too, not as large as now)(see last quote), so no. If it should be used for both places with as few as 5 and as many as 10s of millions, I think this is your best option. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Mar 19 '18 at 11:35
  • Note that I considered 'settlement' unsuitable to give as an 'answer' as OP's research should have turned it up. His comment above is valid, but should have been given alongside 'settlement' in his question. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 19 '18 at 11:36
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    +1 This looks as good an answer as any for the OP's single-word request. The references, links and examples are well-chosen. The only reservation I have with the term is that settlement sounds like it's associated with a new influx of 'settlers' - in America, the 'founding fathers' had settlements; their remote descendants have cities and towns etc. But the usage notes in this answer go some way to addressing that. – Lawrence Mar 19 '18 at 11:59
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    Those whose job it is to talk about the kinds of places where people live (town planners, local officials, civil servants) use "settlement" in precisely the sense sought by the OP, but it is their jargon and has other non-technical meanings. If it is to be used for a non-technical readership then one way of dealing with the problem would be to introduce the word "...what is known technically as a 'settlement'..." – JeremyC Mar 19 '18 at 13:13

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