At a very basic level, the difference between urban and rural areas is about population density. Population density per square mile is vastly different between those urban areas that can be defined as cities, and those rural areas that can be defined as unincorporated areas with no town or city government in authority.
Of course, population density does not mean that there is a person for every square mile, or even square foot of a space. But if comparisons are made between the number of people who occupy the defined land area with a boundary that encloses a city, and the same area that defines a rural district, there is a vast difference.
But there is an issue with the population of cities. Commuters may make up a great portion of the population during the week, while tourists and shoppers make up a great portion of the population on the weekends. The actual full time, permanent residents occupy the residential areas, while the financial districts, shopping areas, and business offices may be empty during non business hours. So, population is highly volatile for cities.
In rural areas, there may be vast areas where people only show up to perform periodic farming functions, such as pruning orchards, sowing, harvesting, and irrigation management. So, at most times, no other people at all may be seen for days, except in isolated homes, and as they transport back and forth to town and school.
But there is more. Cities serve as the hubs for transportation, commerce, trade, culture, education, science, education, law, justice and a host of other centralized urban, suburban and regional concerns. The hubs for thousands of square miles of land in rural areas may be just a small town with county offices, some shopping, other businesses, schools, some entertainment, and some banking. In some respects, the rural resident may be required to visit the city for various reasons, while the vast majority of city residents never need to visit or even know about comparative rural area.
In cities, services and utilities are provided that are not available in true rural areas. In a true rural area, garbage must be loaded up and hauled to the county landfill, as there is no garbage pickup service. For the gas stove and heat, a propane or butane tank must be used, and gas is delivered by truck. Water comes from wells, and must either be delivered for drinking and cooking, or private water purification systems must be installed. Sewage and septic is taken care of via septic tanks, which are emptied every few years. Except for electricity, phone lines, and satellite dish, there are no utilities that are maintained for the rural homeowner.
Telephone lines are upgraded at the owner’s expense. Some rural areas cannot even get DSL phone line quality, except at great expense. There is no land based cable service. Satellite dish or converter boxes with antennas (since the conversion to digital broadcast) are the only way to receive television transmissions. In some mountainous rural areas, even satellite is impossible to receive. Mail is delivered by independent contract carriers, unless a USPS mail box in the nearest town is rented.
The nearest Sherriff provides law enforcement response. Fire and ambulance may be by volunteer services or county services, with quite a distance to the nearest hospital. In a true rural area, there are no city level authorities that apply. The lowest level of government that has authority is the county, borough, or parish.
As a result, there are great differences in quality of life, as well as the quantity of life in cities as opposed to rural areas.