Originally Posted by Kilgore Trout
There's definitely an intangible element in what makes a city feel "big." There's a kind of insouciance that all big cities share.
Density and population are important too but it's always good to remember that there are some very dense, very bustling cities that feel like complete backwaters -- just come to Asia to see what I mean.
I agree that there is definitely something beyond density and population that does it. I think it has something to do with having a place in historical, cultural, political, and economic trends that gives a city a wider identity that the world recognizes. Rome could empty out but it is still going to be Rome and it will always feel important.
To that end, I think it has a lot to do with population and time merely because both increase the chance of something remarkable developing or happening. It also simply serves to raise awareness, increasing the chance that a place is referenced in the popular culture. Notice that the "big Canadian cities" (Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver) are the ones that get referenced in American films?
Being an energy centre in a time of growing energy scarcity will likely help Calgary in this regard. So will small things that just put the name out there, like being the Prime Minister's hometown.