Teesside as a whole could be considered something akin to a city. It's certainly big enough. However, even here the label wouldn't be quite right. Teesside is kinda weird. It's its own thing.
(Teesside, courtesy of Google Maps)
All the places that make up Teesside - Middlesbrough, Stockton, Redcar, Billingham and so forth - all pretty much just blend into each other. There are no real dividing lines in actuality. It's one huge urban (and industrial) sprawl. Still though, each is a unique place in its own right, with its own centre of gravity.
I guess you could describe Teesside as a multi-polar cityscape in a sense.
The difficulty in packaging all these separate but conjoined places under one label is reflected in the amount of different names that have been used over the years.
Teesside, Tees Valley, Cleveland, North Yorkshire - these are all things I could put between Middlesbrough and my postcode when writing my address. (I generally go with North Yorkshire, but only because I feel it conveys a bit more beauty.)
The fact that Teesside is on the boundary between Yorkshire and Durham only adds to the difficultly in pinning things down. Historically the River Tees was the boundary between these two places. Now Teesside lies sprawled across this boundary. A blob in its own right.
We have some of the most beautiful countryside in all of England right on our doorstep, it's a huge blessing, yet by focusing on Teesside alone we don't advertise this. When people think "Teesside", or "Tees Valley" even, they think of an industrialised landscape. They don't think of the green fields and forests out on the horizon. So we lose something by calving ourselves off from these two historic counties. Still though, these settlements that have blossomed along the river are too big to not have their own label; and it's only natural that the label would refer to the river.
It's not a city, or a town, or a county. It's Teesside.
It's the corridor of concrete, chemical works and artificial lighting that follows the river out to Redcar. The grim, but futuristic landscape that helped give Ridley Scott the inspiration for the movie Blade Runner.
(click to enlarge)
But even this is changing somewhat as we move into the 21st century. So who knows what the final imprint will be.
The difficultly in finding a vision that fits is compounded by the fact that Middlesbrough, at the centre of it all, is a young town by English standards. Only really coming into being during the 19th century - when industrialisation kicked into gear and the "iron rush" began in the very same hills and valleys.
In some ways Middlesbrough has more in common with the towns that sprung up in America during this period than it does with English ones. Its motto - Erimus - meaning "We Shall Be" reflecting this.
In fact, this is partly why I've come to view it as counterproductive to try to force labels upon the area. It's still a work in progress. It'll be what it'll be ..and when the time comes the language to describe things will naturally come too.