This article examines the characteristics and problems of urbanization in mid-nineteenth century Hungary, analyzing contemporary debates on conditions in and the modernization of cities. The core of the argument focuses on the representation of cities in the political discourse determined by the liberal nobility in conflict with the Viennese court. Although the overall view of cities was negative, the points of criticism, notably, economic backwardness, small population, dependence on the central authorities) underwent considerable change from the end of the eighteenth to the middle of the nineteenth century. Most importantly, increasing stress was placed on the non-Hungarian (mainly German) provenience of the citizenry, which also reflected one of the key aspects of the emerging Hungarian nationalist discourse. It seems, however, that citizens' perceptions of the urban issues did not derive from their national identity. In cities inhabited by German or mixed populations, the ethnicity of citizens as a problem and as a marker determining social identity was imposed from outside as a result of political debates on a national level.