LEGO City (also known as LEGOLAND, LEGO Town, City Center, and World City over the years) is the longest-running LEGO theme of all. Houses and other town buildings have been shown as "building suggestions" on LEGO packages from the very first in 1949 and sets for specific buildings (as opposed to generic assortments of bricks) and "town plan" plastic boards began appearing by the mid-1950s.
The precursor to the modern LEGO City theme was LEGOLAND, which debuted in 1969. In 1974, a primitive version of the famous minifigures was introduced, with molded-on arms, one-piece leg parts and no faces printed on the heads. LEGO Town proper debuted in 1978 with the introduction of the modern minifigures, which now had separate legs and arms, and printed smiling faces on the heads.
After a period in 1997-98 which is commonly referred to as "Town Jr.", the theme was rebranded as City Center in 1999. City Center was discontinued in 2001, leading to a brief period with no proper Town sets outside of reissues of older sets until World City's debut in 2003. That incarnation was more action-oriented and focused on the emergency services (fire, police, coast guard) than the previous ones. World City itself was discontinued in favor of the now-current LEGO City theme in 2005.
Most non-Technic LEGO themes were and are based on (and more or less compatible with) Town/City.
Some LEGO City tropes:
- Brand X: Most prominently, the oil company Octan.
- Built with LEGO: LEGO Town/City itself actually managed to subvert this trope in the 1980s already when more and more specialized parts were made such as horses (the famous idea book 6000 had horses and other animals made of bricks, as did the earliest LEGO Castle sets) or motorcycles (there were early kits with motorcycles made out of standard parts). The further the City theme developed, the more specialized many parts became, the less had to be made in the classic LEGO way, and the more LEGO resembled Playmobil. This eventually led to the infamous "juniorized" Town Jr. sets of the late 1990s, which were simplified down to a few specialized parts; their poor reception led LEGO to reverse course somewhat on specialized parts.
- Call-Forward: The 2022 "City Space" sets have a badge reminiscent of the Classic LEGO Space logo, but with the spaceship departing from an Earthlike planet rather than an alien planet or moon. The spaceship is also closer to the planet, implying that space exploration is taking place closer to home.
- Catchphrase: The commercials often feature someone shouting "HEY!"
- Cool Bike: Viewed from an early 1980s point of view, the two-part motorcycle introduced in 1983. Viewed by those used to this bike, the later, more sophisticated bikes.
- Cool Car: Depending on what you were used to seeing, there were several. A few examples:
- In the late 1970s, every car a minifig could sit in.
- The 6627 convertible with its hinged hood. Also, the first kit to introduce a Stetson hat.
- The cars included with 6375 Gas Station also had hinged hoods, as well as headlight bricks on the side to simulate a gas tank pipe.
- The car from 6655. Introducing clip-on wheels and a car jack!
- The 6361 telescopic mobile crane.
- The Light & Sound kits.
- The 6357 truck with helicopter. Not only was it cool to play with, it also looked cool.
- The sets from 1989 with suspension. Take 6660, remove the hook, and you've got the perfect car for re-enacting The Fall Guy.
- The 6646 Screaming Patriot. Flathead V-8 (well, V-4)? Check. External exhaust pipes salvaged from the discontinued Fabuland line? Check. Evel Knievel appeal? Check.
- Cool Plane: 1985 saw the arrival of aircraft with hinged fuselage sections which could carry minifig passengers. Quite cool in comparison with the 1970s planes with two-wide solid fuselages. Those were eventually topped in 2006 by bigger and more realistic aircraft like the 7893 passenger plane.
- The many Space Shuttles.
- Cool Train: The 6399 Airport Shuttle monorail. Never mind that hardly anyone('s parents) could afford that and the matching airport.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: The earliest road vehicles from the first few years of LEGO Town were rather inconsistent on scale: some could fit a minifig, others were much too small to do so.
- Family-Friendly Firearms: LEGO Town/City remains the only theme with no guns at all. LEGO even went as far as not making any opaque green bricks for decades so that nobody could build tanks.
- Long Runner: The modern LEGO City theme has existed in some form since 1978. If LEGOLAND is counted, it goes back as far as 1969.
- Mythology Gag:
- The son in set 60291, Modern Family House, is a big Ninjago fan. He has a shirt with Lloyd's face, and his room has some fictional merch for the franchise as well as a video game.
- The astronauts in set 60350, the Lunar Research Base, have received a postcard from Heartlake City.
- Set 1592, Town Square Castle Scene, includes a statue of Our Founder — who is one of the pre-1978 minifigures without movable arms or legs.
- No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: The Airport Shuttle fell victim to this, as the manufacturing of the tracks was outsourced to a company that then went bankrupt, the tooling for the parts going with them. Rather than find a new supplier, LEGO ended production, leaving this as one of the rarest sets in existence.
- Product Placement: LEGO feature several actual brands in the past such as Shell, Exxon, Philips, Maersk or P&O Stena.
- Retraux: The 7731 Mail Van and 7732 Postal Plane sets, both from 2008, evoke 1980s design cues combined with modern parts in a sub-theme that had not been seen proper since the 80s.
- Threatening Shark: From the 1990s on, several sets included the two-part sharks originally designed for LEGO Pirates.
- Villainous Gold Tooth: One particular LEGO minifigure face is a sneering grin with a single gold tooth on the upper jaw. It was introduced in 2003's World City theme and is very commonly used for crooks and robbers in LEGO City, such as Handsome Hank.