This article develops the concept of the ‘grounded city’ to argue that the development of cities can be analysed through specific accelerators and stabilisers. The city is grounded through its relation with a hinterland, which provides resources and revenues and thus governs city development. In modern cities, property development is an increasingly important accelerator, which shapes what is built and where. At the same time, the foundational economy—which meets the everyday needs of citizens for housing, utilities, food and mobility—is a stabiliser. It suggests a focus on controllable internal accelerators and stabilisers to improve the quality of foundational provision, rather than a view of cities competing for resources to pursue success through agglomeration.