Taking its cue from the ‘material turn’ of recent years, this survey examines the connections between infrastructure, welfare and citizenship in north European cities in the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It argues that connections between these different constructs were fundamental not only to how cities functioned but how citizens themselves were imagined. As such, the survey critiques histories of welfare and citizenship that foreground the national and neglect the urban origins of the modern state. It does so by examining infrastructure, welfare and citizenship in smaller European nation-states such as Belgium, Denmark and Ireland rather than in the more familiar cases of Germany, France and Britain. Asking questions about the inter-relationship of infrastructure, welfare and citizenship, the survey suggests, offers an important way to reinterpret what the ‘modern city’ meant in twentieth-century northern Europe.