Out of that original 55 cities, all but 4 have gone inactive. They're still there in the hood; you just cannot see them.
The merges take place every two weeks. If you joined a world in the two week period just prior to a merge, then you don't get merged into a new hood. The next merge is scheduled for Oct. 21. So if you just hang in there, you'll find yourself surrounded by neighbours soon.
2 weeks?!? Without people to trade with I can not complete research, so I can unlock more research. So I will not be able to use FP, and there for not be able to do a thing until a merge? I agree this is a quick way to get people to quit playing. There can't be an emergency merge? Just seems stupid to penalize people this way. Hang in there and do what?
If you're expecting to trade with neighbors then you should scan around the forum for more game tips. Guilds are the best trading source because you won't be paying forge points and everyone within that group will be benefiting, and that group are your allies. The next best thing are friends, where you'll need to pay forge points but they're still your allies. Trading with neighbors is definitely the worst possible option, as you're providing goods to players who you are competing against - see it as trading with the enemy.
So, the answer to "Hand in there and do what?" is get yourself a good, active guild, and consider adding some more friends.