Central Place Theory is a theory describing how cities emerge and are formed. It looks at two principles: the threshold principle (population size and wealth) and transport principle (willingness of people to travel to access goods).
The theory was devised by the German geographer Walter Christaller (1893 – 1969) in 1933.
Christaller believed that even though there is no masterplan that governs where and how urban settlements come up, there is an inherent logic which dictates why cities come up where they do, and why they attain the size that they do.
Central Place Theory – What you Need to Know
1. The Theory has Two Principles
Central place theory is based on two principles:
- Threshold or the Marketing Principle – A city will come up where there is a concentration of a population that is either numerous enough or wealthy enough for the development of a market that offers a wide range of goods and services.
- Range or the Transport Principle – The geographical extent of the size of the city will be determined by how far the population of the city is willing to travel to avail of the said goods and services.
These principles explain several features of urban and rural geography, such as why larger cities tend to be spread farther apart, whereas smaller towns or settlements tend to be clustered closer together.
2. The Theory Believes Cities Naturally take Hexagonal Shapes
Christaller then went on to devise a geometrical model to depict how cities would be arranged on a geographical plane. According to this model, cities and settlements would come up in a hexagonal (or triangular) lattice-like pattern on a landscape.
This is because a hexagon is the most efficient arrangement for organizing objects within a given space causing least wastage.
This mathematical fact called the Honeycomb Conjecture has been known to mankind since antiquity but was decisively proved only in 1999 by the American mathematician Thomas C. Hales. (Hales, 2001).
It is frequently encountered in nature where honeybees build their honeycombs in a hexagonal pattern, and is followed by the packaging industry, where hexagonal packing is preferred as it is known to minimize wastage of space (Chamberland, 2015).
In the case of cities and villages, this means that a city or a market place can cater most efficiently to the smaller towns or the rural settlements that surround it only if they are arranged in a hexagonal arrangement with the city or marketplace at the centre, and the smaller settlements arranged around it in a hexagonal lattice-like pattern.
Since a hexagon is made up of six congruent equilateral triangles, the triangular arrangement would also suffice in place of a hexagon.
Any other pattern of arrangement would be inefficient in terms of the area served by the central place (or access of the node to the central place) and the transport costs of commuting to the central place, and thus, in the long run, would prove to be unsustainable.
3. The Theory Can Predict City Size and Shape
Based on this theory, Christaller went on to make certain predictions about how cities and settlements would be arranged on a physical landscape.
These predictions are based on what are called K-values, where K gives a measure of how much of the area of its surrounding settlements would the central place take up.
So, K= 3 means that the market area of the central place would take up one-third of the market area of each of the surrounding smaller setlltlements called nodes. Or in other words, the central place is three times the size of the smaller market settlements that adjoin it.
K can have different values based on different variables, with4 and 7 being the most common in addition to 3.
Alternative Theory: Concentric Zone Model
Central Place Theory Examples
1. Polders of Netherlands
Polders are low lying areas that have been reclaimed from the sea or other water bodies and made suitable for human habitation by fortifying them with dikes and embankments which keep the water at bay.
Sincelarge parts of Netherlands are situated below the sea level, much of its land area consists of Polders that have been reclaimed from the sea.
These Polder settlements came up in accordance with the layout predicted by the Central Place Theory.
The most well known examples of these are IJsselmeerpolder and Noordoostpolder whose layout is in accordance with the Central Place Theory (Sugiura, 2006).
2. Fens of East Anglia
Like the Dutch Polders, the Fens of East Anglia in England are low-lying regions of marshy land that were drained centuries ago to make way for human habitation.
The land in the Fens is fertile and hence supports a large number of settlements, most of which have sprung up in accordance with the tenets of the Central Place Theory, which is to say, a honeycomb like layout of large market towns surrounded by smaller towns in a triangular or hexagonal pattern.
3. The American Midwest
The American Midwest is a vast flatland of agricultural hinterland interspersed by small towns and the occasional large industrial city.
The Midwest is called America’s breadbasket on account of its disproportionately large share in America’s agricultural output.
C.J. Galpin (1864 – 1947), a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin, studied the geographical layout of the various rural communities, small towns, and the large cities of the American Midwest and discovered that they are laid out in a series of rough hexagonal patterns as outlined by the Central Place Theory.
Galpin concluded that for a market town offering goods and services to equitably serve all the farming communities that surrounded it, there would need to be six farming communities surrounding each such market town (Galpin, 1916).
Further these smaller market towns would in turn form a hexagonal pattern relative to a larger city offering higher order services, and so on, until the largest Central Place offering the highest order goods and services and supporting the largest density of population were to be reached.
In the case of the American Midwest, these would be the industrial hubs of Chicago, Detroit, and Kansas.
Like the American Midwest, Saskatchewan in South-western Canada is a flat prairie grassland which is called the breadbasket of Canada on account of its high agricultural output.
Stabler and Olfert (2002) have traced the development of Saskatchewan’s urban and rural communities to the postulates of the Central Place Theory.
Regina and Saskatoon are the only two major cities in the province, while a number of smaller market towns serve the agrarian communities of the province organized in a hexagonal layout.
Central Place Theory Strengths and Weaknesses
1. It Explains the Hierarchization of Urban Centres
The Central Place Theory does the best job among all theories of spatial geography in explaining why some cities are larger than others.
Drawing upon the threshold and the marketing principle, the Central Place Theory explains how the size of an urban settlement is decided by consumer preferences.
Large cities are the ones offering higher order goods and services such as jewelry, electronics, shopping malls, whereas smaller settlements offer lower order goods such as grocery, household items, etc.
Larger cities tend to be spaced farther apart, whereas smaller marketplaces are clustered closer together. All of them are then organized in a hexagonal (or triangular) lattice like structure to serve the maximum area of the hinterland.
2. Can Be Integrated with Other Spatial Models to Explain a Diverse Range of Phenomena
Central Place Theory (CPT) can be integrated with spatial interaction models (SIM) to explain a number of urban geographical phenomena.
For instance, Openshaw and Veneris (2003) applied CPT to the distribution of medical care facilities in urban centres. They describe how medical facilities are arranged spatially in a hierarchy, much like the one CPT describes for urban settlements. Through their research, they show how the development of medical care facilities is determined by the marketing and the transport principle as outlined by the CPT.
Thus higher order medical care is available in areas with larger populations (threshold or marketing principle) and which are within easy reach of a sizeable number of the population (range or transport principle).
1.Makes a Large Number of Assumptions
Central Place Theory is based on a large number of assumptions such as:
- The areas under study are completely flat and limitless.
- The population is evenly distributed in the area under consideration.
- The consumers have similar purchasing powers.
- All the settlements are equidistant from each other.
Such assumptions in effect mean that the theory remains an abstract formulation and can rarely be applied accurately to real world situations.
2. Agriculture Centric
As can be seen from the list of examples given in the previous sections, the Central Place Theory is best applicable to large rural-agrarianhinterlands with a handful of market towns located within that hinterland.
Its applicability to industrial cities or modern urban spaces based on a service sector economy is severely restricted.
3. Poor Adaptability to Change
Central Place Theory was devised in the early decades of the 20th century – a time of rapid, and relatively new urbanization. Most of the world’s population still lived in villages and cities were home only to a small elite.
Cities and villages have evolved dtrastically since then, but the Central Place Theory has not been able to evolve to explain these changes.
For instance, in the 21st century, the world is increasingly moving online and goods and servies are exchanged without the need for a physical marketplace. Some of the biggest marketplaces today such as Amazon and Etsy are exclusively online stores with no physical presence.
In the absence of a physical space itself in which to situate marketplaces and economic activity, the Central Place Theory, being a theory of physical and spatial geography, draws a complete blank.
Related Theory in Human Geography: Environmental Determinism Theory
Central Place Theory is a theory that attempts to explain the spatial distribution of urban settlements. The theory has been found to be useful in explaining the distribution of rural market towns
However, the applicability of the theory is somewhat limited, as it does not take into account modern phenomena such as online marketplaces. In addition, the theory makes a number of assumptions which may not hold true in real-world situations.
Overall, Central Place Theory is a helpful tool in understanding the distribution of urban settlements, but should not be used as the sole explanation for this phenomenon.
Chamberlad, M. (July 2015). The Miraculous Space Efficiency of Honeycomb Slate. Retrieved from: https://slate.com/technology/2015/07/hexagons-are-the-most-scientifically-efficient-packing-shape-as-bee-honeycomb-proves.html
Hales, Thomas C. (2001). The Honeycomb Conjecture. Discrete and Computational Geometry, 25 (1), 1–22. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s004540010071
Galpin, C. J. (1915). The social anatomy of an agricultural community. Agricultural Experiment Station of the University of Wisconsin Research Bulletin 34.
Openshaw S. & Veneris Y. (2003). Numerical experiments with central place theory and spatial interaction modelling Environment and Planning,35(8), 1389–1403. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1068%2Fa35295b
Stabler, J.C. & Olfert, M.R. (2002). Saskatchewan’s Communities in the 21st Century: From Places to Regions (Canadian Plains Reports) Canadian Plains Research Center.
Sugiura, Y. (2006). Planning on Settlement Location in the IJsselmeerpolders and Central Place Theory Geogrpahical Review of Japan, 79 (11), 566-587.
Chris Drew (PhD)
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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.
What is an example of central place theory? ›
These centres are large. Examples for low order goods and services are: newspaper stalls, groceries, bakeries and post offices. Examples for high order goods and services include jewelry, large shopping malls and arcades. They are supported by a much larger threshold population and demand.What does the central place theory explain? ›
Central-place theory attempts to illustrate how settlements locate in relation to one another, the amount of market area a central place can control, and why some central places function as hamlets, villages, towns, or cities.What are the major principles of the central place theory? ›
Central place theory maintains that each central place has a surrounding complementary region, an exclusive trade area within which the town has a monopoly on the sale of certain goods, because it alone can provide such goods at a given price and within a certain range of travel.What are the 5 key assumptions to the central place theory? ›
evenly distributed resources. similar purchasing power of all consumers and consumers will patronize nearest market. no excess profits (Perfect competition) consumers are of the same income level and same shopping behavior. Uniform transport network that permitted direct travel from each settlement to the other.Is the central place theory still used today? ›
Central Place Theory Today
Though Losch's central place theory looks at the ideal environment for the consumer, both his and Christaller's ideas are essential to studying the location of retail in urban areas today.
Successful sport initiatives can result in heightened use of a destination's attractions, resources, and services. Central place theory assists in predicting the type of location that stands to benefit from sport tourism development.What are some strengths of central place theory? ›
Name some strengths of Central Place Theory. His model yielded practical conclusions, like the fact that ranks of urban places form a hierarchy, places of the same size and number of functions would be far away from eachother, and larger cities would be farther away from eachother than smaller cities.What are the advantages of central place theory? ›
What are the advantages of central place theory? The theory does a reasonably good job of describing the spatial pattern of urbanization. No other economic theory explains why there is a hierarchy of urban centers.What are the three parts of a market area in the central place theory? ›
Principles in the arrangement of the central places: Christaller's theory gives 3 principles which are the marketing principle, transport principle and administrative principle for orderly arrangements and the formation of hierarchy.What are the limitations of central place theory? ›
Perhaps the most fundamental limitation of central place theory (to which certain others are linked) is the fact that it is only concerned with a particular range of economic activity, namely, those goods and services for which the demand is dispersed and is also sensitive to distance.
Who proposed central place theory? ›
Answer: Walter Christaller proposed the Central Place Theory in 1933. It is one of the most widely accepted theories for explaining the spatial arrangements and distribution of human settlements.What is K value in central place theory? ›
In central places theory, the k value is often used to define the geographical relationship between different orders. With a k=3 relationship, each market area of a higher-order contains three market areas of a lower order.Is the central place theory applicable? ›
The central-place system of Christaller is applicable partially even to this day in countries of the developing world including India, China and areas where primary occupations predominate.What are the five sizes of communities? ›
Complete, compact, connected, complex, and convivial describes everything that you want a neighborhood to be.What shape does central place theory hypothesize for market areas Why? ›
What shape does central place theory hypothesize for market areas? Hexagons.What problems do urban areas face? ›
Poor air and water quality, insufficient water availability, waste-disposal problems, and high energy consumption are exacerbated by the increasing population density and demands of urban environments. Strong city planning will be essential in managing these and other difficulties as the world's urban areas swell.What are the theories of human settlement? ›
Human settlement theory incorporates the current issues explored in urban planning such as the organisation of land uses and movement within an urban area but also examines ideas such as the optimal size of settlements so that people are connected to their food systems and through this, to the natural environment.What are the basic postulates in the central place model of Christaller? ›
The purpose of this paper is to trace back and comment on five postulates of Christaller's central place theory: the homogeneity of geographical space, economic rationality of agents, existence of scale economies, existence of agglomeration economies, and interdependence between goods.Which was the central place where most colonial activity took place? ›
At the center of the town was often a large open square where people could meet and trade goods. Farmers could set up booths to sell produce and small merchants could peddle their goods. Major outdoor events took place at the market square including holiday celebrations and athletic contests.
The Central Place Theory can be represented by circles (equidistant to edge but overlaps and leaves gaps) and squares (sides aren't equidistant from the center but doesn't overlap/leave gaps) but the hexagon works the best (no overlap, no gaps, relatively the same distant to the edge from the center.
What are the main theories of industrial location? ›
Central theme of Industrial location theory has been the concept of optimum location i.e. finding out best location where profit is maximum and cost is minimum. Where the cost of manufacturing is least due to the presence of Raw Material, Market, etc.What is a primate city in a country? ›
Geographer Mark Jefferson coined the term in the 1930s and defined a primate city as one that is twice as large as the next largest city in the urban hierarchy of a country and twice as significant economically.What is rank size rule? ›
The Rank Size Rule, inspired by Zipf's Law Applied to Distribution of Cities (1935), says if all cities in a country are placed in order from the largest to the smallest, each one will have a population 1/nth the size of the largest city in the country.What is the concept of city region? ›
Typically, it denotes a city, conurbation or urban zone with multiple administrative districts, but sharing resources like a central business district, labour market and transport network such that it functions as a single economic unit.When was the central place theory created? ›
In 1933, Walter Christaller introduced Central Place Theory (CPT) as a way to explain the location, number, and size of settlements, where these locations acted as central places that provided services to surrounding areas.What is the major problem faced by inner city residents? ›
INNER CITY PROBLEMS
Inner-city residents are frequently referred to as a permanent underclass because they are trapped in an unending cycle of economic and social problems. They underclass suffers from relatively high rates of unemployment, alcoholism, drug addiction, illiteracy, juvenile delinquency, and crime.
What is the only major U.S. city without skyscrapers? Washington D.C.What are some strengths of central place theory? ›
Name some strengths of Central Place Theory. His model yielded practical conclusions, like the fact that ranks of urban places form a hierarchy, places of the same size and number of functions would be far away from eachother, and larger cities would be farther away from eachother than smaller cities.What are the characteristics of a central place? ›
Central places tend to have a more or less uniform, dispersed distribution over any area with homogeneous physical and economic characteristics, and are basically centers performing commercial functions.What is a central place ap human geography? ›
FIGURE 12-11 CENTRAL PLACE THEORY According to central place theory, market areas are arranged in a regular pattern. Larger market areas, based in larger settlements, are fewer in number and farther apart from each other than smaller market areas and settlements.
What are the advantages of central place theory? ›
What are the advantages of central place theory? The theory does a reasonably good job of describing the spatial pattern of urbanization. No other economic theory explains why there is a hierarchy of urban centers.What are the limitations of central place theory? ›
Perhaps the most fundamental limitation of central place theory (to which certain others are linked) is the fact that it is only concerned with a particular range of economic activity, namely, those goods and services for which the demand is dispersed and is also sensitive to distance.What are the three parts of a market area in the central place theory? ›
Principles in the arrangement of the central places: Christaller's theory gives 3 principles which are the marketing principle, transport principle and administrative principle for orderly arrangements and the formation of hierarchy.Is the central place theory applicable? ›
The central-place system of Christaller is applicable partially even to this day in countries of the developing world including India, China and areas where primary occupations predominate.Which is the central place of the world? ›
In 1973, Andrew J. Woods, a physicist with Gulf Energy and Environmental Systems in San Diego, California, used a digital global map and calculated the coordinates on a mainframe system as 39°00′N 34°00′E, in modern-day Turkey, near the district of Kırşehir, Kırşehir Province, approx. 1,800 km north of Giza.What is K value in central place theory? ›
In central places theory, the k value is often used to define the geographical relationship between different orders. With a k=3 relationship, each market area of a higher-order contains three market areas of a lower order.When was the central place theory created? ›
Walter Christaller developed his "Central Place Theory" in the 1930s. This theory is based on his idea that settlements only existed to function as "central places" to provide services for the surrounding area. This theory is part of the study of urbanization, taking into account the importance of supply and demand.What is a central place quizlet? ›
central place. A market center for the exchange of services by people attracted from the surrounding area.How is the gravity model used today? ›
Scientists use the gravity model of migration in human geography models to predict how the populations will interact for: Migration studies, to predict movement of people. Trades, to predict movement of goods.What shape does central place theory hypothesize for market areas? ›
What shape does central place theory hypothesize for market areas? Hexagons.
Who proposed central place theory? ›
Answer: Walter Christaller proposed the Central Place Theory in 1933. It is one of the most widely accepted theories for explaining the spatial arrangements and distribution of human settlements.Who is the pioneer of central place theory? ›
Central Place Theory was given by Walter Christaller in 1933, which is one of the most appreciated theories that tries to explain the spatial arrangements and distribution of human settlements and their number based on population and distance from another human settlement.