Urban Geography Models

Key models predict and explain land use

Commuters exiting Canary Wharf station
Commuters leaving Canary Wharf underground station, London. Doug Armand / Getty Images

Walk through most contemporary cities, and the mazes of concrete and steel can be some of the most intimidating and confusing places to visit. Buildings rise up dozens of stories from the street and spread for miles out of view. Despite how hectic cities and their surrounding areas can be, attempts at creating models of the way cities function have been made and analyzed to make our understanding of the urban environment richer.

Concentric Zone Model

One of the first models created for use by academics was the concentric zone model, developed in the 1920s by urban sociologist Ernest Burgess. What Burgess wanted to model was Chicago's spatial structure with regards to the usage of "zones" around the city. These zones radiated from Chicago's center, The Loop, and moved concentrically outward. In the example of Chicago, Burgess designated five different zones that had separate functions spatially. The first zone was The Loop, the second zone was the belt of factories that were directly outside of The Loop, the third zone included homes of laborers who worked in the factories, the fourth zone contained middle-class residences, and the fifth and final zone hugged the first four zones and contained the homes of the suburban upper class.

Keep in mind that Burgess developed the zone during an industrial movement in America and these zones worked mainly for American cities at the time. Attempts at applying the model to European cities have failed, as many cities in Europe have their upper classes located centrally, whereas American cities have their upper classes mostly at the periphery. The five names for each zone in the concentric zone model are as follows:

Hoyt Model

Since the concentric zone model isn't applicable to many cities, some other academics attempted to further model the urban environment. One of these academics was Homer Hoyt, a land economist who was mostly interested in taking a look at rents within a city as a means of modeling the city's layout. The Hoyt model (also known as the sector model), which was developed in 1939, took into account the effect of transportation and communication on a city's growth. His thoughts were that rents could remain relatively consistent in certain "slices" of the model, from the downtown center all the way to the suburban fringe, giving the model a pie-like look. This model has been found to work especially well in British cities.

Multiple-Nuclei Model

A third well-known model is the multiple-nuclei model. This model was developed in 1945 by geographers Chauncy Harris and Edward Ullman to try and further describe a city's layout. Harris and Ullman made the argument that the city's downtown core (CBD) was losing its importance in relation to the rest of the city and should be seen less as the focal point of a city and instead as a nucleus within the metropolitan area. The automobile began to become increasingly important during this time, which made for greater movement of residents to the suburbs. Since this was taken into consideration, the multiple-nuclei model is a good fit for sprawling and expansive cities.

The model itself contained nine differing sections that all had separate functions:

  • Central business district
  • Light manufacturing
  • Low-class residential
  • Middle-class residential
  • Upper-class residential
  • Heavy manufacturing
  • Outlying business district
  • Residential suburb
  • Industrial suburb

These nuclei develop into independent areas because of their activities. For example, some economic activities that support one another (for instance, universities and bookstores) will create a nucleus. Other nuclei form because they'd be better off far from one another (e.g., airports and central business districts). Finally, other nuclei can develop from their economic specialization (think of shipping ports and railway centers).

Urban-Realms Model

As a means of improving upon the multiple nuclei model, geographer James E. Vance Jr. proposed the urban-realms model in 1964. Using this model, Vance was able to look at San Francisco's urban ecology and summarize economic processes into a sturdy model. The model suggests that cities are made up of small "realms," which are self-sufficient urban areas with independent focal points. The nature of these realms is examined through the lens of five criteria:

  • The topological terrain of the area, including water barriers and mountains
  • The size of the metropolis as a whole
  • The amount and strength of the economic activity taking place within each of the realms
  • The accessibility internally of each realm in regards to its major economic function
  • The inter-accessibility across the individual suburban realms

This model does a good job at explaining suburban growth and how certain functions that are normally found in the CBD can be moved to the suburbs (such as shopping malls, hospitals, schools, etc.). These functions diminish the importance of the CBD and instead create distant realms that accomplish approximately the same thing.

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Your Citation
Langenfeld, Jacob, Contributing Writer. "Urban Geography Models." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/urban-geography-models-1435764. Langenfeld, Jacob, Contributing Writer. (2020, August 27). Urban Geography Models. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/urban-geography-models-1435764 Langenfeld, Jacob, Contributing Writer. "Urban Geography Models." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/urban-geography-models-1435764 (accessed July 29, 2021).