Central Place Theory was propounded by Walter Christaller in 1933. It's another theory in the urban hierarchy. it is based on empirical observation in Southern Germany. but the theory is in itself an ideal normative theory of urban location and urban hierarchy. It is considered one of the three locational theory triads.
Locational theory triads
- Agricultural location theory by Von Thunen 1870
- Industrial location theory by Weber 1920
- Central place theory by Walter Christaller 1933
Some of the concepts and the insights in these 3 theories became the basis of quantification and model making in human geography called the quantitative revolution in human geography.
Walter Christaller's theory is a normative ideal theory which is used in urban planning. Because it helps us to approximate and ensure the deviations are less as possible from the perfect and most efficient location.
The following are the assumptions that are the basis of any normative economic theory in geography. The assumptions were first given by Von Thunen and were used by others later.
Assumptions of normative economic theory in geography
- Man is economic
- Man is rational
- Assumption of isotropic surface
- Perfect competition
Man is economic
Man is influenced solely by economic profitability concerns. only monetary gains are the basis of any decision making. Factors like culture, emotions or preferences, or any other personal subjective factors are not the basis of judgment.
Such an economic man is assumed to be a maximizer.
Man is rational
A rational man is one who makes decisions on the basis of perfectly rational analysis. Man has access to all the information and has the ability to process all information objectively.
Assumption of isotropic surface
A surface that is homogeneous and uniform in terms of all-natural physical attributes. There is no variation in climate, terrain, or the availability of any natural resource. No location has any extra advantage or disadvantage with respect to any other location in terms of natural resources.
Perfect competition
A condition where demand and supply cannot be manipulated and the prices can't be deliberately distorted to the advantage or disadvantage of anybody. Neither the seller nor the buyer operates at any extra advantage. All operate at margins of profit.
All the locational theories are referred to as the least cost theory because as an economic man, the buyers and sellers can maximize returns only by minimizing the cost incurred in the economic process.
These assumptions were questioned in the backlash against the quantitative revolution. The concept of a perfectly rational man was again challenged in behavioral geography as a backlash against the quantitative revolution.
Objectives of the theory
- Christaller is trying to suggest what is the best and most efficient organization of settlements in a settlement complex in terms of
- The ideal location of the settlements,
- The spacing between the settlements,
- The functions performed and services offered by the settlements,
- The hierarchical levels of the settlement,
- The number of settlements in each hierarchy.
- The central place theory model is therefore a theory of urban hierarchy. But unlike the population as the basis of hierarchy as in primate city concept and in rank-size rule, Central place theory models hierarchy based on functional hierarchy.
Some concepts of Central Place Theory
Central place
- It is the settlement itself
- Central place is not the geometrical centre of the settlement complex
Concept of centrality
- It is the importance of the Central place
- The centrality is decided on the basis of the function performed by the central place.
- The functions are the goods and services offered by Central place.
Central place function
- It is the highest order function performed by the central place which decide the centrality of the central place
Concept of complementary area
- The central place itself is reduced to a single dimensionless point.
- There area of influence of that Central place
- The real deal with the central place offers its goods and services is the complementary area of the central place.
- higher functions will have a larger area and smaller functions will have a smaller area
- The size of the complementary area depends on the type and hierarchical level of the Central place function
Assuming isotropic surface where the distance decay function of influence operates proportionally in all directions. So, the complementary area is perfectly a circular area.
Concept of threshold
- It is the minimum number of service users or goods buyers required to sustain a function
Range
- The maximum distance a person is willing to travel to avail a service or to buy a good from the central place.
- The range and threshold is the property of the goods and services offered at Central place.
The principles on the basis of which the resolution of settlement complex happens
- The threshold should be within the complementary area.
- The number of people inside the complimentary area should be neither more nor less than the threshold population.
- Any variation above or below the threshold will compromise the condition of perfect competition.
- Population less than the threshold will be to the disadvantage of the service provider and a population greater than the threshold will be to the disadvantage of the service buyer.
- For perfect competition and to ensure that the complementary area has the exact threshold population.
- The radius of the complementary area should be exactly equal to the range of goods and services. In a perfect competition where both the buyers and the sellers operate at margins of profitability but both behaving as maximizers try for opposite objectives.
- The buyer wants to maximize Central places so as to reduce the distance of travel whereas the seller wants to maximize profits by minimizing the cost and therefore wants to have minimum possible Central places.
This conflicting objective according to Crystaller can be resolved by doing the following
- By bringing the complementary area as close as possible such that the boundaries of complementary areas touch but don't overlap. The circular shapes complementary area space is not best resolved because either some regions get left out are some regions will have duplication of service providers.
Christaller suggested the next best alternative as the complementary area of a regular hexagonal shape
2. A higher order Central place must necessarily operate as the lower order Central places also.
Nesting patterns
For the resolution of settlement complex. The principles and objectives in space resolution were depicted for three category of services.
- Administration functions
- Transport functions
- Marketing functions
The theory, therefore, has limited applicability because it entirely ignores manufacturing function which is a very important basis of urbanization.
He also subsumes all types of retail and wholesale commercial functions under marketing such as education, health, consumer goods, garments, etc. But the fact is they don't all operate on same cost and profit considerations. He asserts that the 7 hierarchical level of any function is a most efficient resolution.
He gave the following three nesting patterns.
- Nesting pattern for marketing
- Nesting pattern for transportation
- Nesting pattern for administration
Nesting pattern for Marketing
For efficient marketing principle, the lower order centre is positioned at the vertices of the complementary area hexagon of the immediate higher-order centre.
In the above resolution, if A is the area of of higher order Central place complementary area and a is the lower order Central place complementary area, then
A = 6 * (a/3) + a
A = 3a
A/a = 3 = K
Therefore K = 3
Where K is the number of lower order Central places nesting inside the higher-order central place. Therefore marketing principle is based on K = 3 principle.
Nesting pattern for Transportation
In the marketing principle, efficiency is achieved when a minimum number of Central places can cover the maximum area. In the transportation principle, the objective is the minimum length of road which can service and touch the maximum possible Central places.
According to Christaller, this is possible when the lower order Central place is located at the midpoint of the sides of the higher-order Central place hexagonal complementary area.
If 'A' is the complementary area of higher-order centre place and 'a' is the complementary area of the next lower order Central place.
Then, A = 6 * (a/2) + a = 4a
Therefore, 'K' = 4
Nesting pattern for Administration
Administrative efficiency is possible if the complementary area of the lower order Central place is entirely within the higher-order center place and when a minimum number of Central places are required for covering an area.
Empirically, christaller established the 'K' value of 7 for administration.
Evaluation of Central place theory of christaller
- It is a normative theory. So, not applicable in reality
- It is an ideal condition, therefore, can be used for planning
- Assumptions like isotropic surface, rational economic man, and perfect competitions are assumptions of a closed system. Hence it's another implied assumption. In reality, all economic systems are open systems.
- The model is a pre behavioural model. It is based on assumption of economic man where economic profit motives are the sole consideration. It does not accommodate the subjective perception of environment which was the basis of the quantitative Revolution criticisms under the behavioral and humanistic backlash.
- Ignoring the industrial function is the biggest limitation of christaller's theory
In India, the applicability is restricted to administrative principle approximation. According to Central place theory there should be seven levels and in India administration their six levels
Six levels of Indian administration
- National capital
- State capital
- District headquarters
- Block offices
- Tehsil towns
- Panchayats
Modification by August Losch (1954)
Most of the basic principles of Christaller and the assumptions of Christaller was retained by Losch (Like locational approach, all normative assumptions, and least cost consideration)
Walter Christaller | August Losch |
He considered only 3 functions with 3 'K' values | He considered a whole range of functions almost 150 of them to give a continuous series of 'K'values |
Christaller's 'K' value was discrete | 'K' values are a continuous series |
Christaller ignored the industrial manufacturing function | Losch included industrial manufacturing function |
Like Christaller, Losch also considers the property of isotropic surface. But the isotropic property is however not maintained in the location of centres. Because certain type of functions have commonalities and the functions can share the market and the infrastructure.
Therefore Central places tend to specialize and the centers agglomerate around some common area of advantage. The settlement complex, therefore, is a series of agglomeration and dispersions.
Agglomeration areas that are rich in certain kind of functions and dispersion areas which are poor in certain categories of functions.
Losch empirically establish that a settlement complex can be resolved in 12 sectors.
- 6 city rich regions where there is more agglomeration of function
- 6 city poor regions where there is a dispersion of function