Central Place Theory
Central place theory refers to a geographical theory that aims at explaining the number, location and size of the human settlements in a given urban system. Walter Shristaller, a German created this theory in 1933 and he introduced it in his book called the Central Places in Southern Germany.
He asserted that the settlements of an urban system function as the central places that provide services to the surrounding areas. This theory attempts to illustrate location of settlements in relation to each other, market size that can be controlled by a central place and why there are central places that function as villages, cities towns or hamlets.
In explaining this theory, Walter noted that settlements provide more services and goods than other places known as the higher-order central places. He observed that there are small market places or areas in low-order central places and that these areas provide services and goods that are bought more frequently than the higher-order services and goods.
The theory further notes that there are fewer high-order places and their distribution is wider than that of low-order places. The assumption of central place theory is that there is a uniform plane distribution of central places with constant purchasing power and population density. The theory also assumes that there is an easy and uniform movement across these planes in all direction. Costs of transportation vary linearly and to minimize the costs of transportation, consumers act in a rational manner by visiting the locations that are nearest to them to get their desired service or good.
The factor that determines location of a central place is a threshold that comprises of smallest marketplace or area that is necessary for the services and goods to be viable economically. After establishing the threshold, a central place seeks to expand the market area till the range is reached. This range implies a maximum distance that consumers can travel to buy services and goods.
Since range and threshold define a market area of the central place, the market areas of the group of different central places that offer similar order of services and goods will extend equal distances in different directions in a circular fashion. Central place theory has been used in explaining spatial distribution of cities’ system.
However, it has also been subjected to numerous criticisms. Many scholars have criticized this theory for being static. The theory does not include a temporal aspect in explaining central places’ development.
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