Urban settlements are complex and dynamic systems that exhibit various patterns of spatial organization and interaction. One of the most influential theories that attempts to explain these patterns is the central place theory, which was developed by Walter Christaller in the 1930s. According to this theory, urban settlements are arranged in a hierarchy of central places that provide different levels of goods and services to their surrounding hinterlands. The size of the hinterland, or the market area, is determined by the range and threshold of the goods and services offered by the central place. The range is the maximum distance that consumers are willing to travel to purchase a good or service, while the threshold is the minimum number of consumers required to support a good or service. The higher the level of goods and services, the larger the range and threshold, and thus the larger the hinterland. The lower the level of goods and services, the smaller the range and threshold, and thus the smaller the hinterland. Therefore, according to central place theory, there is a positive relationship between the size of the hinterland and the size of the central place.
However, this theory has been challenged by many empirical studies and theoretical critiques that suggest that with urban settlements, the size of the hinterland is not related to the size of the central place. In this article, we will examine some of these arguments and evidence that question the validity and applicability of central place theory in explaining urban spatial structure.
The Role of Transportation and Communication Technologies
One of the main factors that affects the relationship between hinterland size and central place size is the development of transportation and communication technologies. These technologies have reduced the cost and time of travel and increased the accessibility and connectivity of urban settlements. As a result, consumers have more choices and flexibility in purchasing goods and services from different locations, regardless of their distance from their residence. For example, online shopping allows consumers to buy products from anywhere in the world without having to physically visit a store. Similarly, telecommuting enables workers to perform their tasks from home or other remote locations without having to travel to their offices. These phenomena have weakened the dependence of consumers on nearby central places and expanded their potential market areas beyond their immediate hinterlands.
Furthermore, transportation and communication technologies have also enabled producers to locate their activities in different places according to their comparative advantages and preferences. For example, manufacturing industries can relocate their plants to areas with lower labor costs or better infrastructure, while service industries can cluster in areas with higher agglomeration economies or quality of life. These phenomena have increased the diversity and specialization of urban settlements and reduced their similarity and competition. Therefore, with transportation and communication technologies, urban settlements can have different sizes of hinterlands depending on their functions and characteristics, rather than on their levels of goods and services.
The Influence of Historical and Cultural Factors
Another factor that affects the relationship between hinterland size and central place size is the influence of historical and cultural factors. These factors shape the identity and preferences of consumers and producers, as well as their patterns of behavior and interaction. For example, historical events such as wars, migrations, or political changes can create or destroy urban settlements, or alter their roles and functions in a region. Cultural factors such as language, religion, or ethnicity can create or reinforce bonds or barriers among urban settlements, or affect their attractiveness and reputation in a region. These factors can generate path dependence or inertia in urban spatial structure, meaning that past decisions or events can have lasting effects on current outcomes or choices.
For instance, some urban settlements may have large hinterlands because they have been established as political or religious centers for a long time, while others may have small hinterlands because they have been marginalized or isolated by historical or cultural forces. Conversely, some urban settlements may have small hinterlands because they have been overshadowed by larger or more dominant neighbors for a long time, while others may have large hinterlands because they have emerged as new or alternative centers for economic or social reasons. Therefore, with historical and cultural factors, urban settlements can have different sizes of hinterlands depending on their legacy and context, rather than on their levels of goods and services.
The Complexity and Diversity of Urban Systems
A final factor that affects the relationship between hinterland size and central place size is the complexity and diversity of urban systems. Urban systems are composed of multiple urban settlements that interact with each other in various ways. These interactions can be cooperative or competitive, complementary or substitutive, hierarchical or networked. These interactions can also vary in intensity, frequency, direction, or purpose. These interactions can create synergies or conflicts among urban settlements, as well as opportunities or challenges for their development.
For example, some urban settlements may share their hinterlands with other urban settlements that provide similar or different goods and services. This can create positive spillovers or negative externalities for both parties. Some urban settlements may extend their hinterlands to other regions or countries that offer new markets or resources. This can create benefits or costs for both parties. Some urban settlements may lose their hinterlands to other urban settlements that offer better or cheaper goods and services. This can create winners or losers in the urban system. Therefore, with the complexity and diversity of urban systems, urban settlements can have different sizes of hinterlands depending on their interactions and relationships with other urban settlements, rather than on their levels of goods and services.
In conclusion, we have shown that with urban settlements, the size of the hinterland is not related to the size of the central place. We have argued that this relationship is affected by various factors such as transportation and communication technologies, historical and cultural factors, and the complexity and diversity of urban systems. These factors challenge the assumptions and predictions of central place theory, which was developed in a different context and time. Therefore, we suggest that central place theory should be revised or replaced by more realistic and flexible theories that can account for the dynamics and diversity of urban spatial structure.