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Christaller – Central place theory

Building the theory

From: Central Places in Southhern Germany

Central Places

We do not look at the entire appearance of a town, but only at those definite characteristics which are decidedly important to the meaning of the town and the geography of settlements. It is that meaning which Graclmann has called the chief profession of a town, namely, “to be center of its rural surroundings and mediator of local commerce with the outside world.” As one might think, this chief profession affects the small country towns which are really exceptions, being nothing more than the centers of their rural surroundings. But it also affects in the same way the larger towns, not only in respect to their immediate vicinities, but also in respect to their places in systems of many smaller regions. All regions have some centers which are closer, yet their centers of a higher order are found in larger towns which satisfy those demands o£ the country and of the smaller towns which the little towns are not able to satisfy. Thus we can broaden and generalize Gradmann’s statement in this manner: The chief profession-or characteristic-of a town is to be the center of a region.

Because this chief characteristic does not apply only to those settlements which we usually call towns-it applies also, for example, to most market spots-and because there are, on the other hand, towns which do not, or only in a very small measure, show this characteristic, we shall call those settlements which are mainly centers of regl.ons, central settlements. Central is relative in meaning. It refers to regions, but more correctly, it refers to the settlements dispersed over a region. In contrast to these central places are the dispersed places, i.e., all those places which are not centers. They include: (1) areally-bound ones -those settlemen~s the inhabitants of which live on their agricultural activities, which are conditioned by the land area surrounding them; and (2) point-bound ones-those settlements the inhabitants of which make their living from resources found at specific locations. The latter are: first, the mining settlements which are very limited in space as compared to the agricultural possi.bilities of the land, and generally are more point-like in their location in the country; and second, all those settlements which are bound to certain points of the surface of the earth, i.e ., bound at absolute points (not at relative ones as in the case of central places)- for instance, bridges and fords, border or custom places, and especially harbors. Very often, harbors simultaneously become central settlements, whereas mining settlements and health resorts are seldom central places. Finally, (3) we have settlements which are not bound to a central point, an area, or an absolute point. Monastery settlements (but not shrines, which are usually bound by the place of the miracle) vare examples. Other examples are settlements of workers who perform work in the home, and large industrial settlements, the locations of which are seldom determined according to any economic advantages such as transportation facilities or the labor supply. Purely residential settlements lying on outstanding sites near great towns do not belong to this group because they are absolutely determined by the beauty of the landscape (and therefore are point-bound), or are relatively determined by the nearness of the large town.

Henceforth, when we speak of central settlements, we shall have to avoid introducing a new meaning of town, for that would cause considerable confusion. We should go even further and substitute another term for settlement, in order to have greater precision of expression. The word settlement has many meanings, but it especially evokes a detailed picture of streets, houses, towers, and so on, which could veil the individual meaning of the facts important to us. We do not mean the multifold meaning of settlement, but rather only the localization of the functions of a center at the geometrical location of the settlement. We shall therefore speak of central places. Place is also more correct in a concrete sense, because in our consideration we ·deal neither with settlement units, nor political cpmmunities, nor economic units. Thus place includes as far into the surrounding settlements as the inhabitants of those settlements exercise urban or, as we should now say, central ,professions. The place may be larger or smaller than the settlement unit or community.

Those places which have central functions that extend over a larger region, in which other central places of less importance exist, are called ( central places of a higher order. Those which have only local central importance for the immediate vicinity are called, correspondingly, central places of a lower and of the lowest order. Smaller places which usually have no central importance and which exercise fewer central functions are called auxiliary central places.

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