• Rural settlement: a residential area away from the city, in the countryside (with less than 10,000 residents)
sky, sunset, field
Rural settlement
  • Urban settlement: a residential area such as a town, city or megacity
city, cars, road
Urban settlement: Monaco

Rural settlements tend to have a lower population and fewer services than urban settlements.

Settlement site and situation

  1. Site refers to the land on which a settlement is built.
  2. Situation refers to the relationship between a settlement and its surrounding area.

A wet point site is a site along a supply of water in otherwise dry areas.

A dry point site is a site in an elevated position where the surrounding land is wet.

Defensive sites are sites that are easy to guard against enemies and are usually located on higher grounds. eg. Edinburgh

Most settlements are located:

  • in areas that provide flat or gently sloping, fertile land for farming
  • at cross-roads or locations of trade
  • in areas with a reliable fuel supply
  • where the aspect provides shelter to the houses eg. on a north-facing slope as a protection against heavy storms from the south.

Settlement patterns:

  • Linear: houses are situated along a transport route, eg. a street or a river
  • Nucleated: houses are concentrated around one central feature, eg. a church
  • Dispersed: houses are scattered in no particular pattern
Aerial view of Neuf-Brisach, a nucleated Settlement Credits: Luftfahrer

Causes of settlement dispersion:

  • Mountainous areas, which are difficult for construction
  • Mainly land for farming
  • Vulnerable to extreme weather conditions or climate (eg. Arctic tundra)
  • Few natural resources available

Settlement hierarchy

A settlement hierarchy can be used to portray the rank order (in terms of size, population and services) of settlements.

The larger a settlement, the fewer settlements there will be of its type. In other words, there are many villages, but few megacities.

 Factors that limit the size of settlements
  • Limited availability of flat land
  • Infertile land
  • Poor communications and transport networks
  • Lack of job opportunities and employment

Functions of settlements

Originally, most settlements had only one distinct function- such as agriculture- but nowadays the majority of MEDC settlements has multiple functions. The most common settlement functions include:

  • Residential: An area whose main purpose is to provide habitation to its people
  • Market town: A town or city that is primarily responsible or known for its commerce and trade
  • Tourist resort: An area whose main purpose is attracting the tourist industry and generating revenue from natural and physical attractions.
  • Administrative: A place that houses the administrative branch or government of a country or region

Sphere of influence

Sphere of influence is the area served by a settlement or service (ie. the area from which people come to access a service).

Range refers to the maximum distance that consumers are willing to travel to obtain certain goods. Generally, people will travel farther for higher order (comparison) goods or specialised shops. People are also more willing to travel further for high quality products or cheaper offers. Still, the range is impacted by the availability of each service.

Threshold population is the minimum population required to support a service. Higher order goods will have a higher threshold population than lower order goods.

High order goods or comparison goods are bought less frequently and they are more expensive. Due to their higher cost, people tend to compare the prices. Examples of higher order goods include jewellry, dishwashers (or other costy household equipment)


Urbanisation is the movement of an increasing percentage of the population into the urban areas.

Causes of Urbanisation

  • Rural to urban migration: People move from the countryside to the cities due to population pressure and a lack of resources in rural areas.
  • In LEDC’s infrastructure of cities is expanding faster than in the rural areas, thus attracting industrial investment and people seeking employment.
  • Population increase is often higher in cities due to better health care facilities (lower death rates) and a younger population in cities.
  • More people work in secondary and tertiary industries, which are often found in urban areas


Counter-urbanisation is the movement out of cities into rural areas. It is most common in MEDC’s.

Reasons for counterurbanisation

  • Less crowded housing and larger availability of land, cheaper housing
  • Less traffic congestion and exhaust fumes (air pollution)
  • Scenic beauty and increased tranquility
  • Lower crime rates/higher safety
  • Increased mobility allows people to commute for work

Effects of counterurbanisation

  • Increase in housing prices due to high demand
  • Car ownership reduces public transport, isolating the youth and the elderly
  • Traffic congestion due to high car ownership and commuting
  • More dormitory villages as people commute to work in the city

Urban land use patterns of LEDC’s and MEDC’s

Urban land use models attempt to portray common patterns of how the land is used in cities. These models split cities into different functional zones, such as :

  •  The CBD (or central business district): the commercial centre of the city that features shops and offices, tall buildings, little housing
  • Inner city: areas  used for light manufacturing, poor quality housing, lower class residential area
  • Outer city: better quality housing, middle class residential area
  • Suburbs: best quality housing, high class residential

There are two main land use models:

[A diagram of the Burgess Model]
Burgess Concentric Zone Model
[A diagram of the Hoyt Model]
Hoyt Sector Model
In both MEDC’s and LEDC’s:
  • the CBD is located centrally and there are distinct zones of different quality housing
  • industry is close to transport links
In LEDC’s:
  • Higher cost housing tends to be closer to the CBD than in MEDC’s
  • Low quality housing tends to be further from the CBD than in MEDC’s
  • There may be squatter settlements

Problems of urban areas

Decline of the CBD of cities in MEDC’s due to congestion and poor accesibility, including a lack of parking spaces. Also, retailers may leave the CBD due to high rents, leading to empty derilict buildings. Furthermore, companies and administration may decentralise to the outskirts or suburbs.

houses, village, buildings


Increase pedestrianisation to reduce air and noise pollution from vehicles.

Improve transport facilities such as underground railways to reduce congestion.

Incentivise the development of shopping malls to prevent retailers from moving to greenfield or brownfield sites.

Housing shortages in MEDC’s due to population increase through immigration, excessively high property prices and the necessity of renewing old properties in the city centre.


Replace old housing by blocks of flats or houses in the suburbs

Construct new towns where land is available.

Decline of the transition zone (twilight zone) in MEDC’s due to derelict land , high rates of crime and social issues.


City governments can encourage redevelopment

Traffic congestion in MEDC’s and LEDC’s is caused by increased use of private cars, many commuters and many people visiting the CBD.

It may result in delays for work and delivery of products, so many companies could lose profit. Also, it increases air pollution from exhaust fumes, thus contributing to global warming and the likelihood of acid rain. Photochemical smog may reduce visibility and cause breathing problems, especially for asthmatics.


Improve transport facilities by constructing underground railways and creating designated bus lanes.

Construct ring roads and roundabouts to reduce congestion from traffic lights.

Encouraging park and ride schemes.

Lack of Security in MEDC’s and LEDC’s may lead to high crime rates and graffiti.


Increase patrols by police or private security firms

Install closed circuit TV to scare away pick pockets and shop lifters

car, vehicle, driving
Police patrols to increase security in urban areas

Crime and racial conflicts in MEDC’s and LEDC’s due to high levels of poverty, inner city ghettos (MEDC’s) or informal settlements (LEDC’s).


Provide social facilities such as sports clubs

Encourage job creation schemes to provide employment

Provide language lessons to immigrants

Squatter settlements in LEDC’s due to lack of property rights, poor housing conditions (including improper sanitation and water supply), high unemployment and extreme poverty and overcrowding


Encourage low-cost housing schemes, provision of water, electricity and sewers, as well as self-help schemes to improve housing conditions.

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