In this article, You will read the Functional Classification of Towns and Cities – for UPSC (Settlement Geography – Geography Optional).

Functional Classification of Towns and Cities

  • Urban centres are classified by multitude of functions. They are the economic magnets where secondary, tertiary and related activities dominate.
  • The functional classification of towns gives the idea about the role of the town in the field of occupation, industrial type, economic, religion, social, political, etc. It is hard to define the functional role of a town because all the towns have more than one function. 
  • Any city can be observed as composition of multiple functions as certain economic activities are found in all cities but certain economic activities are found in specific cities such as administration, education, trade and transport.
  • Thus, it is a complex academic work to classify them on functional basis.
  • On basis of predominant function and specialisation classification is done. Degree of specialisation can be determined by number of workers engaged in that activity out of total population.
  • For ease of studying and appreciating the diversity, we need to classify the cities.
  • City classification has been attempted on the basis of various criteria such as:
    • Age of city
    • Stage of city
    • Population size
    • Functional classification
  • The initial scheme of classification does not focus on classification alone but on settlements in general, and classified them on the basis of types of development and economy.

Classification of Cities on the basis of Age

A. Taylor’s Classification

  • Classification on the basis of the age of the city was suggested by Griffith Taylor. Griffith Taylor (1949) attempted to identify stages in the development of the cities. On the basis of these stages, he classified cities into six categories.
    1. Sub-infantile – The initial cluster in a single ill-defined street town.
    2. Infantile – Town in a second stage have no clear differentiation between industrial,
      commercial and residential area, through there is a tendency for the bigger houses to be
      located near the margins. There are no factories.
    3. Juvenile – There is a fairly clear segregation of an extensive commercial quarter towards the
      centre of the town, through separation of function is in no way complete. The residential area
      also show no clear differentiation.
    4. Adolescence – This stage shows clear differentiation of residential zone.
    5. Early maturity – In this stage also there is a differentiation of residential zone, the different
      between the two lies only in degree.
    6. Mature – A mature town is one in which there are separate commercial area as well as four
      zone of residential houses, ranging from mansions to shacks.
  • The classification is interesting from an academic point of view but is unpractical as no specific determinants have been stated. Moreover, it is applicable only to western cities under a particular economic system.

B. Mumford’s Classification

  • Lewis Mumford (1938) an American historian, sociologist, philosopher of technology, and literary critic suggested six stages of development of cities. Mumford was influenced by the work of Scottish theorist Sir Patrick Geddes. His six stages of development of cities are:
    1. Eopolis: The beginning of urbanisation of course is rooted in the rural scene. Men used to be
      involved in hunting. As they slowly learned, they became producers and settled in village. They also indulged in fishing and mining. At this juncture of time depending upon their religion, they set up a temple, cathedral or mosque. Subsequently, a market also developed.
    2. Polis: As more and more villages developed many found that they have certain things
      common with their neighbour’s. The settlements slowly developed into a brotherhood of
      traders and became richer because of accumulation of wealth from nearby villages. The
      religious establishments extend further and so does the market squares. There was a social
      stratification according to which people belonging to the higher hierarchy occupy central
      place while the others spread outwardly such that the people of lower level took peripheral
    3. Metropolis: Small towns and villages in a region come together as a single entity. The entity
      is the city which has a compact site, good water and food supply, ample land etc. This
      becomes metropolis, the mother of city. As the city streamlines its production, a surplus
      occurs. The surplus at this stage is characterized by the specialization of trades.
    4. Megalopolis: The stage is marked by more diversity of cultures. There is migration from all
      around. Indifference between the people increases. There is also a class struggle. Further
      developments are hence down wards. The city begins to decline.
    5. Tyrannopolis: The economic and social scene slowly metamorphoses into more or less
      parasitic state. This stage of the development of city is marked by the indifference. People are
      involved in pomp and pleasure. This is what happened towards the end of Roman era. The
      environment of the city deteriorates and people flee towards the countryside. The commercial
      activities are marked by booms and slumps.
    6. Necropolis: The city decays further. The civilization follows a downward trend. War, famine
      and diseases erupt and lead the city towards destruction. The cultural institutions also erode

Classification of Urban places on the basis of Functions

Urban centers are numerous, and these vary in their functions, location, size, and in their social composition, culture, and heritage also. It is therefore meaningful to classify towns into categories for a better understanding of their role in the regional and national context.

There are several methods, ways, and means to classify urban centers. The site and situation of towns, population, size, and functions, their social and cultural environment, etc., are some of the recognized bases to put them into groups. Out of all these bases of classification, the variable of ‘function’ is widely accepted and reliable too. ‘Reliable’ in the sense that urban place itself is defined as a unit characterized by non-agricultural activities.

Non-agricultural activities here, include administrative, industrial, commercial, cultural, etc. It is a rare instance that an urban place is ‘mono-activity’ center. Often towns develop diversified activities and are known to possess multifarious functions like economic, administrative, and cultural. Nearly all towns are supposed to provide various services like health, education, municipal (water, electricity, sanitation), transportation, and marketing.

In the following discussion, an attempt has been made to put forward various classifications adopted by scholars all over the world on the basis of the function of an urban place.

A. Aurousseau’s Attempt

  • In 1921, M. Aurousseau classified towns into six classes with twenty-eight subtypes. The six classes were
    1. administrative,
    2. defense,
    3. culture,
    4. production-towns,
    5. communication, and
    6. recreation.
  • This list is quite comprehensive and has sometimes been found useful. His classification though a simple one, however, suffers from the defect of over-generalization. Moreover, some of the classes are specific to a particular country at a particular time only.
  • To classify a town into one major category the cut-off point of one class has been decided by the arbitrary percentage, and therefore it is subjective.
  • Economic activities too are neglected. These are important in the sense that a town also caters to the need of people residing outside its municipal limits. Various classes of functions as suggested by Aurousseau create confusion in the sense that both functional and locational characteristics are mixed; for example, under the communication-class group of towns performing the function of ‘transfer of goods’ are put. Towns with tidal-limit, fall-line towns, bridgehead towns point out attributes of location in the performance of their function.
  • It is thus doubtful that such towns are exclusively communicational, and not locational. Similarly, pilgrimage centers are cultural towns, but these equally are significant in their geographical location on mountainous terrain, in valleys, or on banks of rivers.
  • In spite of all these critics, Aurousseau’s classification marks a significant stage and provides a springboard for sophisticated methods. It is actually a comprehensive scheme bringing together polygonal functional urban activities to classify urban centers.

B. Harris’s Classification

  • Chauncy D. Harris remedied the deficiencies of the former subjective and judgment-based classifications.
  • In his paper ‘A Functional Classification of Cities in the United States (1943)’, he was able to identify quantitatively dominant function out of multifunctional character of cities. He devised a scale of reference from his study of 984 towns (population more than 10,000) in the United States based on the data provided by the 1930 Census.
  • He used two sets of information – i) employment and ii) occupational figures reduced to percentages to indicate cut-off points for urban activities varying in importance.
  • He identified nine principal categories of towns
    1. manufacturing (M),
    2. retailing (R),
    3. diversified (D),
    4. wholesaling (W),
    5. transportation (T),
    6. mining (S),
    7. educational (E),
    8. resort or retirement (X)
    9. and others (P).
  • Harris’s classification suffers from some defects and is not universally viable. He used metropolitan districts as functional units because the industry-group data such as those published now were not available during that time. Consequently, the number of cities which were too small to have metropolitan districts were left unclassified.
  • Carter (1975) labeled Harris’s classification as subjective because the decisions to access or delete with a minimum number or cut-off points seem to be a personal one and were set by simple empirical means.
  • Under the class of ‘Transport and Communications’, workers engaged in telephone and telegraph services were omitted, which was nothing more than a subjective decision

C. Howard Nelson’s Classification

  • Nelson through his classification removed the shortcomings of the earlier classifications by using a stated procedure that could be objectively checked by other workers.
  • His paper ‘A Service Classification of American Citieswas published in the journal ‘Geography’ in 1955. He decided to base his method of classification entirely upon major industry groups as listed in the 1950 Census of Population for standard metropolitan areas, urbanized areas, and urban places of 10,000 or more population.
  • He omitted the little significance groups like agriculture and construction, and finally, arrived at the nine activity groups
    1. manufacturing;
    2. mining
    3. retail;
    4. wholesale;
    5. personal service;
    6. professional services;
    7. public administration;
    8. transport and communication;
    9. finance, insurance, real estate.
  • The problem of city specialization, and also the degree of specialization above the average was solved by giving margins of the different degrees to different size classes.
  • He did find a definite tendency for the percentages employed in some activities to vary with city size. The question – ‘When is a city specialized?’ was solved by using a statistical technique – the Standard Deviation (SD). [S.D=√d²/N]
  • With the help of the above formula, the index value is derived and the lowest deviation from theoretical value projects the city character on the basis of economic functions.
  • Percentage of workers in all functions were calculated for each town and then the statistical mean of each function was calculated and towns having percentage above mean functions were taken as specialized towns in that function.
  • Thereafter, towns having below the mean were eliminated and the remaining towns were hierarchically arranged on the basis of standard deviation.
  • Nelson has not only functionally classified the cities but also taken the functional hierarchy for each function.
  • According to Nelson, the city can be specialized in more than one activity and to varying degrees.
  • Criticism
    • Nelson was criticized by some British Urban geographers especially Moser and Scott who said that this scheme of classification is applicable only for a particular point of time. After few years, there may be a change in occupation statistics. But, a simple change in occupational statistics can’t change the genetic factors of the town.

Functional Classification of Indian Cities

The urban geographers have applied a number of techniques to classify the urban places in India on the basis of their functions. Most of the classifications have utilized the occupational data provided by the Census of India.

The first attempt was made by Amrit Lal (1959). He used the location quotient (L.Q) method to determine the functional classification of the Class I cities of India. According to Lal, all the Class I cities of India, except a few, are multifunctional in nature.

Qazi Ahmad (1965) used 62 variables to classify 102 Indian cities on the basis of their functions.

Subsequently, Ashok Mitra (1971, 1973) used seven categories of workers as variables grouped into three major functional types, e.g. manufacturing, trade, transport, and services.

In India, the problem of classifying urban centers is not an easy task. This is because of several reasons.

  • First, the number of towns in India is too large to handle on some viable grounds. The size of towns has a wide span ranging between 5,000 to 10 million.
  • Secondly, the towns of India have a long historical background and have been under various regimes dating back thousand years from the birth of Christ to the present era of democratic set-up.
  • And finally, the data about the functions and economy of Indian cities have not yet been standardized because of the absence of a suitable urban agency to deal with these.

Under these circumstances, classifications and categorizations of urban places in India differ from state to state and from author to author.

The most common functional classification of the Indian cities is –

  1. Administrative Cities
  2. Defense Towns
  3. Cultural Cities
  4. Collection Centres
  5. Production Centres
  6. Transfer and Distribution Centres
  7. Resorts Towns
  8. Residential Towns
  9. Seaport Towns
  10. Cities with Diversified Functions

Administrative Cities

  • The main function of the administrative cities/towns is to administer the country, state, or any other administrative unit. It includes not only the capital cities of the country but also all the centers of states, districts, and other administrative divisional headquarters of the country. In the administrative cities are placed the legislative, executive, and judiciary of the respective administrative unit.
  • Example: New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Jaipur, Patna, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Aizawl, Kohima, etc. are essentially administrative cities.

Defense Towns

  • The dominant functions in a defense town pertain to the security and defense of the country. In fact, such towns are characterized by cantonments, barracks, military training centers, garrisons, air-force bases, airfields, harbors, strategic locations, and naval headquarters.
  • Example: Adampur, Ambala, Halwara, Jalandhar, Jamnagar, Jodhpur, Khadakwasla, MOHO, Pathankot, Udhampur, Vishakhapatnam, etc. are some of the examples of defense towns.

Cultural Cities

  • These cities perform either religious, educational, or recreational functions.
    • Educational: They are characterized by universities, college buildings, libraries, and playgrounds. They also have shops which mainly catch to the needs of the students, such as book shops, sports shops, etc.
      • Example: Shantiniketan, Aligarh, Gurukul, Kharagpur, etc.
    • Entertainment: Such towns are known for their theaters, art galleries, and other cultural activities as that of film making.
      • Example: Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, etc.
    • Religious: Religious towns can be centers of pilgrimage on the seats of religious leaders. They are characterized by religious monuments, shops of selling religious books, pictures, candles, agarbattis, etc.
      • Example: Allahabad, Amritsar, Ajmer, Bodh-gaya, Dharamshala, Gangotri, Hardwar, Pushkar, Varanasi, etc.

Collection Centres

  • The mining towns, fishing ports, lumbering centers are included in this category. The exploitation of minerals from the mines is the main function of the mining towns.
  • Example: The urban places of Jawar near Udaipur, Digboi in Assam, Ankleshwar in Gujrat, Bailadila in Chhattisgarh; Kathgodam, Halwani, Kotwar in Uttarakhand, Machlipatnam, Kakinada, Mahe, Kozhikode, etc. are some of the examples of collection centers.

Production Centres

  • The urban places having manufacturing industries are included in the category of manufacturing cities. These cities are well connected by roads and railways.
  • Example: Bhilai, Bhadrawati, Bokaro, Coimbatore, Dhanbad, Durgapur, Jamshedpur, Vishakhapatnam, etc. are some of the important manufacturing centers of India.

Transfer and Distribution Centres

  • The main functions performed at the transfer centres are trade, commerce, and services. The market towns are characterized by markets containing a wide range of goods, stores, warehouses godowns, cold storage, and wholesale markets supported by a good network of transport facilities.
  • Example: The most important commercial centers are Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmadabad, Gwalior, Indore, Ludhiana, Muzaffarpur, Surat, etc.

Resorts Towns

  • The urban places which accommodate the recreation needs of people are known as resorts or recreation
    towns. These towns may be based on health-giving water (hot-spring), seaside recreation, mountain-climbing, sports facilities, national parks, tiger reserves, and places of aesthetic beauty. Resort towns are also characterized by hotels, guest houses, cinema halls, nightclubs, shopping centers, etc.
  • Example: Dehra-dun, Dalhousie, Darjeeling, Dharamshala, Gulmarg, Kullu, Manali, Mt. Abu, Nainital, Pahalgam, Panchmadhi, Ooty, Ranikhet, etc. are some of the examples of resort towns.

Residential Towns

  • Some of the towns and cities are developed just to provide residential accommodation to the urban people. Modern towns are usually located away from congested cities and provide residential facilities for the urban people.
  • Example: Delhi, Rohini, Indirapuram, New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Jaipur, etc. are some examples of residential towns.


  • The basic task of seaports is to export and import goods.
  • Example: Diamond Harbour, Haldia, Kandala, Kochi, New Mangalore, New-Tuticorin, Okhla, Paradeep, etc. are some examples of Seaport towns in India.

Cities with Diversified Functions

  • As stated, most of the cities and towns of India are multifunctional. The capital cities are also the commercial, manufacturing, cultural and recreational centers. The seaports are engaged in trade and commerce, besides cultural activities.
  • Example: New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Jaipur, Allahabad, etc. are some examples of multifunctional cities of India.
Ashok Mitra’s Classification of Indian Cities

Ashok Mitra, a former Registrar General of the Census of India, attempted a comprehensive classification of all Indian Cities. He divided the city function into nine groups. The groups are:

  • I – Cultivation
  • II – Agriculture Labour
  • III – Mining, Fishing, Forestry and Livestock
  • IV – Household Industry
  • V – Manufacturing
  • VI – Construction
  • VII – Trade & Commerce
  • VIII – Transportation & Communication
  • IX – Services

He ignored the first two groups as they are related to villages and grouped the seven industrial categories of workers into three broad groups:

  1. Manufacturing Town (percentage of workers in III, IV, V, and VI put together is greater than the percentage in VII + VIII or in IX).
    •  i.e. (III+IV+V+VI) > (VII + VIII) or IX.
  2. Trade and Transport Town (percentage of workers in VII + VIII is greater than IX or in III + IV + V and VI put together).
    • i.e. (VII + VIII) > IX or (III+IV+V+VI).
  3. Service Town (where a percentage of workers in IX is greater than workers in III + IV+V+VI or percentage in VII + VIII).
    • i.e. (IX) > (III + IV+V+VI) or (VII + VIII)

The degree of specialization in each of the three basic groups (a, b, and c) was identified by a triangular method on a graph. The three sides of an equilateral triangle represent three groups by 100 values as shown in Figure:

Ashok Mitra’s Classification of Indian Cities

The values of all the three groups are then plotted, and a point for each town within the triangle’s perpendiculars was located. Three circles from the in-center point (33 1/3) are drawn proportionately to represent 40, 45, and 50 values respectively.

These show an increasing tendency for specialization.

  • The points within the first circle show highly diversified functions;
  • points between the first and second circle are moderately diversified;
  • points between the second and third represent specialized predominant function, and
  • the points outside the outer (third) circle show highly specialized predominant function.

The classification of 2,528 towns shows that as many as 736 were agriculture, (total number of workers exceeding the number of workers in three non-agricultural groups), and out of 1,792 non-agricultural towns, 655 were manufacturing towns, 708 as trade and transport towns, and 429 as service towns.

Mitra’s classification, on the whole, brings the major categories of cities with their specialization. It distinguishes three broad functional categories – manufacturing, trading, and service (administration) among cities. The majority of cities show no clear specialization in one economic activity and have a diversified economic base. The diversified city with multiple functions constitutes the most common and representative type of city.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
king kumar

nice note

Manish Soni

Good material for UPSC CSE but please add prospective questions with each topic. Thank you!


High, thanks for such concise notes they are simply gold mines.

However one correction, according to Grifith Taylors book “Urban Geography” Chauncey Harris had classified urban cities based on commercial interest. classes were based on employment where he surveyed 984 cities. From there the classification was in 5 categories

  1. manufacturing cities – >60% employed in manufacturing
  2. diversified cities – manufacturing, wholesale and retail less than 60,20,50% resp.
  3. wholesale cities – at least 20%
  4. retail cities – at least 50%
  5. transport cities – at least 11%

Thank you for the systematic notes

Shubham Prakash

Thank u so much for your dedication.loved it.

Shivam Gaur

thank u so much…..

Rishi Gupta

thanks once again