in this article, You will read Urban Morphology and Theories of Urban Morphology – for UPSC (Settlement Geography – Geography Optional).

Urban Morphology

  • Urbanization is the process of landscape change from rural agrarian to industrial commercial and from village ecology to urban ecology.
  • Urban Morphology refers to the study of internal structure, the arrangement of residential houses, layout plan of roads and streets, internal physical structure of city consisting entertainment space, community land, marketing area, etc.
  • Urban Morphology develops with the urban sprawl and expansion of the city. It is the consequence of long historical and social processes.
  • Simply state, Urban Morphology is the physical plan map of a city with identification of various land use.
  • Urban Morphology is a part of the study of urban ecology where the urban system with various elements and their interrelationship is studied.
Elements of Urban Morphology

Urban Land Use

  • Urban land use comprises which activities are taking place where and their level of spatial accumulation, which indicates their density, intensity, and concentration.
  • Urban land use reflects the location and level of spatial accumulation of activities such as retailing, management, manufacturing, or residence.
  • The chart depicted below shows that the residential area of the city is at some distance from city centre as the city centres are crowded place.
  • Light manufacturing industries such as utensils, jewellery etc are located near the city centre.
  • The heavy manufacturing industries will be located away from city centre due to large land requirements and pollution caused by them.
  • The area with market land use will be close to city centre as market requires a dense consumer base, which is near to city centre. As we will move away from city centre the market land use will decrease.
urban land use
  • The urban land use can be studied under the following heads:
urban land use types

Theories of Urban Morphology

  • Urban geographers have made important contributions in the field of spatial transformations that have been witnessed by urban landscapes in the material and symbolic aspects during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
  • Some of the landmarked attempts in this direction were the analyses of urban morphology done by Burgess, Hoyt, Harris, and Ullman.
  • Although cities at present have changed significantly since the models were developed; yet they are frequently cited in debates of urban morphology even if to dismiss their continued relevance. That is very true to say that a large extent of each city possesses a distinctive combination of varying types of land uses, but a common pattern is can be traced some time.
  • The models provided by Burgess, Hoyt, Harris, and Ullman, today are part of the philosophy of urban geography and one needs to discuss them in order to understand the basic foundations of this field.
  • The morphological pattern of a city has been discussed by three theoretical explanations. These are –
    • The Concentric Zone Model
    • The Sector Model and
    • The Multiple Nuclei Model
Theories of Urban Morphology

1. Concentric Zone Model

  • Ernest Burgess and Parks propounded the concentric zone theory in order to explain the structure and growth of the city in 1925.
  • This model is the contribution of the Chicago School of thought. It is based on land use patterns.
  • Burgess developed the model based on empirical observations in Chicago and idealized the pattern as a model in Urban Morphology.
  • It is an idealistic model based on spatial concentration of urban land use pattern increasing distance from the market center.
  • Burgess made the following assumptions in his model:
    • He considered the area under consideration as isotropic surface (a surface without topographic variability)
    • He considered every man as an economic and rational person.
    • All transportation routes converge at the city center.
    • Each part of the city has equal accessibility.
    • Geometrical shape of the city is circular.
  • According to this model, a city develops around a prominent commercial center called CBD (Central Business District) around which there are concentric zones of land users.
  • Burgess through his model presented an image of the progressive movement as residents of the inner city had a tendency of moving outward to zones of better environmental conditions. According to Burgess, the American city should take the form of five zones. These zones are:
    • Central Business District (CBD)
    • Zone in Transition (Transitional zone)
    • Working Men’s Homes (Workmen Housing)
    • Residential Zone
    • Commuter’s Zone
concentric zone model

Zone ICentral Business District (CBD):

  • Term ‘Central Business District’ was coined by Murphy.
  • It is an exclusive commercial area where all the wholesale retail marketing is located.
  • It has government offices, corporate office and headquarters of various organizations, agencies.
  • It has maximum intensity of land use and very high land rentals.
  • All major transportation routes converge at Central Business District.
  • There is very rapid vertical growth with high rise and sky scrappers
  • After office hours, when commercial centers seize to function, the Central Business District becomes dead heart/zone.
  • Examples:
    • World-Down Town in Anglo America, Central cultural district in East Europe, Russia.
    • India- Rajiv Chauk in Delhi.
  • Central Business District usually has old and traditional shops having costliest items, antiques and finest handicrafts. Example- Jaipur.

Zone II – Transitional zone:

  • Light Industries and slums mainly occupy this zone. This zone is characterized by mixed land use pattern.
  • Industrial workers tend to settle here and it can develop slums and ghettos.
  • It is one of the most polluted zones of the city.
  • The settlement in this zone has shabby look and high room density.
  • After Central Business District, it represents the oldest part of city.

Zone III – Workmen Housing:

  • It represents skilled middle class residential area, who work in manufacturing industries and have higher income than industrial wage earner.
  • They live in better condition than industrial wage earners.

Zone IV – Residential Zone:

  • This zone involves the housing of upper class people.
  • Rich people tend to live away from city crowding to avoid urban miseries like pollution, congestion, etc.
  • It is the area of neo rich class people.
  • This zone has institutional area, parks etc.
  • This zone has better civil amenities, health centres, farm houses, and extensive residential quarters.
  • Rich can afford to commute to and fro from Central Business District because of development of transportation.

Zone V – Commuter’s Zone:

  • It has scattered upper-class house colonies and hypermarkets, suburbs.
  • Here wholesale purchase of grains and vegetables is done. The dwellings of daily workers also exist in this zone.
Process of development of concentric zones
  • Initially, the high income people prefer to live around the vicinity and around commercial district.
  • Because of employment prospects, the Central Business District attracts poor migrants who gradually invade the space.
  • The rich population is forced to move out successively to occupy more open environment and less congestion and less polluted locations.
  • The middle class population are generally 2nd/3rd generation migrants who again displace the rich and high class population further outwards.
  • The rich people can afford to move to and from Central Business District because of development of motorway transportation.
Process of development of concentric zones
Critical evaluation of Concentric Zone Model
  • This model is normative model, thus, it presents an idealistic, hypothetical deductive picture of a city. But, the urban land use is much complex.
  • This model is based on European cities and more corresponds with pre-industrial towns of European towns.
  • This model is more applicable to small cities with more than one lack population.
  • Another drawback is that it does not consider transportation lines along which the city has tendency to expand.
  • Therefore, another model “Sectoral Model” was proposed by Hoyt and Davis.

2. Sectoral Model

  • This model was proposed by Hoyt and Davis. This model takes into account the development of urban centres along major transportation lines.
  • Here urban morphology is determined by the network of routes that develop within the city.
  • The city in this model is never concentric rather divided into sectors.
Sectoral Model

Central Business District (CBD)- Zone 1

  • It is the central core of city with circular geometric shape.
  • It has no residential usage, only wholesale marketing, headquarters, government building etc are located.
  • It is also called blighted part of city because during the night darkness prevails in the building and it becomes no man’s land.
  • It is the costliest part of the city.
  • Such CBD are the product of industrial revolution and they generally have a planned development model. E.g. Connaught Place New Delhi.

Light manufacturing industries- Zone 2

  • This zone consists of light and small scale manufacturing industries and has the mixed pattern of land use with commercial and residential purposes.
  • The retail and wholesale market are located in this zone.
  • This zone develops along the major communication/transportation lines.
  • This zone is usually developed along the main artery connecting city centre.
  • It is also one the most polluted areas of the city with high traffic congestion, noisy traffic and slum development.

Lower class residential area (Poor housing)- Zone 3

  • This zone is the residential area of the factory workers who work in Zone 2.
  • This zone consists of people with low income and has the highest room density with shanty towns and slums.

Middle-class dwelling (Medium housing)- Zone 4

  • This zone has better civic amenities than previous two zones.
  • It is less polluted and has workers with high income level.

Upper-class residential areas- Zone 5

  • This zone is developed along major transportation lines.
  • People working in CBD with higher income lives here.
  • This zone has easy and direct connectivity with city.
  • Professional engineers, doctors, professors, service sector (managers) lives here.

Thus, in Sectoral Model the concentric pattern gets distorted because of the presence of major roads that encourage agglomeration and expansion of certain categories of land uses.

Light manufacturing and supporting labor and worker class expand along a transportation corridor. E.g. Mathura Road (Delhi-Faridabad-Mathura-Agra Highway), NH2 has this type of expansion, whereas, along a well-planned corridor that develops into an expressway or “Boulevard”, the affluent population may prefer to agglomerate. E.g. Jaipur Highway (through Gurgaon-Manesar).

Critical Evaluation
  • Even in the Sectoral model the metropolis and megacities can’t be projected and it is more suitable for the district level town.
  • The million-plus cities have more than one CBD because the economic functions are highly diversified and all populations can’t be accommodated with all economic functions at a single center.
  • Post-industrial revolution cities of Europe which are semi-planned more correspond to this model.
  • In India, this model is applicable for some state capitals and larger district towns.
  • In order to address the problems in Sectoral Model Harris and Edward Ullman came with the “Multiple Nuclei Model”.

3. Multiple Nuclei Model

  • This model was propounded by Harris and Edward Ullman in their book “Nature of Cities”.
  • Both Burgess and Hoyts model discussed the expansion and development of urban centre around one CBD, whereas in reality, because of large territorial expanse and because of diversity of function, it may not be possible for one commercial centre or one CBD to cater all the population
  • Certain category of services inherently agglomerates while they repel certain other services or goods.
  • So certain commercial centres tend to specialize rather than offer entire range of commercial functions.
  • Harris and Ullman presented the Multiple Nuclei Model, which has more than one CBD, and highly diversified economic functions have been accommodated over a much larger geographical area.
  • According to this model a city comprises of following 10 zones:
    • Central Business District
    • Light Manufacturing Zone
    • Lower Class Housing
    • Middle Class Housing
    • Upper Class Housing
    • Heavy manufacturing Industries
    • 2nd CBD, or the urban hub or New Urban Modern Hub
    • Residential suburb
    • Industrial suburbs
    • Commuters Zone
Multiple Nuclei Model
  • This model is applicable to all mega cities with large urban industrial growth occupying considerable geographical area and is further in phase of expansion and transition.
  • This is more applicable to modern cities and planned cities of US and Europe.
  • It reflects better urban policy; more than one CBD will divert urban population to other CBDs and prevent the concentration of population.
  • All metropolis of India resemble Multiple Nuclei Theory.
  • In most of modern urban centers high end retail and large malls repel wholesale and grain trading. Similarly electronic and computer peripherals generally agglomerate in different commercial centers. Example- in Delhi- NCR original CBD is walled city at Chandani Chowk whereas South-Ex is centre of high end retail while Nehru Place specializes in electronic and computer peripherals.
  • The commercial and residential suburbs of Gurgaon and Noida have their own CBD.
Application of all three models
  • None of the models have an absolute resemblance to any city but their partial application can be summarized as:
    • Concentric Zone Theory by Burgess is applicable in small cities and towns like Banaras, Kanchipuram, Gaya, etc.
    • Sectoral model is applicable to district towns or the towns with quasi planning and may be the capital cities (state capitals). Example- Jaipur, Chandigarh to some extent.
    • The Multiple Nuclei Model is applicable to all megacities and planned cities.
Some criticism of all models
  • Zones in reality are never clear cut as shown in each model.
  • Each zone usually contains more than one type of land use/housing.
  • No consideration of characteristics of cities outside the USA and NW Europe was been given in all the models. Example:
    • Burgess model was based on Chicago only
    • Hoyt’s model was based only on USA cities,
    • The model given by Harris and Ullman was based only on cities of economically developed regions.
  • Re-development scheme and modern edge of city development are not included in the above models (since most of the models are pre-date these events).
  • The Burgess/ Hoyt model was mainly based on housing, other land uses are neglected.
  • The Burgess/Hoyt models assumed the landscape to be a flat surface which is not always true.
  • Burgess ignored transportation as a major determining factor in the structure of cities.
Internal structure of cities across cultural comparison
Internal structure of cities across cultural comparison
Western Towns and Indian Towns
  • CBD in Russia has a huge ground called “Parades” which are used for assembling and political gathering especially in communal regimes. Examples:
    • Moscow, Leningrad
    • Beijing, China
    • Official building surrounds the ground which is also called “Comrades”.
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dhananjay kumar

Just wow !! To the point and wholesome note.🙌


Great level upto upsc