Site and Settlement

The reason why sites for settlements were chosen for the earliest settlements would be different to choosing sites today. Original sites were chosen based on their natural features and advantages, nowadays sites would also be based on human factors. There were originally seven natural factors that were taken into consideration, perhaps by a tribe leader who was looking to settle his people somewhere. The more advantages a site had the more likely it was for the settlement to grow:

    • Hilltop locations give good views of the enemy if you are likely to be attacked
    • Hilltop views also give good lookout points
    • Drinking
    • Cooking
    • Washing
    • Could come from a variety of sources, a river, spring or well for example
    • However, too much water could lead a settlement that could flood or become marshy
    • Water supply
    • Needs to be easy to cross either on foot at a ford or by a bridge
    • Wood or stone to build settlement
    • South facing slopes have more sun and therefore are warmer
    • North facing slopes are exposed to the cold northerly wind
    • Fires
    • Cooking
    • Building material
    • Easy to build on
    • Able to grow crops
    • Easier for communication e.g. travelling to other towns

Nowadays, factors such as transport networks are also taken into account when deciding to locate somewhere.

Settlement Patterns

The pattern or shape of early settlements would have been influenced by the surrounding area. Three main types of settlement pattern can now be identified:

  1. Dispersed
    • Found in upland areas
    • Buildings are spread out
    • Many dispersed settlements comprise of farms
  2. Linear
    • Buildings are built in a line
    • This could be along a river valley, road or railway
  3. Nucleated
    • Buildings are grouped together
    • Early settlers grouped together for protection
    • Found in flat, lowland areas

Settlement growth

Many people in Britain live in a town or city, normally due to work constraints. These large settlements grew very quickly in the nineteenth century because of industrialisation and many people moving to the towns and cities for work. Towns and cities in Britain are no longer growing in size but in some countries, cities are becoming very large. This is because many people believe the large settlements have many benefits to living there and that moving there will improve their quality of life. Many of the people who believe this live in rural farming areas in poor countries where their quality of life is very low. Potential benefits include:

  • Houses and flats to buy or rent
  • More jobs
  • Higher paid jobs
  • More reliable food and water supply
  • Variety of shops
  • Being closer to work and shops means less time and money spent on travelling
  • Better access to services, such as schools and hospitals
  • Entertainment such as cinemas, clubs and sport

However, many of the benefits term out not to be accessible to the people who move and many people already living in towns and cities see them as having many problems. These problems include:

  • Traffic can cause congestion, accidents, noise and air pollution
  • Old roads are narrow and cannot cope with lorries and buses
  • Old houses and factories look rundown and ugly
  • Waste land where old houses and factories are demolished
  • Crime, vandalism and litter
  • Land is expensive so housing tends to be too
  • Not necessarily enough jobs to go round and people need to be skilled to get high paid jobs

Land use

Towns originally had just one main function, e.g. a port or market. Nowadays, towns and cities have various different functions. The main functions are commerce or shops and offices, residential, industrial and open space. Each of these functions tends to be in a specific area of a city so a land use pattern emerges. It must be noted, that no two towns are identical but they may be similar, because of this a simple model was drawn called an urban model. The simple urban model has 4 circles radiating from the centre in rings:

  1. ZONE A
    • Centre of the town
    • Also known as the Central Business District (CBD)
    • First place to built in the town
    • Few houses
    • Area of shops, businesses and offices
    • Most expensive area to build in – which is why many CBD’s have buildings that are tall rather than wide
  2. ZONE B
    • Originally area of factories and workers homes built in the nineteenth century
    • Small terraced houses due to expensive land. Houses have no gardens or garages.
    • Called the inner city area
    • Today, many of the factories are closed down and the oldest houses have been modernised or replaced
    • Areas of waste land and run down factories and housing
  3. ZONE C
    • Nearly all houses built in the 1920’s and 1930’s (inter war)
    • Called the inner suburbs
    • Houes are semi-detached, with a garden and garage.
  4. ZONE D
    • Large, modern housing estates with large gardens and garages
    • Council estates
    • Called the outer suburbs
    • Small, modern industries and shops have set up here due to the cheap land
    • Areas of open space

Land use can change over time in towns particularly where areas close to the CBD are modernised and areas of open space in the outer suburbs have large shopping centres built on them.

Settlement Hierarchy

A settlement hierarchy orders the largest to the smallest settlements in a triangle shape. There are more smaller settlements than large, hence the triangle shape. From the top down would be megapolis, city, town, village and hamlet. There are three methods to test the hierarchy which are:

  1. The larger the settlement the further it is away from another large settlement
  2. The larger the settlement the fewer there are of them
  3. The larger the settlement the more services it will have (post office, churches and shops etc)


Types of shopping areas can also be arranged into a hierarchy depending on the goods they sell. Places at the bottom of the pyramid sell low order goods and are small. A low order good is also known as a convenience good and is something which may be needed on a daily basis (e.g. milk). At the top of the pyramid are places that sell high order goods and tend to be large. A high order good is also known as a specialist good and is something that is needed less often (e.g. furniture).

Most shops are found in the CBD of a city becuase this is the most accessible area, however some shops are now moving to out of town sites to create large retail parks (e.g. Bluewater Shopping Centre). The out of town sites tend to be located on the edge of cities and are easily accessible to the public. The advantage of this, is that people can go to one place for their shopping in an area that is easy to reach and not as congested as the CBD. However, the main disadvantage is for independent retailers who cannot afford the high rent of out of town centres and have to remain in the CBD where less people now visit. The final impact could be that the independent retailers are forced to close down.


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