Urban spheres of influence and rural urban fringe

Urban spheres of influence and rural urban fringe

Urban spheres of influence

  • Urban spheres of influence reflect centre-to-hinterland relationship, compared with the non-central region, the centre assumes more complex economic functions, and provides more economic activities.
  • Famous theoretical contributions to this research field are the Central Place Theory (Christaller, 1933), the extension to the Central Place Theory (Losch, 1940), the modification to the Central Place Theory (Isard, 1956), and An Economic Theory of Central Places.
  • After verification and conceptual refinement of these classical literatures, it can be found that any study on delineating sphere of urban influence has been guided by either of two research approaches: the empirical research and model research.
  • Empirical method determines sphere of urban influence according to data features and regional characteristics. As for example, sphere of urban influence in America is described in terms of the extent of the regional delivery system (Huff, 1973).
  • Models are developed to capture the interaction between or spaces using theoretical understanding, the intensity and pattern of contact among cities, and thus those models help to determine the sphere of urban influence.
  • In modeling, the sphere of urban influence, Huff (1973) and Lutz (1995) made a great contribution by using a model namely “Sphere of Urban Influence and Urban System” to delineate the urban sphere of influence of United States of America, Ireland and Ghana.
  • Now-a-days in Western countries, the study of sphere urban of influence is diminishing in general. By virtue of their high degree of economic and social development, most of the developed countries have accessed post-industrial society, where node-to-node interactions have become, as compared to the node-to-hinterland relationships.
  • But, for the developing countries, they are still pursuing industrial development and hence, develop the industries; the node-to-hinterland relationships are distinctly dominant.

Urban Spheres of Influence on Population

  • The urban sphere of influence can be defined as the geographical region which surrounds a city and maintains inflow-outflow relationship with the city.
  • Every urban centre, irrespective of the size of population and the nature of function, has a region of influence. Generally speaking, as the size of the population increases, the multiplicity of functions increases. As a result, the influence zone is larger and vice versa.
  • The term sphere of influence area was first used by Northam and supported by Canter. Other terms to express a similar entity, which have got recognised, include umland and city region. Umland is a German word which means the area around. The term was first used by the Allies in the Second World War.
  • The term city-region was first used by Dickinson. It is used to describe a similar situation on a much larger scale. Some other terms which have become popular include urban field, tributary area and catchment area. The term sphere of influence is preferred by political geographers.

Delineating the Sphere of Influence Area:

  • Several methods have been worked out by geographers and sociologists, but no single method seems to be perfect.
  • The pre-First World War geographers depended primarily on empirical methods (through questionnaires and field surveys) taking into account all those relevant functions which are performed by cities and the surroundings of the city.
  • The influence zone of each function is first delineated. It brings out the multiplicity of boundaries of spheres of influence area.
  • Harris has suggested that a common boundary is to be drawn from within those boundaries which are very close to each other.
  • Harris himself drew a sphere of influence area for the Salt Lake City of Utah State in USA. He used 12 important services for this purpose which included retail trade, wholesale grocery and drug sale, radio broadcasting, newspaper circulation, telephone services, banking distribution etc.
  • Harris scheme shows greater dependence upon the services of the cities. He practically ignored the services rendered by rural areas.
  • Geographers like Carter, Dickinson and Green studied the sphere of influence area and their empirical methods gave due weightage to the rural services.
  • The post-Second World War geographers began to use statistical methods. This made the inferences more precise, logical and scientific.
  • This method, however, has the disadvantage of being rigid. Still, it is a popular method throughout the world.
  • The conclusion of the method brings the delineated influence area closer to Christaller’s observations, who suggested that every urbane settlement (service centre) is supposed to have a hexagonal influence region.
  • It solves the problem of existence of shadow zone which normally appears in the case of spherical delineation of the influence region.
  • The statistical method is based on the principle of gravitation.
  • Reilly propounded the Law of Retail Gravitation to delineate the market zone of urban centres. Since marketing is a principal function, this method is used by geographers to delineate the zone of influence area.

This method states that:

  • P= MA x MB / d2
  • where MA = Mass of centre A measured by population size, such that MA > MB
  • MB = Mass of centre B
  • d = distance between two cities.
  • The result will mark the distance of the sphere of influence area from Mass (city) A; the remaining distance will mark the influence area of Mass (city) B.
  • Modern urban geographers give importance to this method as they consider this cut-off as an important factor for development of respective influence areas.
  • Some development authorities have begun to use the sphere of influence area as the basis of regional planning.
  • They use detailed questionnaires to understand the nature of influence. They consider factors such as daily commuting, functional structure of village, household types of villages, milk supply, vegetable supply, newspaper circulation etc. This approach seems to have some practical utility.
  • It gives due weightage to natural hindrances.
  • Factors like rivers, mountains, forests, marshy lands etc. are bound to modify the influence area and in that case, the statistical method is not of much relevance. Information collected through questionnaires is, however, properly processed through different statistical methods and a composite index, indicating a common boundary, is worked out. This common boundary gives the limit of the sphere of influence area.
  • Thus, it becomes clear that the sphere of influence area is highly relevant in socio-economic patterns of a city and its surroundings.
  • In India, the regional planners have given due recognition to the role of city regions or spheres of influence areas in the ‘Growth Pole’ strategy adopted by the Planning Commission of India in the Sixth Five- Year-Plan.

Rural urban fringe

What is the rural-urban fringe?

  • The rural-urban fringe is the boundary zone outside the urban area proper where rural and urban land uses intermix.
  • It is an area of transition from agricultural and other rural land uses to urban use.
  • Located well within the urban sphere of influence the fringe is characterised by a wide variety of land use including dormitory settlements housing middle-income commuters who work in the main urban area.
  • Over time the characteristics of the fringe change from largely rural to largely urban. Suburbanisation takes place at the urban boundary of rural-urban fringe.
  • The nature of the rural-urban fringe is influenced by four main factors: agricultural policy, regional planning, the urban economy and the agricultural economy.
  • Baker et al have identified four types of fringe resulting from these influences:
    1. Disturbed landscapes
    2. Neglected landscapes
    3. Simplified landscapes
    4. Valued landscapes

Increasing demand for land in the rural urban fringe area because:

  • Land is cheaper – as the accessibility of the RUF is lower than that of the inner city areas and most of the people have to travel to the inner city for work, fewer people are willing to live in the RUF. Thus the land prices are lower.
  • There is less traffic congestion and pollution – as the area is a new development in the outskirts, and the population living in the area is lesser than the inner city, the traffic congestion and pollution levels are lesser.
  • There is easier access and a better road infrastructure – as it is a newer development with a lot of space available.
  • There is a more pleasant environment with more open space – the amount of open space decreases with time as the extent of development increases, and so does the pleasant environment.

In INDIA study by Sudesh Nangia in Delhi Metropolitan region for R-U Fringe

  • In India, Sudesh Nangia studied Delhi Metropolitan region (1976), and highlighted some of the chief characteristics of the R-U fringe around the metropolis.
  • She pointed out that the fringe area extended over 212 sq km and encompassed 177 villages within its fold. The zone is not concentric but polygonal in shape (Figure 17.2).
  • Its structural units include slums and squatter-settlements, built-up dwellings without any proper plan, mixed land uses, areas of agricultural production usurped by lot of industrial units, dispersed location of settle­ments suffering from urban facilities, and also it commands sewerage treatment plant and recreation centres as well.


  • L. Singh studied R-U fringe of Varanasi and called it an extension of the city itself, actual and potential.
  • According to him, “the R-U fringe is an area where most of the rural land is forced into urban uses prematurely”.
  • Singh studied urban fringe of ‘KAVAL’ towns and concluded that their fringe areas coalesced together inheriting all the evils of large conurbations such as horrible slums, appalling house and traffic congestion and long daily trip to work

Beneficial development in rural urban fringe area:

The rural urban fringe is characterised by a mixture of land uses, most of which require large areas of land

  1. Housing developments as urban sprawl continues
  2. Science and business parks
  3. Hyper-markets and superstores
  4. Retail parks and out of town shopping centres
  5. Office developments
  6. Hotels and conference centres
  7. Airport expansion

Issues in Urban rural fringe

Uses  Positive AspectsNegative Aspects
Agriculture Many well managed farms and small holdingsFarms often suffer litter, trespass and vandalism; some land is derelict in the hope of planning permission
Development Some well-ited, carefully landscaped developments such as business and science parksSome developments, such as out of town shopping areas cause heavy traffic flow and pollution. Unregulated businesses such as scrap metal and caravan storage. Airport expansion
Urban Services Some, such as reservoirs or cemeteries, may be attractive.Mineral workings, sewage works, landfill sites etc can be unattractive and polluting
Transport New cycleways and footpaths can improve assess to countrysideMotorways destroy countryside and promote new development, particularly near junctions.
Recreation and sport 


Country parks, sports fields and golf courses can lead to conservation.Some activities such as stock car racing and scrambling erode ecosystems and create localised litter and pollution
Landscape and nature conservation 



Many SSSI (sites of special scientific interest) and AONB (Areas of natural beauty)Much degraded land eg. land ruined by fly-tipping; many SSSIs under threat


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