UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Utility of the central place system in planning for efficient location of urban functions. Oliver, Edward


One of the main concerns of the urban planner should be to establish an efficient pattern of locations for the goods and services that serve the population of the city and metropolitan region. Efficiency in the layout of a city should be sought as an objective, in keeping with aesthetic and sociological considerations, to provide a pleasing urban environment. To achieve efficiency in the distribution of establishments providing goods and services there must be a basis for making locational decisions. One method of analysis on which to base decisions is the Central Place System. This is a method of explaining the geographic distribution of centres which serve the surrounding population. The theory behind the Central Place System developed from observations on the distances people would travel to fulfil certain needs which could only be satisfied from a central place. A hierarchy of needs was recognized, some of which had to be satisfied frequently by everyone, such as the need for food. This need people would want satisfied at little cost of time and effort. For other less frequently required needs, people would be willing to travel further. A hierarchy of centres would thus develop, the smallest unit having only a grocery store and the largest unit possessing the complete range of functions to satisfy every need. The ideal pattern for such a hierarchy was postulated as a system of hexagons. This system was tested and found to be substantially valid in an area of equal distribution of disposable income and equal ease of travel in all directions. Before a hierarchical pattern can be established, however, the centrality of the centres must be measured. Presumably, the Central Business District is the highest order of centre in any urban region, in that it possesses the functions which people in the urban area are willing to travel the greatest distance to reach. The corner grocery store is the lowest order of centre. The measurement of the ranks that should be ascribed to centres between these two extremes involves concepts of the threshold and relative specialization of functions. The study of central places in Vancouver, British Columbia, revealed a hierarchy of functions and a resultant hierarchy of centres. Experimentation with the pattern suggested that certain tentative conclusions could be made based upon the observed hierarchy. The Central Place System is a way of synthetizing geographic and economic information into a coherent statement. It is useful to the urban planner as a basis for making policy decisions on locations of urban activities. Using the system, inefficiencies in the present layout of the city can be determined and plans made to counterbalance the existing inefficiencies. The hierarchical pattern of centres can serve as a basis for deciding where expressway interchanges should be located to combine local and through traffic needs. It is useful to determine where service centres should be in redevelopment areas. In areas being subjected to intensive development for the first time the Central Place System can be used to predetermine the best locations for service centres to serve the new area in co-ordination with the existing centres. The Central Place System provides a framework for study and analysis of the pattern of urban service centres in relation to each other and to the surrounding region. As well as being useful for making decisions with regard to specific location problems, it provides an understanding and a perspective for urban spatial relationships.

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