What is a settlement?

A settlement is a place where people live. A settlement could be anything from an isolated farmhouse to a mega city (settlement with over 10 million people).

Settlements can either be temporary or permanent. Temporary settlements include things such as refugee camps. Some temporary settlements have become permanent over time such as the Rochina, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The reason why a settlement developed in the first place is said to be its function. For example the function of Liverpool was as a port.


What do we mean by site and situation of a settlement?

The site and situation of a settlement are very different things. The site of a settlement is the land upon which it was built. There are a range of factors that can determine the site of a settlement. These are:

  • wet point site - these are sites close to a supply of water
  • dry point site - these are sites that avoided the risk of flooding
  • defensive site - these were sites that were on high ground and allowed the inhabitants to see enemies from a distance
  • aspect - many settlements in the northern hemisphere are located on south facing sides of valleys where it is sunny
  • shelter - away from rain and prevailing winds
  • trading point - often settlements developed where natural training points meet such as along rivers or natural route ways
  • resources - many settlements developed close to where natural resources could be found.


The situation of a settlement is its location in relation to surrounding human and physical features. We usually describe the situation when we are telling someone where a settlement is.


What are the functions of a settlement?

Most settlements in MEDCs have multi-functions. This includes education, retail and industry. However, when settlements first formed they often had one main function. These functions included:

  • port
  • market town
  • resort


Settlement geography:

Settlement geography is a branch of geography that investigates the earth's surface's part settled by humans. According to the United Nations' Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements (1976), "human settlements means the totality of the human community – whether city, town or village – with all the social, material, organizational, spiritual and cultural elements that sustain it".

Traditionally, it belongs to cultural geography and is divided into the geography of urban settlements and rural settlements. Thereby, settlements are mostly seen as elements of the cultural landscape. Apart from Australia, Europe and India, the term is actually rarely used in English-speaking geography. One of the last English books on settlement geography was published by Cambridge University Press in the 90s.  However, it is a traditional and actual branch in many other countries e.g., German,  French and Italy.

Settlement geography is the study of human land, water and resource use, population density patterns, and settlement growth. It is essential to urban planning and urban redesign. Urban planning helps ensure that growth occurs only in a sustainable fashion. Urban redesign is the science of reshaping a fading urban area to restore its usefulness to the local population, sustain growth and ensure health and safety in order to return an area to economic viability.

  • Settlement geography focuses on population clusters, why they arose, and what sustains them. Settlement geography is archaeology's younger sibling. As archaeologists unearthed ancient civilizations, three settlement patterns emerged: dispersed, linear and nuclear. Dispersed settlements had no central point. Linear settlements clustered along rivers, creeks and streams, and later along migration routes, railroads and highways. Nuclear settlements occurred along crossroads, at river mouths, adjacent to bays, and near centers of industry.



  • Geographers and archaeologists have both studied the ancient world. Geographers have applied those findings to today's challenges to make recommendations about land use, how to encourage or discourage settlement activity in a given region, and how to combat the effects of unsustainable population growth. For example, if a city arose due to one particular industry and that industry has failed or is about to fail, settlement geographers can help devise a strategy to switch to a new industry. Many U.S. cities, such as Cleveland, Ohio, have made successful transitions from dependency on single industries. These cities shifted their focus from industry to culture, tourism, finance, and information technology. The most successful used all four and more, creating an economy that could stand on its own even if any one of its main industries suffered a setback.



  • Settlement geography is a tool. Knowing how, where and why people choose to live in a particular area helps businesses plan where to locate new franchises. Municipal spending can be more accurately targeted. For example, if there is an area of high unemployment and low job availability and the people in that area cannot get to other areas to find employment, it is in a city's best interest to develop public transit that will get potential employees to places where they are needed. This is the justification for most bus and high speed rail systems. Helping people find work ensures that society is not burdened with providing the necessities of life to those who would be more content providing for themselves.



Regional planning commissions which make use of settlement geography theories and data are able to balance growth in a region so that it does not outstrip the ability of the local government to provide needed services. For example, if a housing development springs up next to an older established town, its sewer and water needs could become an issue. Upgrading the existing water treatment infrastructure could help avoid system overload. An overloaded water treatment system is a disease epidemic waiting to happen. Ensuring an adequate supply of clean drinking water, as well as preserving water for recreational and industrial use is a balancing act.



Morphology and functional Characteristics of urban settlements:

Urban morphology comprises the structure of a city and pattern or plan of its development. It is actually the layout of a city both in its historical as well as geographical contexts which gives it individuality. Therefore, the internal pattern or structure of each city is “unique in its particular combination of details”.


Combinations involving structure of most American cities have business, industrial and residential districts. The cities of the Western world in their structure display generally city centre or downtown, Central Business District (CBD) including shopping centre, industrial estate, and housing estate giving it a spatial framework in order to make sense of the environment in which people live and work.


Morphology of a town is a geographic-historical interpretation of its site, situation or modality and existing layout and arrangement of houses as well as streets and loads. It also includes within its purview the development of different parts of the town and analysis of its boundary in different phases of history as well as explanation of existing land use. Urban morphology 01 a town’s anatomy and physiology are mutually interrelated.


The town is both a historical and geographical fact. Its morphology represents various elements which form part of its structure, plan and growth. Its relief and terrain on which its nucleus seeks origin form a base. Its expansion from the nucleus shapes its morphology through streets and roads, houses and buildings and finally develops its functions as a trading and commercial centre with all the complexities of its adminis­trative and cultural services.



Factors Influencing the type of Rural Settlements :


There are three factors that influence the type of settlements in India. These factors are (i) Physical (ii) Ethnic or cultural and (iii) Historical or defense. Let us discuss these factors one by one.

(i) Physical Factors: These include relief, altitude, soil capability, climate, drainage, ground water level, etc. These factors influence the type and spacing of dwelling or instance, in dry regions of Rajasthan, water is a crucial factor and, therefore, houses are situated along a pond or well which guides the compactness of the settlement.


(ii) Ethnic and Cultural Factors: These include aspects like caste, community, ethnicity and religion. In India it is commonly found that the main land owning caste resides at the centre of the village and the other service providing castes on the periphery. This leads to social segregation and fragmentation of a settlement into several units


(iii) Historical or Defense Factors: In the past, mostly border areas of north-western plains were conquered or attacked frequently by outsiders. For along time, apart from attack from outsiders, there had been continuous fight between princely states and kingdom within the country therefore, security concerns favored the evolution of nucleated settlements


Factors influencing origin and growth of rural settlements:


A populated area not meeting the criteria established for urban settlements in a given country. Rural settlements include populated areas whose inhabitants are engaged primarily in agriculture, forestry, or hunting; they also include settlements whose inhabitants are involved in other types of occupations (industrial, transport, construction) if the settlements have small populations and are located in rural areas.


Rural settlements can be divided into three categories: agricultural, nonagricultural, and mixed, that is, with a population engaged in various economic sectors. In addition to permanent rural settlements, which are inhabited year-round and have been in existence for a number of years, there are seasonally inhabited settlements; the latter can be either agricultural, such as the winter and summer settlements of livestock herders and farm workers, or nonagricultural, such as summer tourist centers and Pioneer camps. There are also temporary rural settlements, established for limited periods of time, for example, lumber camps and expeditionary bases, and itinerant settlements, for example, nomadic settlements and the camps of reindeer herders.


It is impossible to determine the total number of rural settlements throughout the world, including the permanent ones, since the concept of an individual populated area is defined differently in each country. In the United States, for example, approximately one-fifth of the rural population at the beginning of the 1970’s was listed as residing in officially registered rural settlements, while the remaining farm population was grouped, for statistical purposes, into broader territorial units. In many countries, particularly densely populated ones, where large rural settlements are in close proximity to individual farms and estates, the population of all the settlements within a single territorial administrative unit (for example, a commune in France and Belgium and Gemeinde in the German Democratic Republic) is considered to be a single group for statistical purposes.


As of 1970, according to UN estimates, 63 percent of the world’s population lived in rural settlements, compared to 67 percent in 1960. The inhabitants of rural settlements represented 78 percent (82 percent in 1960) of the population in Africa, 79 percent (82 percent) in South Asia, 70 percent (77 percent) in East Asia, 44 percent (52 percent) in Latin America, 26 percent (30 percent) in North America, and 36 percent (42 percent) in Europe, not including the USSR. In the USSR, 40 percent of the population lived in rural settlements in 1974, compared to 51 percent in 1960.


The concept of rural settlements arose with the distinction between the city and the countryside as socioeconomic categories. The types and characteristics of rural settlements reflect the level of productive forces and productive relations inherent in a given sociohistorical formation. At the same time, the character of rural settlements always reflects the occupation of the village inhabitants (for example, grain growing or viticulture), national traditions, and natural conditions; these factors often determine a settlement’s location, layout, and size. The rural settlements of the feudal period consisted chiefly of villages of serfs and state peasants, castles and manors, and settlements of traders and artisans; many of these subsequently developed into cities. The development of capitalism gave rise to more dispersed forms of rural settlement—large and small farms—which now predominate in rural areas in a number of countries, particularly the United States and Canada; in other countries, these new forms are found alongside large rural settlements whose origins date back to the feudal period.


In economically developed countries, with the growth of an urban network and nonagricultural land use, there has been an increase in the number of nonagricultural and mixed rural settlements, as well as in the number of rural “bedroom” communities, many of whose inhabitants are employed in neighboring cities.


In the USSR the principal rural agricultural settlements are the central settlements of the kolkhozes (32,500) and sovkhozes (13,200). In 1970, 42 percent of the total rural population lived in such settlements, extremely varied in size, with an average population of about 1,000. These settlements provide the basis for the further network of rural settlements and are given priority in the development of public services; an ever-increasing share of the rural population is being concentrated in these centers. Many of the central settlements of kolkhozes are old villages—including slobody (commercial and industrial villages near cities) and stanitsy (large cossack villages)—whose appearance has been greatly changed during the years of Soviet power. The central farmsteads of sovkhozes are built according to special plans. Another large group of agricultural settlements includes the 80,500 settlements of kolkhoz production brigades and kolkhoz livestock-breeding departments and the 70,000 settlements of sovkhoz divisions and sovkhoz livestock-breeding departments.


The mixed-type rural settlements of the USSR include more than 800 villages (1970) that serve as raion administrative centers. This group also includes certain kolkhoz and sovkhoz settlements, where a significant portion of the population is employed in local industrial enterprises (for example, processing agricultural products or logging), in transportation services, or in enterprises in neighboring urban settlements. The number of agroindustrial rural settlements, which represent a progressive development, is increasing along with the number of urban settlements. Each year, new cities and urban-type settlements are formed from agroindustrial rural settlements and rural raion administrative centers.


In 1970 there were 37,800 nonagricultural rural settlements in the USSR. About 15,000 of them had grown up around individual industrial enterprises and construction projects, another 10,000 were related to forestation and forest use, more than 9,000 were related to transportation services, and the remainder were located around out-of-town public-health, educational, and social-security facilities.


The number of large rural settlements in the USSR is growing; in 1970 there were more than 23,500 settlements with populations of more than 1,000. The movement of the rural population to larger and better-equipped rural settlements is increasing, and the plans for the development of each rural raion of the USSR have designated a group of promising settlements where all rural population will gradually be concentrated.


The number of rural settlements throughout the world has declined as a result of urbanization and the movement of the population from the countryside to the cities.



Urban Settlements:  

According to the census of India urban areas are those which satisfy the conditions given below.

(a) All places with a municipality corporation, cantonment board or notified town area committee etc.

(b) All other places which satisfy the following criteria:

      (i) a minimum population of 5000;

      (ii) at least 75 percent of male working population engaged in nonagricultural sector; and

      (iii) a density of population of at least 4,000 persons per square kilometer.


Besides, the direction of census operation in states and Union Territories were allowed to include in consultation with the state governments and Union Territory administration and the census commissioner of India, some places having distinct urban characteristics as urban even if such places did not strictly satisfy all the criteria mentioned under category (b). Such cases include major project colonies,


Railway colonies, areas of intensive industrial development, important tourist centres, etc. Therefore, there are two broad groups of town or urban settlement. The places which satisfy the conditions mentioned in category (a) are known as statutory town and the conditions mentioned in category (b) are known as census towns. Urban agglomeration may consist of any one of the three combinations given below:


(i) a town and its adjoining urban outgrowth;

(ii) two or more contiguous towns with or without their outgrowths; and

(iii) a city and one or more adjoining towns with their outgrowths together formingcontiguous streatch.Examples of urban outgrowths are university campus, cantonment area, port area-seaport and air port, railway colonies, etc.But, one should remember that these towns are not always permanent. In eachcensus, towns are subjected to de-classification and re-classification based on theprevailing condition at that particular time.



Like rural settlements, urban settlements are classified on various bases. However,classification based on size and function are most common.

1 Settlement

  1. Settlement is any form of human habitation, from a single house to the largest city.
  2. Classification by function
    1. Rural settlement
      1. Primary activities (e.g. agriculture) are dominant.
      2. A rural settlement has a small population size and a low population density.
    2. Urban settlement
      1. Secondary activities (e.g. manufacturing) and tertiary activities (e.g. trade) are dominant.
      2. An urban settlement has a large population size and a high population density.
  3. Classification by size

Settlements can also be classified by size as hamlet, village, town, city, conurbation and megalopolis.

  1. Patterns of settlement
    1. In a dispersed settlement, the dwellings are scattered, e.g. farmhouses.
    2. In a linear settlement, the dwellings form an elongated settlement, e.g. along a road.
    3. In a nucleated settlement, the dwellings form a cluster, e.g. a walled village, at a road junction.

2 Characteristics of an urban settlement

  1. An urban settlement is mainly a built-up area.
    1. There are many tall buildings with little open space.
    2. The natural landscape is almost totally modified into a cultural landscape.
  2. Urban land use is intensive.
    1. There is keen land use competition.
    2. The land rent is the high.
  3. An urban settlement has a large population size and a high population density.
  4. Urban dwellers have a higher living standard.
  5. Secondary and tertiary activities are dominant.
  6. An urban settlement performs many functions, e.g. commercial, industrial, administrative functions.
  7. An urban settlement has a hinterland which it serves and is served.
    1. The hinterland provides food and raw materials to the urban settlement.
    2. The hinterland provides a big market for the urban settlement.

3 Processes of urbanisation

  1. Urban growth is an increase in number of urban population in a country.
  2. Urbanisation is an increase in percentage of urban population in a country.

3-1 Natural increase

  1. There is urban growth when there is natural increase in the urban population.
  2. There is urbanisation when the natural increase in the urban population is greater than in the rural population.

3-2 Rural-urban migration

  1. Pull factors attract people to the cities.
    1. There are better job opportunities.
    2. There are higher income and higher living standard.
    3. There are better educational and medical facilities.
  2. Push factors drive people to leave rural areas.
    1. There is unemployment due to farm mechanisation.
    2. There are lower income and lower living standard.
    3. There are inadequate educational and medical facilities.
    4. There are inadequate farmland, crop failure and famine.
    5. There are poverty, debt and hard farm life



Sphere of Influence  (SN):

The sphere of influence of a settlement describes the area that is served by a settlement, for a particular function. Its sphere of influence for different functions may cover vastly different areas. For instance a supermarket may attract people from a 20-mile radius, whilst a leisure activity, such as going to the theatre may attract them from far further away.


The larger a settlement is the greater its sphere of influence is likely to be, as it has a wider range of services and functions to attract people to go there. This is shown in the diagram below. A small village may only have a village store selling the daily newspaper and food such as bread and milk. People will only travel the shortest distance they need to buy these products. They are described as being convenience goods. In other words, something that someone can buy easily and for the same price all over the place.


A larger town would have a wider sphere of influence because it would have shops and services that are more specialists, and so people would be willing to travel further to use them. An example might be a furniture shop. This sells comparison goods, in other words products that you might shop around for before going ahead and buying something.


There are two major ideas to consider when looking at the sphere of influence of a shop of service. These are called the range and threshold population of a good.


The range of a good or service describes the maximum distance that someone would be willing to travel to obtain that good or service. A newspaper shop has a small range because people will not travel far to use them. A cinema has a much wider range as people are prepared to travel much further to go to it.


The threshold population of a good or service is the minimum number of people needed to allow that shop or service to be successful. The more specialist a shop is the larger its threshold population is.

A newsagent will have a small threshold, where as a supermarket like Tesco's needs a much larger population before it can consider opening a store.




Commuter Settlements (SN):

Commuter settlements have a large resident population, but as very few of them actually work in the village, there is nobody to support any services. The commuters will do their shopping and banking in the city where they work. This means that these settlements will have fewer services than their population suggests they should have. Some commuter settlements are changing their services to cater for the different residents, with restaurants and cafes replacing the traditional village services.


Functional Characteristics of Urban Settlement :

Urban settlements are differentiated from rural ones by economic, social, and population factors. Most urban settlements derive from a small village. The village, due to certain economic or strategic advantages, receives many newcomers and soon becomes both the social and administrative center for surrounding areas. Urban settlement characteristics, therefore, derive from the changes a village goes through once it begins to acquire economic importance.


Much of urban settlement has an economic basis. As a result, the first and primary characteristic of urban settlement is the development of a diversity of occupation. Over time, the settlement becomes an industrial, financial, or manufacturing center of a certain district or area, which implies that urban settlement has a close connection with the desire to find work.



The economic content of urban settlement is usually complemented by a very different form of state. Rationalized, more or less centralized, and class-based government becomes the norm in urban centers, normally following the pattern of industry or trade. Economic regulation then becomes paramount.

Civic Activism:

Somewhat more foggy is the existence of a municipal civic culture that serves to encourage civic participation and some form of democratic government. The European experience in the Renaissance strongly bears out this view--the existence of a strong civic culture is characteristic of urban settlement.


Social Tension:

As a village becomes an urban area, those who live in the village setting often have substantial social tension with newcomers. As a result, a significant characteristic of urban settlement is the influx of newcomers, all seeking some form of economic security, and the hostility of those already living there. There may be a connection between this constant feature of integration and the existence of a strong civic life.



Functional Characteristics of Rural Settlement :

The characteristics of rural settlement are identical to the nature of the rural landscape. Rural settlement is a constant process of adaptation between settlers and the land, resources and types of vegetation and topography. These forms of adaptation give rise to a distinctive rural culture. The main way of organizing settlement characteristics in a rural environment is to go from the most general to the more specific.


Land Use:

The most obvious and important part of rural settlement is the use of the land. This is dictated by the nature of the topography and the available resources such as good soil and access to water. This is the primary form of adaptation--the connection between rural resources and the use of the land. All others derive from this.


Spatial Organization:

The spatial organization of the settlement reflects the existence or non-existence of resources for farming, hunting or fishing. These are manifest in the forms of field use and the network of roads that derive from the shape and mode of the fields. The forms of land use are based on the availability of resources. Slash and burn exists almost exclusively where land is plentiful, and two- and three-field rotations are more characteristic of rural settlement and reflect the advances of agricultural technology.



Rural culture derives from these adaptations. One of the most common is the harvest festival, which reflects the communal organization of harvesting, the most difficult and labor-intensive part of rural life. In general, rural culture celebrates a tight community that exists to serve one another in the interests of individual and cultural survival.



All three of the above characteristics of rural settlement take the forms of specific systems of transportation, the boundaries that come to exist among property owners and the clusters of buildings, cultural norms and land use that come to act as the ingredients of the rural settlement and its clearest characteristics.





The Difference Between Rural and Urban Settlement:

Urban and rural settlements differ in demographics, land area and usage, population density, transportation networks and economic dependencies. These characteristics are the defining differences that geographers and city planners observe between rural and urban centers.



Urban settlements contain a heterogeneous population consisting of different ages, cultures and ethnicities, whereas rural areas contain a more homogenous population based on family, similar ethnicities and fewer cultural influences.


Land Area and Usage:

Urban settlements are more expansive and contain a wide range of land uses. For instance, major metropolitan areas use density zoning to indicate different levels of development. In contrast, rural settlements are more or less self-contained and may not use zoning controls or have limited planning and development regulations.


Population Density:

The U.S. Census Bureau defines urban settlements as areas with more than 50,000 people and at least 1,000 people per square mile; including contiguous census tracts or blocks with at least 500 people per square mile. In contrast, rural settlements contain less than 2,500 people, at a density between one and 999 people per square mile.


Transportation Network:

Rural transportation networks consist of local and county roads with limited interconnectivity to rail and bus lines. Urban settlements contain highway infrastructure as well as airports and light or heavy commuter rail.



Urban areas are dependent on a global economy of import and export, whereas rural economies rely on a local and agricultural-based economy with dependencies on services, such as hospitals and educational establishments in nearby urban centers.