Core-Periphery Model by Friedman

John Friedman was an urban theorist and founding figure of the Department of Urban Planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. He propounded the core-periphery model of regional development in the year 1966. The Core-Periphery Model by Friedman shows the process of economic growth and urban development in time and space. 

Basic Idea of Core-Periphery Model

Basically, his theory explains the process of unbalanced economic growth starting from the pre-industrial era in an urban landscape. The fundamental idea of this model is that there is unequal distribution of socio-economic and political power which causes urban prosperity and deprivation. Therefore, once the process of economic growth starts in a certain town, the town continues to grow faster and larger in comparison to the surrounding human settlements.

  • The core is a large and fast growing city.
  • The periphery refers to the villages and smaller towns around the large city.
  • The wealthy people live in the core therefore most of the capital is also available in the core. Contrarily, the periphery is abundant in natural resources and labor force.
  • So, the exchange between core and periphery must take place for economic growth. The core spends capital to import resources and labor force from the periphery. The labor force in the periphery receive rent for resources and wages for their work.
  • However, the terms of trade or exchange between core and periphery is structured in such a manner that the periphery receives less than it ought to. Thus, the core continues to grow richer while the periphery remains poorer.
  • Friedman’s model is closely related to Growth Pole theory by Perroux, Cumulative Causation Theory by Gunnar Myrdal and Unbalanced Growth Theory by Albert Hirschman. Anyway, Friedman’s model explains the process of spatial interaction better than Myrdal and Hirschman.

Stages of Urban Growth

Friedman’s model tries to answer the question that why does the core enjoy  prosperity and the periphery experience deprivation. According to Friedman, there are four stages of economic and urban growth in a region. These stages are as follows.

1. Pre-Industrial Stage

  • The region at this stage is known as Resource Frontier Region. The resource frontier regions are underdeveloped but rich in resources.
  • At this stage, most of the economy has rural character with few dispersed centers of production (Fig. 1).
  • Primary economic activities such as agriculture, fishing, hunting etc. are the main economic activities. The size of the settlements is small.
  • These settlements have low levels of interaction amongst them and the mobility of traders remain limited to smaller areas.
    Fig. 1: Pre-Industrialized Regions with Dispersed Settlements

2. Transition Stage

  • The resource frontier region develops economically into Upward Transition Region. the upward transition regions are growing fast by using its current stock of natural resources.
  • In the transition stage, the economy starts to experience spatial concentration of economic activities. This means that the investment of capital, industrial growth and trading activities morph the some of the rural settlements into urban settlements.
  • However, one of these urban settlements commands authority over other urban centers because of its social, economic and political dominance in the region. This dominant city is the core of the region. Rest of the rural and urban settlements are subordinate to the core (Fig 2).
  • The core imports raw material and labor at low cost from the periphery. In return, it pays low rent and wages to the inhabitants of the periphery. Further, the core exports costly finished goods to the periphery. So, the periphery faces a balance of payment crisis due to costly imports and cheap exports. So, it increases exports to core to sustain its import of finished goods. Finally, the periphery becomes dependent on the core.
  • Although trade and transport facilities improve in this stage, but the laborers do not travel far from their homes for work.
    Fig. 2: Transition Stage with a Core and Periphery

3. Industrial Stage

  • In this stage, the upward transition region changes into a Downward Transition Region. A downward transition regions has many problems such as depleted resource base, low productivity and outdated industry. So, the economy moves either towards colonization of new resource frontier regions or towards service industry.
  • Due to innovations in science and technology, industrial growth accelerates. The process of manufacturing is carried out by automatic machines with the help of fossil fuels and electricity.
  • The fast growth in the manufacturing sector necessitates the migration of the labor force from rural to urban areas. Additionally, the natural resources are also extracted at a fast pace to support industrial growth.
  • There are two more processes which take place in this stage i.e. outsourcing and innovation diffusion.
  • Outsourcing means that the core transfers some of its economic functions to a subordinate town(s) in the urban system. Due to outsourcing, the base of many economic activities  shifts to such subordinate towns. The core has to outsource its economic functions to other towns because the cost of production in core becomes very high due to high cost of land and costly labor (Fig. 3).
  • Innovation diffusion refers to the process of spread of knowledge, technology and methods of production from the core to the subordinate town(s). This process of outsourcing and innovation diffusion ignites the fast industrial growth in the towns in the periphery. Development of very fast modes of transport and communication helps diffusion of innovation and commute of labor.
    Fig. 3: Industrial Stage with Innovation Diffusion & Functional Specialization

4. Post-Industrial Stage

  • The last stage of this model emphasizes the evolution of the unequal society into an egalitarian one. Friedman argues that as the cost of production increases in core, many functions are outsourced to periphery cities. As a result, the cities in the periphery also grow fast. The economic growth in the periphery leads to considerable decline in intra-regional inequality i.e. between different cities within the region.
  • Since many cities become equal in authority, it does not mean there will not be any kind of flow of labor and resources between the core and periphery. In reality, the cities become spatially integrated or dependent through the process of division of labor. It means that different cities specialize in different economic functions therefore, each city depends on another city for supply of a certain product (Fig. 4). For example, the Maruti-Suzuki factory in Gurugram depends on Jamshedpur for supply of steel. Such division of labor between cities increases economic and logistical efficiency.
  • The demand for many services which assist in efficient transport, communication and marketing increases. Eventually, the urban economic growth is driven by the service sector.
    Fig. 4: Post-Industrialized Stage with Spatial Integration

Assessment of Core-Periphery Model

Friedman’s core-periphery model explains the process of spatial integration and dependence, beautifully. We can apply this theoretical framework at regional, national and international scale. It also explains the increasing disparity between rich and poor in the globalized world. This model is based on the experience of European and American countries. Therefore, it needs thorough evaluation and assessment as follows.

  1. It seems that this model is teleological in approach. It states that a country will go through four stages of regional development in a sequential manner.
  2. The concentration of economic and political power may not result in spatial concentration of economic activity. For example, the multinational companies in the modern world have huge economic authority but they operate in many countries instead of a single core.
  3. This model does not clarify the concept of power. It presents the ‘power’ as an abstract idea without any play of democratic institutions.
  4. Further, economic integration may take place among different cities in the regions but the economic authority may still be with the core. For example, Apple Inc. is an American company but it produces iPhones in many countries. However, the decision making power is still in the hands of Apple Inc. not in the hands of people where iPhones are produced.
  5. In reality, the industrialized stage depicts the process of exploitation of resources from the periphery rather than benevolent diffusion of innovation.


We can conclude that this model applies a sequential approach based on the experience of western world to explain the process of economic and urban growth of all the nations. It concludes that the process of economic growth ends with decline in regional inequality due to innovation diffusion. However, the reports by the world institutions like Oxfam and United Nations Development Programme are pointing towards the fact that inequality among people and nations is increasing. The rich are growing richer and the poor are becoming poorer despite the rise of the service economy. In short, this model explains only the economic growth in historical sense and may not apply to developing nations of the present day.