Relevance and Criticism of Central Place Theory

Central place theory is a milestone in the quantitative revolution era. It demonstrated the use of quantitative techniques in spatial and locational studies. However, it has been criticized widely on many grounds. Criticism of central place theory led to development in the field of spatial studies. To understand the relevance of this theory, we must understand the points of criticism.

Criticism of central place theory

  1. This theory has unrealistic assumptions, so, the conditions assumed for operation of this theory are rare.
  2. Consumers and sellers are not always rational. Consumers take decisions based on social networks and personal biases. For instance, a person may go for shopping to a farther city instead of a nearer city, just because a friend has a shop in that city.
  3. This theory assumes isotropic plains but in reality space is undulated and cities are not equidistant.
  4. It ignores the factors determining the location of industries. Usually, the locations favorable for industrial location becomes the central locations.
  5. The distance in itself does not determines consumer choices because Transport networks determine the choice of consumer for marketing purposes.
  6. This theory is suitable in a agricultural region where land is flat and transport cost determines the range of goods.
  7. It ignores the agglomeration of industries and economic activities. Sometimes, there is only one large city and large number of smaller cities of similar size. So, the hierarchy as explained by Christaller does not exist.
  8. The evidence supporting this theory is limited to experience of German cities and range of 150 goods, so, it is difficult to generalize its conclusions.
  9. Some regions are resource rich and some are resource scarce. Resources are non-ubiquitous in nature. So, cities can develop at resource rich regions only.

Relevance of Central Place Theory

Central place theory is gold standard in field of spatial analysis. The scholars have criticized this theory widely but it still retains the relevance in world.

  1. The theory is relevant in Indian context. India has State capital with district capitals around them.  District capital has towns around them and the towns have large villages around them. This shows that India has hierarchy of urban settlements within states.
  2. Certain services are only available in metro cities i.e. heart surgeon are only available in large cities or good universities are located in Delhi etc.
  3. Transport cost do determine the consumer’s choice. The consumer interact lower with farther cities and more with nearer city. It points towards principle of distance decay.
  4. With development of modes of communication and information, the consumers are able to make rational choices. For instance, people can compare the price of a good on online shopping platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart etc. and compare that price with physical markets. This way, a consumer can make rational decision.
  5. Number of towns in each hierarchy in real world does not match the number of cities stated by central place theory. However, the hierarchy of cities do exist.

Given the above criticism and relevance of central place theory, one can conclude that this theory leans towards explanation of general laws of interaction of people with cities of different sizes in an ideal geographical situation. It more or less explains the distribution of cities and towns over space.