Burgess model or concentric zone model (1925) by Ernest Burgess

Burgess model or concentric zone model – urban land use model

Ernest Burgess gave a model to define how different social groups are located in an urban area based on the socio-economic status of households and distance from central area or downtown. This is known as concentric zone model as the different locations were defined in the form of rings around the core urban area around which city grew. Burgess Model is the another name for this model which was given after the name of Ernest Burgess. Concentric Zone Model or CCD model was developed between 1925 and 1929 based on the study of  of American cities, with detailed study of Chicago for which Burgess provided empirical evidence. This was one of the many models studied under settlement geography


Different zone in Burgess Model

Various researchers and scholars have debated over the number of zones in the Burgess concentric zone model which are considered to be 5 whereas some consider 6 zones to explain this urban land use model. Centre is the oldest part of city around which the city expands over time and the newest development comes on the edges.

Related: Primate City & Primacy | Relationship between city sizes


Video explaining the models for city development: Burgess Model (Concentric Zone Model)

Zone I (Central Business District) – This is the center (innermost zone) where central business district is located and has highest land value. The zone has tertiary activities and earns maximum economic returns. Another feature is the accessibility of the area because of convergence and passing of transport networks through this part from surrounding and even far of places in the city.This part has tall buildings and noticeably high density to maximize the returns from land. Commercial activity taking place in the area results in negligible residential activity in this zone.

Zone II (Transition Zone) – This zone is characterized by the mixed residential and commercial use. This is located adjacent and around the CBD and is continuously changing i.e. transition takes place. Another feature is the range of activities taking place like mixed land use, car parking, cafes, old buildings. This zone is considered to “decay”  because of the large number of old buildings as the buildings in transition zone were earlier used for factories and tenement housing blocks. This zone had high population density when industrial activities were at their peak. Those residing in this zone were of poorest segment and had lowest housing condition.

Related: Central Place Theory (CPT) by Walter Christaller (1933)

Zone III (Inner City/ Working Class zone) – This area is occupied for residential purpose and also known as “inner city” or “inner suburbs”. It consist of houses built to accommodate factory workers but had better condition than the transition zone. This area has a mix of new and old development and generally requires orderly redevelopment. People living in this zone were considered to be second generation immigrants as many moved out of the transition zone to this zone whenever it was affordable. This zone was nearest to the working area with modest living conditions as a result of which cost of commute was reduced. Another interesting feature include the large rental housing occupied by single workers.

Zone IV (Outer Suburbs/ White Collar Homes)  – This zone had bigger houses and new development occupied by middle class. Many of the homes were detached and unlike single occupants of inner suburbs, families resided in these homes. Better facilities were available to the residents like parks, open spaces, shops, large gardens but this came at an increased commuting cost.

Zone V (Commuter Zone)  – This is the outermost area and farthest from the CBD, this resulted in highest commuting cost when compared with other zones. Significant commuting cost gave the name “commuter zone” to this part. People living in this part were high income groups which could afford large houses, could pay commuting charges, had access to different transportation mode, enjoyed modern facilities like shopping malls. Low rise development, large gardens, less population density are some of the characteristics of this zone.


Rationale behind Concentric zone model

Burgess model takes into account the positive correlation between economic status and distance from downtown, i.e. better the economic status more the distance from central area. Central area had high density and the availability of land was scarce thus more effluent segment of the society resided away from the city center where they could have large houses. Burgess described the changing spatial patterns of residential areas as a process of “invasion” and “succession”. As the city grew and developed over time, the CBD would exert pressure on the zone immediately surrounding it (the zone of transition). Outward expansion of the CBD would invade nearby residential neighborhoods causing them to expand outward. The process was thought to continue with each successive neighborhood moving further from the CBD. His work included the study of bid rent curves according to which the land with highest rent was occupied with economic activities of highest returns.

Related: Rural-urban continuum and causes of rural-urban continuum

Limitations and Criticisms of Concentric zone model

Concentric zone model is one of the simplest model available. It takes into account the economic forces which drives development and the study of patters which were seen at the time of study. But with the evolution and passage of time urban areas grew more complex and this model cannot define the development of existing cities. Some of the limitations and criticism include:

  • This model was widely appreciated in the United States but does not seems to work outside it as the pattern of growth was different because of different circumstances.
  • The relevance of this model decreased with the advancement in mode of transportation, mass transit vehicles, motor vehicles, cars changed the way people commute and accordingly their preference of living at a particular zone changed.
  • It does not takes into account the effect of political forces and the restrictions imposed by the government for the improvement of living conditions.
  • In reality no well defined zones and boundaries exist as overlapping of areas is possible in every town. The preference of people changes over time depending on the importance they associate for a particular benefit.
  • This model cannot be applied to polycentric cities as multiple CDB exists in such cities. Moreover every city is different and the factors influencing the growth of a city are diverse.

Related: Multiple Nuclei Model of 1945

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