Have you ever wondered why the bank and grocery store in your town are located where they are? Or how the industrial area ended up where it is? Find out what the concentric zone model is and how it explains why social structures look the way they do.
Think about the layout of your town or neighborhood. Are all the businesses located mostly together, with housing surrounding them? Or maybe you live along a river where most of the commercial buildings are located and people live farther out. There’s a reason why buildings are built where they are and urban areas grow in terms of housing and commerce. Social scientists like to examine how and why people and towns end up like they do. Their ideas are called human ecology theories.
The Concentric Zone Model
One such human ecology theory was developed by Ernest Burgess in 1923. Burgess was the first sociologist to pose a theory about why certain social groups are located in specific urban areas. His model was based on the city of Chicago and used a concentric ring to show how urban land was used.
He named his theory the concentric zone model, or CZM.Much like a bulls-eye, the model has what Burgess called the central business district, or CBD, located in the middle and showed the rings surrounding the center as expansion. Let’s take a closer look.
Explaining Concentric Zones
Burgess’s theory literally centered around the CBD.
This region was considered the downtown area and contained businesses and shops. Does this look like where you live?Four other rings expanded outward from the CBD. The second zone was termed the zone of transition and included a mix of residential and commercial dwellings. This ring also housed recent immigrant groups and was characterized by abandoned buildings and factories, rental homes, poverty and high crime. The third ring was a residential district, and Burgess determined the working man and his family lived here. These were mostly single-family tenements.
The next tier housed a residential zone characterized by single-family dwellings, wide lawns and garages. The fathers of these families were well educated and the school systems were more stable. Finally, the last zone, often called the commuter zone, was a suburban area.
These mostly upper-class people could afford to live away from the city center and commute to work and shopping from long distances.As you can see, the population decreases as the circles go outward. Burgess also theorized that those on the inner rings were less wealthy. Living near the city center was a hardship and only those able to afford transportation to work and shopping lived far from the dirty city center.
Is the Theory Accurate?
You may have noticed that Burgess’s theory isn’t actually like your city. That’s because while somewhat accurate, the theory has several problems.
For starters, this theory assumes things always stay the same and the overall landscape of where people choose to live and work doesn’t change.Also as business and commerce began to change, social structures saw less centralized work and shop areas, and more diverse ways to earn or spend money. You probably can name several strip malls or other businesses that prove this. Finally, the theory doesn’t take into account natural landscape. After all, hills, mountains, lakes or rivers can’t quite be moved.
Living and working conditions don’t always flow out in a perfect circular formation.
In 1923 sociologist Ernest Burgess proposed what is referred to as the concentric zone model. His theory proposed that the formation of cities followed a predictable pattern when growing. Much like a bulls-eye, the CZM starts with the center zone housing business and commerce. As the circles move outward, we see an increase in wealth and decrease in the necessity for being close to work and shopping. The higher crime, more heavily populated areas near the center gradually give way to better housing, schools and higher education and income.
While the CZM does apply in many urban areas, there are some flaws. Not all cities retained a central business district. With the movement of businesses and shopping, it became less necessary for lower income people to live near the center of town.
The changing landscape also makes the model invalid. However, Burgess had a great theory that helped shape how we look at living and work situations today.