The Burgess Urban Land Use Model
In 1925, Burgess presented a descriptive urban land use model, which
divided cities in a set of concentric circles expanding from
the downtown to the suburbs. This representation was built from Burgess'
observations of a number of American cities, notably Chicago, for which
he provided empirical evidence. The model assumes a relationship between
the socio-economic status (mainly income) of households and the distance
from the Central Business District (CBD). The further from the CBD, the better the quality of housing,
but the longer the commuting time. Thus, accessing better housing is
done at the expense of longer commuting times (and costs). According
to this monocentric model (see above figure), a large city is divided
in six concentric zones:
According to Burgess, urban growth is a process of expansion and
reconversion of land uses, with a tendency of each inner zone to
expand in the outer zone. On the above figure, zone II (Factory zone)
is expanding towards zone IV (Working class zone), creating a transition
zone with reconversion of land use. Although the Burgess model is simple
and elegant, it has drawn numerous criticisms:
- Zone I: Central Business District (called the "loop"
in Chicago) where most of
the tertiary employment is located and where the urban transport
infrastructure is converging, making this zone the most accessible.
- Zone II: Immediately adjacent to the CBD a zone where
many industrial activities locate to take advantage of nearby labor
and markets. Further, most transport terminals, namely port sites
and railyards, are located adjacent to the central area.
- Zone III: This zone is gradually been reconverted to
other uses by expanding manufacturing / industrial activities. It
contains the poorest segment of the urban population, notably first
generation immigrants living, in the lowest housing conditions.
- Zone IV: Residential zone dominated by the working class
and those who were able to move away from the previous zone (often
second generation immigrants). This zone has the advantage of being
located near the major zones of employment (I and II) and thus represents
a low cost location for the working class.
- Zone V: Represents higher quality housing linked with
longer commuting costs.
- Zone VI: Mainly high class and expensive housing in a
rural, suburbanized, setting. The commuting costs are the highest.
Prior to mass diffusion of the automobile (1930s), most of these
settlements were located next to rail stations.
However, the Burgess model remains useful as a concept explaining
concentric urban development, as a way to introduce the complexity of
urban land use and to explain urban growth in American cities in the
early-mid 20th century.
- The model is too simple and limited in historical and cultural
applications up to the 1950s. It is a product of its time.
- The model was developed when American cities were growing very
fast in demographic terms and when motorized transportation was
still uncommon as most people used public transit. Expansion thus
involved reconversion of existing land uses. This concept cannot
be applied in a contemporary (from the second half to the 20th century)
context where highways have enabled urban development to escape
the reconversion process and to take place directly in the suburbs.
- The model was developed for American cities and has limited
applicability elsewhere. It has been demonstrated that pre-industrial
cities, notably in Europe, did not at all followed the concentric
circles model. For instance, in most pre-industrial European cities,
the center was much more important than the periphery, notably in
terms of social status. The Burgess concentric model is consequently
- There were a lot of spatial differences in terms of ethnic,
social and occupational status, while there were low occurrence
of the functional differences in land use patterns. The concentric
model assumed a spatial separation of place of work and place of
residence, which was not generalized until the twentieth century.