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Urban Functions

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A function of a place develops over time depending on the people who choose to live there. The social, economic and natural environments determine the types of people that it attracts. From the mid - 1800s when mechanisation reduced the need for manual labour in fields, workers moved to industrial towns, cities and other urban areas. Industry developed according to their locations, whether it be near to a river or the coast, near to natural resources or situated in convenient nodal points and commercial centres expanded around them. From these hubs, the emerging middle class grew to host key administrative functions, such as banks, county courts and commercial enterprises.

Urban settlement definition

An urban settlement is a highly built-up area with a dense population. Greater London is an example of an urban settlement

Functions of rural and urban settlement

Rural Functions

Rural functions refer to the uses of rural spaces. These are mostly residential and primary activities such as farming.

  • Agriculture: e.g. farming or forestry
  • Residential
  • Environmental and ecological benefits
  • Leisurely activities: e.g. camping, hiking, festivals

Urban Functions

Urban functions refer to the use and functions of various urban spaces which include social, residential, commuting, administrational, and productive activities. Urban functions can include:

  • Selling expensive or rare goods and services
  • Provide jobs in industry or services
  • Act as an administration centre for the areas around it
  • An entertainment centre ranging from sporting facilities, shopping areas and restaurants
  • A cultural and religious centre
  • A transport hub
  • A residential area.

Let's explore some of these urban functions further:

Three Functions of Urban Settlement

Functions of industry

In urban settlements, tertiary and quaternary economic activities are most common. These include trade, commerce, and service industries such as tourism and education.

Functions of places of worship

Places of worship often serve a very special function for people. They allow people to gather and share their faith whilst also creating a sense of community in an area.

Functions of residential areas

Over half of the global population now lives in urban areas. This means that urban settlements provide an essential function for many people; their homes. The increase in services provided by urban settlements has resulted in many more people moving to cities. This creates a demand for housing.

Why do Urban Functions change?

Functions can change over time. For example, Newcastle was originally a coal-mining region with heavy industry and manufacturing but now is accommodating high-tech companies and focusing on education. There are a number of reasons for changes in urban functions.

Physical Factors

Landscape changes can challenge the management of the land such as sea-level change and climate change causing rapid coastal erosion despite coastal defences. These challenges with climate change are shaping policy, architecture and land-use decisions. In south-east London, Greenwich Millennium Village was designed to cut primary energy use by 80% by using low energy building techniques and renewable energy technologies.¹

Urban functions, Greenwich Millennium Village, StudysmarterGreenwich Millennium Village, Wikimedia

Accessibility and Transportation

The development of transport has changed the importance of different towns and cities around the UK. For example, railway towns such as Crewe and Nuneaton have seen a relative decline from the development of the motorways after the 1960s. With the development of the High-Speed railway line between London and the Channel coast, Essex and Kent became popular rural alternatives for people who could not afford London property prices or preferred quieter locations.

As transport infrastructure improved, it influenced the flow of migration both within the UK and into the UK. Regional airports in Newcastle and East Midlands have facilitated immigration from Eastern Europe.

Historical Development

The history of a place can be reflected in the current characteristics and layout of a place. For example, there were transition town projects in Totnes to protect their local culture and history. There was an establishment of the Totnes Pound, the local currency that helped local businesses by keeping the spending within the town. Cultural attractions such as St Mary's Church and Totnes Castle bring visitors from outside of town.

Urban Functions, Totnes Castle, Studysmarter Totnes Castle, Wikimedia

Local and National Planning

In the UK, there is a struggle to tackle the chronic shortage of housing stock. This led to projects by the UK government such as the National Infrastructure Plan which designated towns to be new garden cities. An example is Bicester, which had up to 13,000 new homes, a new railway station² and an expansion of the retail outlet Bicester Village. As the urban areas expanded, there were risks of surrounding rural villages being overrun. There have been cases such as Milton Keynes' growth incorporating the villages, Middleton, Great Linford and also towns Bletchley and Stony Stratford. The government plan an east-west rail link between Oxford and Cambridge which can affect the house prices and congestion for surrounding areas such as North Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire, making it a more attractive place to live.

Garden city - Self-contained community surrounded by a greenbelt.

How have Urban Functions changed?

The economic and social characteristics of a place are influenced by the past and present connections to other places.

Regional and National Influences

There is a north-south divide between UK cities, where there was a focus on new growth in towns and cities in the south, while cities have shrunk in the north. Once famous for heavy industry, those cities have been affected by globalisation and technology leading to fewer workers.

In 2015 there was a government plan to develop a northern powerhouse that would enable good trade and industry connections to be made across the country. In the 1980s, there was a similar focus on enterprise by the Conservative government which led to free-market privatisation and growth financially.

International and Global Influences

Due to colonisation and global connections, the UK is racially diverse. Especially in London, many would describe themselves with many different ethnic backgrounds. Ethnic groups suffer from prejudice, although many towns have benefitted from immigration. With an ageing population and declining skills, migrants are relied upon as a younger population with greater aspirations.

The Windrush Generation- many people from African-Caribbean backgrounds were encouraged by the British Government to migrate to the UK to work. As British subjects, they had the right to work in the UK without documentation. Though part of the Commonwealth3, many migrants faced prejudice, racism and wrongful deportation 4

Demographic changes- identity and urban functions

As a country experiences rapid change, identity becomes increasingly important. Cities such as London bring together identity politics and minority influences. Southall in west London is known for a large Indian and Somali community. Many of the Somali diaspora work to provide financial support for families and communities back home. Identity politics is not limited to racial tensions but also civil rights issues and LGBTQ+ social movements. Canal Street in Manchester became the centre of the "gay village" when laws attacking civil liberties made the gay community cluster together for support. This area still caters to and supports this community. These interactions with the place itself is creating a lived experience that can influence the attachment and engagement of a place.

Case Study - Berbera

In north-western Somaliland, the self-declared autonomous region of Somalia is the city of Berbera. It has a seaport located along an oil route and closes to Aden which made the city an administrative and commercial hub. The exports from this port are goats and cattle to Yemen and Ethiopia. The infrastructure around this area is in need of maintenance, for example, the road linking Berbera with the capital Hargeisa is in a state of disrepair. Despite crowdsourcing attempts to raise money only a fraction of the funds were raised. There are many abandoned older Ottoman and merchant buildings, with squatters taking what remains.

Currently, there are about 545,000 people living in the metro area of Berbera5. There are small-scale economic activities such as frying fish and selling ghat6. Many rely on diaspora living overseas to send money home. However, the beautiful beaches have become an attraction for water sports activities. The Sea of Aden is warm all year round with plenty of fish which would allow shore diving and reliable income for fishermen. The government is investing in Berbera's port to make it safe and attractive as it generates 50 per cent of Somaliland's GDP5.

Urban Functions.Berbera port.StudysmarterBerbera ports. commons.wikimedia.org/

Urban Functions - Key takeaways

  • Urban functions refer to the use and functions of various urban spaces which include social, residential, commuting, administrational, and productive activities.
  • Urban functions can change over time, changes can depend on physical landscape changes, accessibility and transport infrastructure, historical development and agendas of local and national planning.
  • There are influences changing urban functions on many scales such as regional, national, international and global.
  • As these changes happen, identity is part of an important urban function.

Footnotes1. Greenich Millenium Village Ltd. (2022). https://www.greenwichmillenniumvillage.co.uk/masterplan/history#:~:text=Greenwich%20Millennium%20Village%20Ltd%20was,facilitate%20a%20more%20sustainable%20lifestyle.

6. Somtribune Staff writer. BERBERA: An Ottoman city in Somaliland. Somtribune, (2015).

https://www.somtribune.com/2015/10/03/berbera-an-ottoman-city-in-somaliland/7. Loza Seleshie, Will Somaliland’s Berbera port be a threat to Djibouti’s?,

The Africa Report (2020). https://www.theafricareport.com/54136/will-somalilands-berbera-port-be-a-threat-to-djiboutis/

Urban Functions

The function of a place are defined by the activities that can be provided to satisfy particular needs of a society. 

The main functions of urban areas are commerce, cultural and recreational activities, transport and communication, manufacturing and administration.

There are many functions of towns and cities, such as trade centers, government administration, manufacturing centers and service centers.

The functions of an urban area are commerce, cultural and recreational activities, transport and communication, manufacturing and administration.

Urban problems include fiscal difficulties, crowding, housing, traffic, pollution and crime.

Final Urban Functions Quiz

Question

What are urban functions?

Show answer

Answer

Urban functions refer to the use and functions of various urban spaces which include social, residential, commuting, administrational, productive activities. 

Show question

Question

Give seven examples of urban functions.

Show answer

Answer

-selling expensive or rare goods and services. 

-provide jobs in industry or services
- act as an administration centre for the areas around it, 
-an entertainment center ranging from sporting facilities, shopping areas and restaurants. 
-a cultural and religious center.
-a transport hub.
-a residential area.

Show question

Question

How do changing physical factors affect urban functions?


Show answer

Answer

Landscape changes can challenge management of the land such as sea level change and climate change causing rapid coastal erosion despite coastal defences. These challenges with climate change are shaping policy, architecture and land use decisions.

Show question

Question

Give an example of what has been done in reaction to physical factors.


Show answer

Answer

In south-east London, Greenwich Millennium Village was designed to cut primary energy use by 80% by using low energy building techniques and renewable energy technologies.

Show question

Question

How has the changes in accessibility and transport affected an urban area?


Show answer

Answer

The development of transport has changed the importance of different towns and cities around the UK. As transport infrastructure improved, it influenced the flow of migration in both within the UK and into the UK.

Show question

Question

Give an example of infrastructure change in transport affecting an urban area.

Show answer

Answer

-Railway towns such as Crewe and Nuneaton have seen the relative decline from the development of the motorways after the 60s. 
-The development of the High Speed 1 railway line between London and the Channel coast, Essex and Kent became popular rural alternatives for people who could not afford London property prices.

Show question

Question

How does historical development affect an urban area?


Show answer

Answer

The history of a place can be reflected in the current characteristics and layout of a place. Certain historically important places can become cultural attractions and bring tourists to the area.

Show question

Question

Give an example of historical development affecting an urban area.


Show answer

Answer

For example, there were transition town projects in Totnes to protect their local culture and history. There was an establishment of the Totnes pound, the local currency that helped local businesses by keeping the spending within the town. Cultural attractions such as St Mary's Church and Totnes Castle bring visitors from outside of town.

Show question

Question

What is a "garden city"?

Show answer

Answer

Self contained community surrounded with a greenbelt.

Show question

Question

How are urban areas developed by the government to tackle chronic shortage of housing stock? 


Show answer

Answer

Projects by the UK government such as the National Infrastructure Plan which designated towns to be new garden cities were introduced.

Show question

Question

Give an example of a project led by the government as part of National Infrastructure Plan.


Show answer

Answer

An example being Bicester, which had up to 13,000 new homes, new railway station² and an expansion of retail outlet Bicester Village.

Show question

Question

Why is there a north-south divide between UK cities?

Show answer

Answer

There was focus for new growth in towns and cities in the south, cities have shrunk in the north. Once famous for heavy industry, those cities have been affected by globalisation and technology leading to fewer workers. 

Show question

Question

How has the government reacted to the north-south divide?


Show answer

Answer

In 2015 there was a government plan to develop a northern powerhouse which would enable good trade and industry connections to be made across the country.

Show question

Question

What kind of international influences are there on urban areas in the UK?


Show answer

Answer

Due to colonisation and global connections, the UK is racially diverse. Especially in London, many would describe themselves with many different ethnic backgrounds.

Show question

Question

What part does identity play as urban functions change?


Show answer

Answer

As a country experiences rapid change, identity becomes increasingly important. Cities such as London bring together identity politics and minority influences. Identity politics is not limited to racial tensions but also civil rights issues and LGBTQ+ social movements. Interactions with the place itself is creating lived experience which can influence the attachment and engagement of a place.

Show question

Question

What is Lived Experience in Human Geography?

Show answer

Answer

Lived experience is a person's first-hand experience of living in a particular place.

Show question

Question

Why are lived experiences important

Show answer

Answer

Lived experiences are important because they give researchers qualitative information about a place. 

Show question

Question

What affects lived experience? 

Show answer

Answer

age, ethnicity, gender, length of time living in that place and level of deprivation/affluence

Show question

Question

True or False: Live experience can vary from person to person

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

How does regeneration affect lived experience?

Show answer

Answer

Regeneration influences engagement and attachment to a place

Show question

Question

What is an example of a good regeneration process?

Show answer

Answer

Giving residents a voice and enabling their lived experience and attachment to a place to be heard and taken into account is a significant part of the regeneration process

Show question

More about Regenerating Places
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