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Urban Patterns

Central Business District (CBD)

The area of a city where retail and office activities are clustered.

Concentric Zone Model

A model of the internal structure of cities in which social groups are spatially arranged in a series of rings.

Sector Model

A model of the internal structure of cities in which social groups are arranged around a series of sectors, or wedges, radiating out from the central business district (CBD).

Multiple Nuclei Model

A model of the internal structure of cities in which social groups are arranged around a collection of nodes of activities.

Census Tract

An area delineated by the U.S. Bureau of the Census for which statistics are published; in urbanized areas, census tracts correspond roughly to neighborhoods.

Social Area Analysis

Statistical analysis used to identify where people of similar living standards, ethnic background, and life style live within an urban area.

Squatter Settlements

An area within a city in a less developed country in which people illegally establish residences on land they do not own or rent and erect homemade structures.


A process of change in the use of a house, from single-family owner occupancy to abandonment.


A process by which banks draw lines on a map and refuse to lend money to purchase or improve property within the boundaries.

Urban Renewal

Program in which cities identify blighted inner-city neighborhoods, acquire the properties from private members, relocate the residents and businesses, clear the site, build new roads and utilities, and turn the land over to private developers.

Public Housing

Housing owned by the government; in the US, it is rented to low income residents, and the rents are set at 30% of the familys income.


A process of converting an urban neighborhood from a predominantly low-income renter-occupied area to a predominantly middle-class owner-occupied area.


A group in society prevented from participating in the material benefits of a more developed society because of a variety of social and economic characteristics.


Legally adding land area to a city in the United States.


An urban settlement that has been legally incorporated into an independent, self-governing unit.

Central City

The urban area that is not suburban; generally, the older or original city that is surrounded by newer suburbs.

Urbanized Area

In the United States, a central city plus its contiguous built-up suburbs.

Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)

In the United States, a central city of at least 50,000 population, the county within which the city is located, and adjacent counties meeting one of several tests indicating a functional connection to the central city.

Micropolitan Statistical Area

An urbanized area of between 10,000 and 50,000 inhabitants, the county in which it is found, and adjacent counties tied to the city.

Core Based Statistical Area

In the United States, the combination of all metropolitan statistical areas and micropolitan statistical areas.

Combined Statistical Area

In the United States, two or more contiguous core based statistical areas tied together by commuting patterns.

Primary Census Statistical Area

In the United States, all of the combined statistical areas plus all of the remaining metropolitan statistical areas and micropolitan statistical areas.

Council of Government

A cooperative agency consisting of representatives of local governments in a metropolitan area in the United States.

Edge City

A large node of office and retail activities on the edge of an urban area.

Density Gradient

The change in density in an urban area from the center to the periphery.


Development of new housing sites at relatively low density and at locations that are not contiguous to the existing built-up area.


A ring of land maintained as parks, agriculture, or other types of open space to limit the sprawl of an urban area.

Smart Growth

Legislation and regulations to limit suburban sprawl and a preserve farmland.

Zoning Ordinance

A law that limits the permitted uses of land and maximum density of development in a community.

Rush Hour

The four consecutive 15-minute periods in the morning and evening with the heaviest volumes of traffic.


Squatter settlements located throughout South America, except in Brazil, where they are called favelas. In these impoverished settlements, residents often live in makeshift housing made of tin or other resources propped up on posts.

Bid-Rent Theory

This theory states that only businesses or wealthy buyers can afford property in the CBD because the land typically has such a high property value.

Primate City

The largest settlement in a country, if it has more than twice as many people as the second-ranking settlement.

Rank Size Rule

In a model urban hierarchy, the idea that the population of a city or town will be inversely proportional to its rank in the hierarchy. The nth largest settlement is 1/n the population of the largest settlement.


A very large urban complex (usually involving several cities and towns). AKA Conurbation

Gateway City

Cities that, because of their geographic location, act as ports of entry and distribution centers for large geographic areas.


City with more than 10 million people


Acronym for Not In My BackYard. Someone who objects to siting something in their own neighborhood but does not object to it being sited elsewhere.

Urban Realms

A spatial generalization of the large, late-twentieth-century city in the United States. It is widely dispersed, multi-centered metropolis consisting of increasingly independent zones or realms, each focused on its own suburban downtown.

Urban Morphology

The study of the physical form and structure of urban places.

Urban Decay

The deterioration of the built environment. Urban infrastructure falls into a state of disrepair and buildings are left empty for long periods of time. Characterized by vacant blocks, derelict buildings, graffiti. It is not a source of employment, tax revenue or income.


Similar to a landscape, yet of a city (cityscapes often show the city's skyline, which is the CBD).

Commuter Zone

The outer most zone of the Concentric Zone Model that represents people who choose to live in residential suburbia and take a daily commute in the CBD to work.

Emerging City

A city that is currently without much population but is increasing in size at a rapid rate.

Zone In Transition

Area of mixed commercial and residential land uses surrounding the CBD; mixture of growth, change, and decline.

Urban Hearth Area

An area, like Mesopotamia or the Nile River Valley where large cities first existed.

Colonial City

A city founded by colonialism or an indigenous city whose structure was deeply influenced by Western colonialism.


Illegal practice of inducing homeowners to sell their properties by telling them that a certain people of a certain race, national origin or religion are moving into the area.


Net migration from urban to rural areas in more developed countries, results in the de-concentration of population within an urban system.

Indigenous City

A center of population, commerce, and culture that is native to a country.

Peak Land Value Intersection

The most accessible and costly parcel of land in the central business district and, therefore, in the entire urbanized area.

Planned Community

An area where developers can plot out each house in the development and build the community from scratch and create restrictive covenants (rules for appearance).

Street Pattern

A type of city plan in which houses are organized in a specific way - grid, dendritic; access, control.


The process of population movement from within towns and cities to the rural-urban fringe.

Urban Heat Island

The concept that on average, both maximum and minimum temperatures are higher in urban areas than in nearby rural settings.

Sequent Occupance

The notion that successive societies leave their cultural imprints on a place, each contributing to the cumulative cultural landscape.

Disamenity Sector

The very poorest parts of cities that in extreme cases are not even connected to regular city services and are controlled by gangs or drug lords.


The strength of an urban center in its capacity to attract produce and consumers to its facilities; a city's "reach" into the surrounding region.

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