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What are the characteristics of settlements?
Settlements come in all different shapes, sizes and locations. The function of a settlement can be identified by looking at its shape, size, site and situation.

Find out more about this topic below:
What is a settlement?
What do we mean by site and situation of a settlement?
What are the functions of a settlement?
What is a settlement hierarchy?


What is a settlement?

A settlement is a place where people live. A settlement could be anything from an isolated farmhouse to a mega city (settlement with over 10 million people).

Settlements can either be temporary or permanent. Temporary settlements include things such as refugee camps. Some temporary settlements have become permanent over time such as the Rochina, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The reason why a settlement developed in the first place is said to be its function. For example the function of Liverpool was as a port.

What do we mean by site and situation of a settlement?

The site and situation of a settlement are very different things. The site of a settlement is the land upon which it was built. There are a range of factors that can determine the site of a settlement. These are:

  • wet point site - these are sites close to a supply of water
  • dry point site - these are sites that avoided the risk of flooding
  • defensive site - these were sites that were on high ground and allowed the inhabitants to see enemies from a distance
  • aspect - many settlements in the northern hemisphere are located on south facing sides of valleys where it is sunny
  • shelter - away from rain and prevailing winds
  • trading point - often settlements developed where natural training points meet such as along rivers or natural route ways
  • resources - many settlements developed close to where natural resources could be found.

The situation of a settlement is its location in relation to surrounding human and physical features. We usually describe the situation when we are telling someone where a settlement is.

What are the functions of a settlement?

Most settlements in MEDCs have multi-functions. This includes education, retail and industry. However, when settlements first formed they often had one main function. These functions included:

  • port
  • market town
  • resort

What is a settlement hierarchy?

We can catagorise settlements according to their size and shape. The result is a settlement hierarchy.

settlement hierachy

As you move up the settlement hierarchy the size of the settlement increases, as does the population and the range of services available. Smaller settlements tend to provide only low order services such as a post office and newsagents. Whereas, larger settlements have more high order services such as leisure centers and chain stores. As the result of this the larger the settlement, the greater the range of services and therefore the market area or sphere of influence. This is the market area that a settlement services (the distance people will travel to use services).

High order services usually have a high threshold. This means they need a higher number of people to use the service in order to remain profitable. This means high order service such as department stores need a greater number of customers than a low order service such as a newsagent. This is why there are so few department stores in villages!

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