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The Burgess Model made EASY

    The Burgess Model can be quite complicated to understand, but with this article, it is made easy!

    Who is Ernest Burgess?

    Ernest Burgess was a renowned American sociologist who lived from 1886 to 1966. He played a significant role in the development of urban sociology and is best known for his work on the theory of urban growth and the concentric zone model of urban structure.

    Burgess began his academic journey by studying economics and social work. He later pursued his Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Chicago, where he became a prominent figure in the Chicago School of sociology. Burgess, along with other influential sociologists like Robert Park and Louis Wirth, focused on the study of cities and their social dynamics.

    In 1925, Burgess proposed his most notable contribution to urban sociology, the concentric zone model, also known as the Burgess model. This model presented a theoretical framework for understanding urban growth and the spatial organization of cities. The model suggested that cities develop in a series of concentric zones, with the central business district at the core and subsequent zones radiating outward. Each zone represented different social and economic characteristics, reflecting the changing nature of urban life as one moved away from the center.

    Burgess’s model provided a useful tool for analysing urban processes and understanding the social and economic segregation within cities. Although the model has been subject to criticism and subsequent refinements, Burgess’s work laid the foundation for the field of urban sociology and continues to be influential in urban studies to this day.

    Burgess Model

    Five distinct zones of the Burgess zones

    The Burgess Model describes the different zones that can be found in a city. There are five distinct zones:

    1. Central Business District (CBD): This is the heart of the city where you’ll find tall buildings and lots of businesses. It’s the place where people work and do business. You’ll see offices, shops, banks, and other commercial establishments here. People usually don’t live in the CBD, but it’s a busy place during the day.
    2. Zone of Transition: This is the area just outside the CBD. It’s a mixed-use zone where you’ll find a mix of different types of buildings. Some parts might have offices and warehouses, while others might have older houses or apartment buildings. This zone often has a diverse population, including both low-income residents and some businesses.
    3. Zone of Independent Workers’ Homes: As you move further away from the CBD, you’ll reach this zone. Here, you’ll find older houses and small apartments. The people living here are usually working-class individuals who have jobs like factory workers or manual labourers. The zone might also have small local shops and services for the residents.
    4. Zone of Better Residences: This zone is characterized by nicer and larger houses. It’s where middle-class families live. The houses here are often detached or semi-detached, and the area is more spacious compared to the previous zones. You might find parks, schools, and other amenities for families. This zone is generally quieter and has fewer businesses.
    5. Commuter Zone: This is the outermost zone of the city. It’s where people live who work in the city but prefer to have more space and a quieter environment. The houses here are typically detached and surrounded by gardens. This zone has a suburban feel and is less densely populated. You might find larger shopping centres, supermarkets, and other facilities that cater to the needs of the residents.

    Remember, this model is a simplified representation of urban structure, and real cities can be more complex and diverse. However, the Burgess Model helps us understand how cities can develop different zones with varying characteristics based on their distance from the city centre.

    Here’s a table outlining the five zones of the Burgess Model:

    ZoneCharacteristicsHousingSocio-Economic StatusBusinesses/Services
    Central Business District (CBD)Heart of the city with tall buildings and businessesMostly commercial buildingsBusiness professionalsOffices, shops, banks, restaurants, entertainment venues
    Zone of TransitionMixed-use area with a variety of building typesOlder houses, apartments, warehousesDiverse populationSome small businesses, local shops, services
    Zone of Independent Workers’ HomesOlder houses and small apartmentsModest and affordable housingWorking-class individualsLocal shops, services
    Zone of Better ResidencesNicer and larger housesDetached or semi-detached housesMiddle-class familiesParks, schools, amenities for families
    Commuter ZoneSpacious, detached houses with gardensDetached houses with gardensMiddle-class, commuting to CBDLarger shopping centers, supermarkets, suburban facilities

    Application of the model

    The Burgess Model can be applied to real cities as a framework for understanding and analysing their spatial organisation. While it provides valuable insights, it’s important to note that real cities often exhibit variations and complexities that may deviate from the model’s idealised structure. Here are examples of both successful applications and instances where the model doesn’t fit perfectly:

    Successful Applications:

    London, United Kingdom: The Burgess Model can be applied to London, where the Central Business District (CBD) is located in the City of London, hosting a concentration of financial institutions, corporate offices, and professional services. Moving outward, the Zone of Transition includes areas like Shoreditch and Hackney, which have undergone gentrification, blending older industrial buildings with trendy apartments and creative businesses. The Zone of Independent Workers’ Homes might include areas like East Ham or Barking, where working-class communities reside. Further out, the Zone of Better Residences comprises suburbs like Richmond or Wimbledon, characterized by middle-class families, parks, and amenities. The Commuter Zone encompasses areas like Epping Forest, where people live while commuting to work in the city.

    What is urbanisation?

    Instances where the Model doesn’t fit perfectly:

    Megacities in developing countries: The Burgess Model was primarily developed based on early 20th-century American cities. It may not fully capture the complexity of rapidly growing megacities in developing countries, where urbanisation occurs at a different pace and exhibits diverse forms. In cities like Mumbai, India, or Lagos, Nigeria, the spatial organisation often deviates from the concentric pattern due to rapid migration, informal settlements, and varied economic activities. These cities tend to have multiple commercial centres, informal housing clusters, and unique zones influenced by cultural and socioeconomic factors. Modern urban redevelopment: In some cities, urban redevelopment projects and revitalisation efforts have reshaped their spatial structure, challenging the concentric pattern. For example, cities like Barcelona, Spain, or Portland, Oregon, have adopted urban planning strategies that emphasise mixed-use neighbourhoods, walkability, and vibrant city centres. These approaches blur the boundaries between traditional zones, as residential, commercial, and recreational activities coexist in more integrated and dynamic ways.

    In summary, while the Burgess Model provides a useful starting point for understanding urban structure, it should be applied with flexibility and adaptability to accommodate the diverse and evolving nature of real cities. Local context, historical development, cultural influences, and contemporary urban planning initiatives all contribute to shaping the spatial organisation of cities, sometimes deviating from the concentric pattern originally proposed by Burgess.

    Critiques and limitations

    The Burgess Model has faced several criticisms and limitations due to its over-simplification, age, and limited applicability to modern and non-Western cities. Some key critiques include:

    1. Over-simplification: The Burgess Model presents a linear and uniform progression of urban zones, assuming a consistent pattern across all cities. However, cities are dynamic and complex systems, and their spatial organization is influenced by a multitude of factors such as historical development, cultural dynamics, and economic conditions. The model fails to account for the heterogeneity and variations that exist within and between cities.
    2. Age and Historical Context: The Burgess Model was formulated in the early 20th century when cities had different characteristics and socio-economic structures compared to the present day. Cities have undergone significant changes over time, including shifts in economic activities, transportation systems, and urban planning approaches. The model’s age limits its ability to accurately represent contemporary cities and their evolving patterns.
    3. Non-Western Cities: The Burgess Model’s development was primarily based on Western cities, particularly those in the United States. It may not adequately capture the unique characteristics, spatial patterns, and cultural dynamics of non-Western cities. Urbanization processes, historical legacies, and cultural norms can significantly shape the organization of cities in different regions of the world. Applying the Burgess Model to non-Western contexts can oversimplify and distort the complexities of these cities.
    4. Contemporary Urban Form: Modern cities often exhibit a more complex and decentralised spatial organisation. Factors such as globalisation, suburbanisation, urban sprawl, and the rise of polycentric city models have challenged the concentric structure proposed by Burgess. Many cities today have multiple business districts, mixed-use neighbourhoods, and diverse residential patterns that deviate from the concentric zones outlined in the model.
    5. Social and Cultural Factors: The Burgess Model primarily focuses on physical and economic characteristics of urban zones but overlooks the social and cultural dimensions that influence urban structure. Factors such as ethnic enclaves, social segregation, and the impact of migration on the spatial organization of cities are not adequately captured by the model.

    In conclusion, while the Burgess Model was influential in its time and provided a valuable starting point for understanding urban structure, its limitations in terms of over-simplification, age, and limited representation of modern and non-Western cities should be acknowledged. Contemporary urban studies have moved towards more nuanced and context-specific models that account for the complexities and diversity of urban environments.

    Comparisons with other models

    Here’s a brief comparison of the Burgess Model, Hoyt Sector Model, and Multiple Nuclei Model:

    1. Burgess Model:
      • Focuses on the concentric zones radiating out from the central business district (CBD).
      • Assumes a linear progression of zones, with each zone representing different land uses and socio-economic characteristics.
      • Emphasizes the importance of distance from the CBD as a determining factor in the spatial organization of a city.
      • Overlooks the influence of transportation routes and other factors in shaping urban patterns.
    2. Hoyt Sector Model:
      • Introduces the concept of sectors, which expand outward from the CBD along transportation routes.
      • Assumes that different sectors develop based on specific land-use patterns and socio-economic characteristics.
      • Recognizes the influence of transportation corridors in shaping the direction of urban growth.
      • Reflects the radial expansion of cities and the tendency for certain activities to concentrate in specific sectors.
    3. Multiple Nuclei Model:
      • Views cities as having multiple centers or nuclei, rather than a single CBD.
      • Recognizes that various specialized activities and land uses can develop independently throughout the city.
      • Zones are formed based on the presence of different functional nuclei, such as industrial centers, university campuses, or cultural districts.
      • Allows for more complex and diverse urban structures compared to the concentric patterns in the Burgess Model.


    Burgess and Hoyt models both consider the influence of distance from the CBD on urban development, with the Burgess Model emphasising concentric zones and the Hoyt Model focusing on sectors along transportation routes.

    The Multiple Nuclei Model differs from both the Burgess and Hoyt models by recognising the existence of multiple centres and the independent development of specialised activities within a city.

    The Burgess and Hoyt models offer more simplified representations of urban structure, while the Multiple Nuclei Model captures the complexity and diversity of urban landscapes.

    Overall, these models provide different perspectives on the spatial organisation of cities and highlight the importance of factors such as distance, transportation, and the presence of specialised centres. Each model offers valuable insights into urban geography, allowing researchers and planners to better understand and analyse the dynamics of urban development.

    What is urbanisation?

    Is it relevant today?

    The Burgess Model, despite its limitations and critiques, still holds relevance in understanding urban patterns today. While it may not perfectly represent the complexity of contemporary cities, it serves as a foundational concept in urban geography and has influenced subsequent models and theories. Here’s how the Burgess Model has been adapted and evolved to fit modern urban patterns:

    1. Modified Concentric Models: Researchers have developed modified versions of the concentric model that account for the diverse and evolving nature of cities. These adaptations consider factors such as gentrification, urban redevelopment, and the influence of transportation networks. For example, the “Polycentric Zone Model” acknowledges the presence of multiple centres within a city, highlighting the formation of specialised zones beyond the traditional concentric pattern.
    2. Urban Growth Patterns: The Burgess Model’s recognition of urban growth radiating from the CBD is still applicable, but with adaptations to reflect modern urban growth patterns. Urban sprawl, the rise of suburbs, and the development of edge cities have challenged the concentric pattern. Models like the “Peripheral Model” or “Galactic City Model” have emerged to capture the spatial expansion and fragmentation of contemporary cities.
    3. Urban Planning and Policy: While not a direct adaptation, the Burgess Model has influenced urban planning and policy decisions. Planners and policymakers have used the model as a framework to guide land use planning, zoning regulations, and transportation infrastructure. However, modern planning approaches have moved towards more flexible and context-specific strategies that consider social, economic, and environmental factors beyond the concentric zones.
    4. Comparative Studies: The Burgess Model remains relevant in comparative urban studies, where scholars analyze and compare the spatial organization of cities across different regions and time periods. By using the model as a reference point, researchers can identify similarities, differences, and the impact of various factors on urban development.

    In summary, while the Burgess Model may not fully capture the complexities of modern urban patterns, it still offers valuable insights and serves as a starting point for understanding urban geography. Its adaptations and evolutions, along with the emergence of alternative models, reflect efforts to capture the diverse and dynamic nature of contemporary cities and address the limitations of the original model.

    Key takeways

    Key takeaways about the Burgess Model are as follows:

    1. Urban Structure: The Burgess Model provides a theoretical framework for understanding the spatial organisation of cities, based on concentric zones radiating out from the central business district (CBD).
    2. Concentric Zones: The model proposes a pattern of urban growth with distinct concentric zones, each representing different land uses, socio-economic characteristics, and housing types.
    3. Distance from CBD: The distance from the CBD is a significant factor in determining the characteristics of each zone, with the inner zones typically having higher population density and more intense commercial activity.
    4. Social and Economic Segregation: The Burgess Model highlights the socio-economic segregation within cities, with higher-income residents tending to reside in outer zones and lower-income individuals concentrated closer to the CBD.
    5. Simplification and Limitations: While the model provides a useful starting point, it oversimplifies the complexity of real cities and may not accurately represent modern or non-Western cities.
    6. Adaptations and Evolutions: The Burgess Model has been adapted and modified to better fit contemporary urban patterns, such as the inclusion of multiple nuclei or sector-based models that account for diverse urban growth.
    7. Comparative and Analytical Tool: Despite its limitations, the Burgess Model remains relevant in comparative urban studies and serves as a basis for understanding and analyzing urban structure.

    It’s important to remember that the Burgess Model is a simplification of urban reality, and cities can deviate from its idealised concentric pattern due to various factors. Therefore, while the model provides valuable insights, it should be applied with caution and considered in conjunction with other urban theories and real-world context.


    Here are 10 frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the Burgess Model along with their answers:

    What is the Burgess Model?

    How many zones are there in the Burgess Model?

    What factors determine the characteristics of each zone in the Burgess Model?

    Distance from the CBD is a key factor influencing the characteristics of each zone in the Burgess Model.

    What is the typical land use in the CBD according to the Burgess Model?

    The CBD in the Burgess Model is characterised by a concentration of commercial activities, office buildings, and government institutions.

    Are the inner zones or the outer zones of the Burgess Model more densely populated?

    The inner zones, closer to the CBD, tend to have higher population density in the Burgess Model.

    Does the Burgess Model account for social and economic segregation?

    Yes, the Burgess Model highlights socio-economic segregation, with higher-income residents often residing in the outer zones and lower-income individuals closer to the CBD.

    Is the Burgess Model applicable to all cities worldwide?

    The Burgess Model was primarily developed based on early 20th-century American cities and may not accurately represent modern or non-Western cities. It should be applied with caution and adapted to specific contexts.

    How has the Burgess Model been modified or adapted?

    Over time, adaptations of the Burgess Model have emerged, such as including multiple nuclei or sector-based models to better fit contemporary urban patterns and accommodate the complexity of real cities.

    Can the Burgess Model be used to compare different cities?

    Yes, the Burgess Model serves as a comparative tool, allowing researchers to analyze and compare the spatial organisation of cities across different regions and time periods.

    Is the Burgess Model still relevant today?

    While the Burgess Model has limitations, it remains relevant as a foundational concept in urban geography, providing insights into urban structure. However, it should be used alongside other theories and adapted to fit the complexities of modern cities.

    To Conclude

    As you can see, the Burgess Model can be very useful when applied to particular contexts. If you enjoyed this article, I am sure you will like these too: