Concentric Zone Model: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:04 Your Neighborhood
  • 0:34 Concentric Zone Model
  • 1:10 Explaining Concentric Zones
  • 2:33 Is the Theory Accurate?
  • 3:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

Have you ever wondered why the bank and grocery store in your town are located where they are? Or how the industrial area ended up where it is? Find out what the concentric zone model is and how it explains why social structures look the way they do.

Your Neighborhood

Think about the layout of your town or neighborhood. Are all the businesses located mostly together, with housing surrounding them? Or maybe you live along a river where most of the commercial buildings are located and people live farther out. There's a reason why buildings are built where they are and urban areas grow in terms of housing and commerce. Social scientists like to examine how and why people and towns end up like they do. Their ideas are called human ecology theories.

The Concentric Zone Model

One such human ecology theory was developed by Ernest Burgess in 1923. Burgess was the first sociologist to pose a theory about why certain social groups are located in specific urban areas. His model was based on the city of Chicago and used a concentric ring to show how urban land was used. He named his theory the concentric zone model, or CZM.

Much like a bulls-eye, the model has what Burgess called the central business district, or CBD, located in the middle and showed the rings surrounding the center as expansion. Let's take a closer look.

Explaining Concentric Zones

Burgess's theory literally centered around the CBD. This region was considered the downtown area and contained businesses and shops. Does this look like where you live?

Four other rings expanded outward from the CBD. The second zone was termed the zone of transition and included a mix of residential and commercial dwellings. This ring also housed recent immigrant groups and was characterized by abandoned buildings and factories, rental homes, poverty and high crime. The third ring was a residential district, and Burgess determined the working man and his family lived here. These were mostly single-family tenements. The next tier housed a residential zone characterized by single-family dwellings, wide lawns and garages. The fathers of these families were well educated and the school systems were more stable. Finally, the last zone, often called the commuter zone, was a suburban area. These mostly upper-class people could afford to live away from the city center and commute to work and shopping from long distances.

As you can see, the population decreases as the circles go outward. Burgess also theorized that those on the inner rings were less wealthy. Living near the city center was a hardship and only those able to afford transportation to work and shopping lived far from the dirty city center.

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Additional Activities

Concentric Zone Model – Writing Prompts

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay that defines the concentric zone model. Also include an explanation of how the concentric zone model theory emerged and what role the concentric business district plays out in this theory.

Example: First define that the concentric zone model (CZM) is a theory used to explain how urban areas develop commercially and residentially, and that the concentric zone model is one of many human ecology theories. Then, provide the history behind the CZM, noting that Ernest Burgess first came up with the theory in 1923. Then explain the way Burgess considered the influence of the concentric business district (CBD) on the CZM.

Essay Prompt 2:

Write an essay that describes how the concentric zone model presents itself in a major US city today, using keywords and concepts from the lesson.

Example: Detroit has a downtown in which there are sports venues, restaurants, and commercial headquarters. The city's zone of transition contains abandoned factories and run-down houses. The area is impoverished and has a high crime rate. Detroit's third ring contains nicer housing and is less crime-ridden. Its residents could be said to be lower-middle class or middle class. The last concentric zone of Detroit is the upper-class suburbs. The crime rate is low and the schools are of high quality.

Essay Prompt 3:

Write an essay in which you explain how the concentric zone model is not always accurate. Tip: It can help to think of a major US city that does not exhibit the characteristics of the CZM and CBD.

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