Rural Settlement Pattern Types

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  • 0:04 Going to the Country
  • 0:31 What Exactly Is Rural?
  • 1:48 Settlement Types
  • 3:36 Settlement Patterns
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

In this lesson, we'll explore the different types and patterns of rural settlements. Additionally, we'll discuss some of the factors that help determine these types and patterns.

Going to the Country

Have you visited the country? Did it have a village, or were all the houses spread out among the farms? If it had a village, can you think of a reason all the houses were clustered? What geographic features did you see? Why do people live in certain types of communities with so much empty farmland around it? Before delving into this topic, we should take a moment to clearly define what we mean by rural, including the settlement types and patterns.

What Exactly is Rural?

Rural is a difficult term to define. In some senses, it means the landscape and habitations outside of cities and towns. But what about small towns and villages surrounded by fields? For our purposes, rural refers to areas outside of cities where a large amount of the surrounding land is used for agriculture or animal pastures. This also helps delineate non-city areas that are just forested, something you wouldn't often think of as rural.

Rural settlement types refer to how the people of a community live in relation to the land. Are they stacked close together with the farmland outside their tight living quarters? Or is the landscape divided into individual farms with a farmhouse on each plot? Finally, rural settlement patterns refer to the shape of a community based on how it arranges houses.

Rural landscapes take many forms
Rural Landscape

There are a number of factors that help determine both the type and pattern of a rural settlement, but they generally fall into two categories:

  • Physical factors, including the terrain, quality of the land for farming, and defense. Remember, ancient communities and some places today must prepare for raiders.
  • Cultural factors, including how people traditionally use the land, ideas of ownership, the crops they choose to grow, social hierarchy, and transportation availability.

Settlement Types

There are generally three types of settlements: compact, semi-compact, and dispersed. Each is based on its population density.

Compact settlements have the highest density of population. They have homes stacked together, often touching at the sides or stacked in multi-family buildings. Streets tend to be narrow between the rows of homes. We often find this type of arrangement in highly fertile floodplains. Houses are stacked together at a point of higher ground, which is sensible for flood-prone areas, while the majority of land uses the fertile alluvial deposits for farming.

Compact settlement

Also referred to as a hamlet, a term for rural villages, semi-compact settlements are often considered a phase of transition to a compact settlement. The houses in a semi-compact settlement still have a good amount of space between the homes, but they are clustered in a definitive boundary instead of spread throughout the surrounding countryside. Researchers believe that the growth of population will add pressure to build new homes and fill in the spaces, producing a compact settlement. However, we see these types of settlements in areas less prone to flood, which may indicate that the community will continue to grow outward with the same space between homes.

Semi-compact Settlement

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