Urban Planning is a process that borrows from people’s experiences and requirements. The planning approach for each city has to be tailor-made for its users and must pave way for the hassle-free day-to-day functioning of all allied functions. Several theories were proposed by architects, planners, and philosophers from various cultural backgrounds with the sole purpose of creating an efficient planning model that could solve zoning-related, environmental, and even social problems. In the late 19th century, various schools of thought came forward to express their interpretation of what an ideal city should look like. One such example was the Concentric Zone Model or the Burgess model proposed by Sir Ernest Burgess of the Chicago School in 1925.

The prototype aimed to express the overall urban social structure by radially mapping the distribution of social groups within urban areas. It resembled the ripple effect created by a pebble thrown into the pond and its ultimate goal was to act as a reference for urban land usage that is depicted in the form of 5 concentric rings. It is believed to be a modernized version of Von Thunen’s regional planning model which explored a similar ideology.

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Concentric Zone Model ©thegeographeronline.net

According to this model, the town is divided into the CBD (central business district), Transitional residential/commercial area, low-income housing, high-income housing, and commuter zone. With the CBD at the center of the setup, this model explores the logic behind a very practically accurate planning strategy. The main mixed-use area lies at the core which will experience a large footfall. The low-income housing areas form the inner suburbs, that line the immediate periphery which is closer to the CBD, hence logically providing low-cost housing to the workers, industrial workers who can easily take the public transport to work every day due to a shorter distance because of the financial situation. As we move towards the outermost ring, we see the high-income housing or outer suburbs, wherein the monetarily stable, rich industrialists and other merchants can buy houses because they can afford to be away from the CBD and have private vehicles to reach the core. Between these three main zones, are the transitional spaces or commuter zones which provide for better connectivity and bind the whole model together. Burgess’ model helped to build the Bid Rent curve, which states that areas of immediate adjacency to the CBD, should be more expensive than the outer suburbs due to easier access to the core. This model is a more detailed version of the Down-mid-uptown divide. It was a product of a very theoretically accurate ideology, which was too simplified to be executed, hence eventually being subjected to severe criticism by the Urban geographers.

Urban Planning: An analysis of Concentric Zone Model - Sheet2
Concentric Zone Model ©Prezi.com

The model failed to take into consideration Urban gentrification, globalization and the overall impact these two would have on the modern planning approach. The model was conceived to be built on an isotropic plane that would remain static with an unchanging landscape. Which is not a possibility in modern cities. A more polycentric city approach would’ve helped the model to sustain because a single core, in today’s era just means a crowded land use which is also overburdened. Several pockets serving the mixed-use purpose, scattered throughout the zoning would have eased the pressure on the core. It is also very ironic how today; the city is meant to be rich due to better access to all facilities and the overall land is more expensive than the suburbs which are far away from the core and have cheaper real estate standing. This is peculiarly opposite of what is seen in most American cities, where the main city is poor and the suburbs are rich. The model, unfortunately, states the exact opposite and fails to be relevant in the current planning scenario.

The Concentric zone model would have worked for cities in the past that did not have modern concepts like transport-orientated development and smart planning. The model managed to successfully establish the growth of affluent neighbourhoods towards the outermost ring but failed to understand the impact of gentrification on these areas that would lead to a change in their character due to increased demographics.

Such minute aspects and a vision for the future is necessary to propose a solid model that takes into consideration a long 100 years. Burgess’ model hence simplified radial planning but failed to provide practical solutions. Although, one cannot ignore the fact that such Urban land-use models have many complex layers to them that are a reflection of the area’s cultural, social, and economical values. They also help to document the existing problems systematically and provide region-specific solutions.

“In great cities, spaces, as well as places, are designed and built: walking, witnessing, being in public, are as much part of the design and purpose as is being inside to eat, sleep, make shoes or love or music. The word citizen has to do with cities, and the ideal city is organized around citizenship — around participation in public life.”

― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking


Tanvi Gavaskar is an Architecture student from Mumbai. Having interned at notable Heritage Conservation firms in Mumbai and New York, she understands the value of diversity in architecture and the hence, documents every minute interesting detail she comes across. She is passionate about penning down her thoughts and ideas.