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Factors that contributed to the origin and development of cities

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In many forms of settlements the status of the cities have been determined by factors and various other influences; these are known as urban form determinants. There are three different sources of determinants. Firstly, are the geographical ‘natural world’ determinants. These include the climate, topography and the availability of construction materials. The second are known as ‘man made’ determinants which are comprised of many things such as economic, political, religious, defence. Thirdly are ‘location’ determinants, which make up organic growth settlements and planned urban settlements (Morris[1], 1994)

As discussed,’Natural world’ determinants are made up of topography, climate and construction materials. These determinants were attributes to the location of a settlement. They played a part in the shaping of all historic urban form, both organic growth and planned settlements. These mainly contributed to the origin of cities. (Morris[1], 1994).

The topography is the description or representation on a map of the surface features of any area, including land forms and other objects, and aspects of natural origin (Readers Digest, 1964). The settlements are determined by the terrain on which people settle. Morris (1,1994) describes the different types of terrain such as hilltop, seaside, river side and prairie areas. It is extremely difficult to build a settlement on land with a gradient (such as a hillside) and so land should be flat wherever possible, this is because of mud slides and steep slopes. This should not be confused, as it often is, with low-lying land: indeed the top of a high hill or plateau may also be flat. However, it is possible to build a settlement on a gradient, though this is considerably more time consuming and expensive. This tends to be done only where there is limited space (Dilley, Earle, Euston-Brown, Keats, Ravenscroft, 2001). This explains why early settlers always looked for level ground to settle on.

The fertility of the soil is a contributing factor to the origin of a city, as people migrate towards cities with fertile soil in order to grow crops. An example of this is in Greece where the land is very fertile, but it is a very mountainous area with limited land available. This resulted in many small independent states which each had a mountainous urban nucleus, surrounded by countryside. Morris (1,1994)considers how natural features contributed to the shape of the settlements by determining the boundaries between them.

Climate is the complex in average of atmospheric phenomena which includes temperature, rainfall, humidity and wind. This happens near the earths surface over a period of years (Reader’s Digest Association, 1964). The structure of the architecture of the buildings in the early settlements was influenced by the climatic conditions of the area in which they settled. The need for man to shelter himself against the climatic conditions was of great importance in the establishment of cities. For example, in Greece, people were forced to build houses incorporating much ventilation, due to the country’s high temperatures and the lack of rainfall during the summer. This in turn encouraged a lifestyle of open air living, which forged democracy and free thought as a way of life (Morris[1], 1994).

Construction materials refers to the local availability of materials used to construct cities (Reader’s Digest, 1964). The abundance of local materials determined the medium of which the buildings were to be predominantly built. Either wood or stone was needed to build early settlements, therefore a forest, wood or hillside with crags was required to source the materials (Morris[1], 1994). It would therefore, be vital that these were readily available. Today, more choices are of course available; whereas in these earlier times settlements would need wood for fuel, therefore an area densely populated with trees would be chosen as the settlement site. In Greece there was an abundance of marble so their architecture and sculpture was mainly made of this medium. Similarly, this determinant made people look to settle close to the supply of this construction material. The easy accessibility made it economically viable because it eliminated transportation costs if the materials were locally and geographically available (Morris[1], 1994)

There are many ‘man made’ determinants, but only economic, political, religious and defence will be discussed. The number of ‘man made’ determinants has been increasing and continues to do so. This determinant was, as the name suggests, brought about by man. These determinants have played a major role in the urban formation and growth of settlements. These mainly contributed to the development of cities (Morris[1], 1994)

An economic factor in a city is a market place that is central for people to access, also the making and selling of goods occur here(Morris[1], 1994). People would barter with goods in order to obtain different basic essentials required for daily living. In some medieval towns the entire city was a market place or place of trade (Morris[2], Grant, Isenman, Martell, McRae, Malam, Pollard, 2001). An example of a economy with such a settlement is that of Jericho. Though the economy of Jericho was based primarily upon the farming of wheat and barley, there is considerable evidence of reliance on both hunting and trade. Domesticated goats provided meat and milk, while gazelles and various marsh birds were hunted for their flesh, hides, and feathers. The town was close to large supplies of salt, sulfur, and pitch. These materials, which were in great demand in this era, were traded for obsidian – dark, glasslike volcanic rock – semiprecious stones from Anatolia, turquoise from the Sinai, and cowrie shells from the Red Sea. (www.wikipedia.org.).

A political determinant is illustrated in the city state of classical Greece. Ancient Greece was the birth place of democracy where the people ruled. All male citizens met at the acropolis to partake in decision making where each speaker was given time to voice his political opinion. The term ‘democracy’ comes from two Greek words, ‘demos’ meaning people and ‘kratos’ meaning rule. In reference to ancient Greece, Pericles was considered the most powerful ruler in Athens. During his leadership, office bearers, including poorer citizens, were paid to contribute to the governance. He also rebuilt Athens following the Persian wars which resulted in the development of Piraeus, the port of Greece (Morris[2] eral, 2001)(Hooker, 1996).

Religion was the basis of people’s beliefs. The place where people gave devotion or religious beliefs was not always the biggest building in the city, although it had something extraordinary about it. For example it was the tallest or most visually attractive building. These were structures such as towers and dome skylining elements. The church was the biggest owner of urban land. This has remained throughout time, up until today. The construction of religious buildings was high in labour costs and very expensive. Religious buildings include the Pyramids in Egypt and the Catholic church which was exemplified by Santiago de Compostela (Morris[1], 1994).

There are different types of defence; such as defence against enemies and defence from the weather. From the beginning of early settlements, people have had to defend their land from enemies who have tried to take it for themselves. This started and led to wars. People would attempt to invade other settlements in order to take control of the land and resources. Because of this, in the present day when viewing old settlements, it can be observed that they are well fortified so as to defend themselves from external attacks. They would build long, high walls or palisades around the settlements (Morris[2] eral, 2001).

There was also defence against the weather. It is important the direction that the settlement faces; this is geographically known as aspect. In early settlements, it was important that agricultural land faced south so that the sun shone directly on the land. If land faces south in the southern hemisphere, it always has the sun shining directly on it. Shelter from the weather, especially in winter was essential for survival. Building a settlement in a valley was a useful way of avoiding harsh winds. Today, a consideration of aspect is made as a routine part of most settlement planning (Dilley eral, 2001).

‘Locational’ determinants are the underlying reasons for the presents on where the settlements are situated. These are organic growth and planned urban settlement.

Organic growth is the availability of clean water and the continuous supply or source of one or more essentials for the settlement, for example food. These are known as primary location determinants (Morris[1], 1994). Rivers can be useful supply of water in themselves, or adversely as agents of flooding. However, an important fact about rivers as a site factor is that they can be crossed, either by bridge or ford. A river that couldn’t be crossed would have been a major problem for early settlements, particularly if they couldn’t escape across it during an attack. Rivers can now be crossed by building bridges. Washing, drinking and cooking activities all require water, and it was vital to have an adequate supply especially during the summer. Springs, wells and rivers provided supplies, though it was important also to take into consideration avoiding excess water, to prevent flooding and damage. Nowadays, settlements have water piped to them, but it is still a consideration to be sited near to the mains supply or in a region that actually has adequate rainfall to sustain a supply. It was important then and is still important to ensure that settlements are not built on areas that will flood, or are marshy (as the settlement will sink).

This isn’t always possible to see, particularly if the floods only occur every few years, or there isn’t a flood whilst building the settlement. Many settlements flood each year for these reasons and in fact some settlements in many poorer parts of the world are built on flood areas – this is because flooding provides fertile alluvium to agricultural land (Dilley eral, 2001).

Planned urban settlements are divided into two different types of determinants; the first is that of immediate locational criteria, the second being the social, political and economic reasons for the regional or national siting. Immediate locational criteria was the method of choosing the site for a planned new town, and this included factors such as immediate access to drinking water and a food source. In all essence it is similar to the organic growth with the village origin added in. The social political and economic reasons are illustrated in a number of contributing factors. These factors influenced the creation of planned urban settlements. The need arose from a military take over, a commercial and/or agricultural opportunity, exploitation of mineral wealth, the need to disperse overcrowding creating colonies and the need to immigrate. Religious and mystical beliefs which resulted in pilgrimages, also played a significant role in these settlements.


From the evidence given in the above essay, the origin and development of cities was determined by ‘natural world’, ‘man made’ and ‘locational’ determinants. These determinants have shaped and moulded the cities that we live in today. Where the ‘natural determinants have given us the origin to our civilisation and has evolved from a simple village into sophisticated urban city. The ‘man made’ determinants have developed and will keep on developing what we are and will become.

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