The study of settlement patterns is one of the most important subjects of urban geography. Settlements can range in size from a small village with a few hundred residents to a metropolitan city of over one million people. Geographers often study the reasons why cities develop where they do and what factors lead to a settlement becoming a large city over time or remaining as a small village.
Some of the reasons behind these growth patterns are related to the area's site and its situation. "Site" and "situation" are two essential concepts in the study of urban geography.
The "site" is the actual location of a settlement on the Earth, and the term includes the physical characteristics of the landscape specific to the area. Site factors include landforms, climate, vegetation, availability of water, soil quality, minerals, and wildlife. Examples of site factors include whether an area is protected by mountains or if there is a natural harbor present.
Historically, such factors led to the development of major cities worldwide. New York City, for example, is located where it is because of several site factors. As people arrived in North America from Europe, they began to settle in this area because it had a coastal location with a natural harbor. There was also an abundance of fresh water in the nearby Hudson River and small creeks, as well as raw materials for building supplies.
The site of an area can also create challenges for its population. The small Himalayan nation of Bhutan is a good example of this. Located within the world's highest mountain range, the terrain of the country is extremely rugged, making transportation within the country very difficult. This, combined with the incredibly harsh climate in many areas of the country, has made much of the population settle along rivers in the highlands just south of the Himalayas. Only 2% of the land in the nation is arable, with much of it located in the highlands, and so making a living in this nation is highly challenging.
The "situation" is defined as the location of a place relative to its surroundings and other places. Factors included in an area's situation include the accessibility of the location, the extent of a place's connections with another, and how close an area may be to raw materials if they are not located specifically on the site.
Though its site has made living in the nation challenging, Bhutan's situation has allowed it to maintain its policies of isolation as well as its own highly separated and traditionally religious culture.
Because of its remote location in the Himalayas, entering the country is challenging and, historically, this has been beneficial because the mountains have been a form of protection. The heartland of the nation has never been invaded. Bhutan now controls many of the most strategic mountain passes in the Himalayas, including the only ones into and out of its territory, leading to its title as the "Mountain Fortress of the Gods."
Like an area's site, however, its situation can also cause problems. For example, Canada's eastern provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island are some of that country's most economically downtrodden areas, due in large part to their situations. These areas are isolated from the rest of Canada, which makes manufacturing and the little agriculture possible too expensive. There are very few natural resources in proximity to these provinces. Many are off the coast; due to maritime laws, the government of Canada itself controls the resources. Moreover, the traditional fishing economies of the region are today crashing along with the fish populations.
The Importance of Site and Situation in Today's Cities
As shown in the examples of New York City, Bhutan, and Canada's east coast, an area's site and situation played a significant role in its development, both within its boundaries and on the world stage. These phenomena have shaped history and are part of the reason why places like London, Tokyo, New York City, and Los Angeles were able to grow into the prosperous cities they are today.
As nations around the world continue to develop, their sites and situations will continue to play a large role in whether or not they will be successful. Though today's ease of transportation and new technologies such as the Internet are bringing nations closer together, the physical landscape of an area, as well as its location in relation to its desired market, will still play a large role in whether or not a particular area will grow to become the next great world city.