Primate City Definition Geography
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A primate city is a city that is the largest in its country, province, state, or region, and disproportionately larger than any others in the urban hierarchy. A primate city distribution is a rank-size distribution that has one very large city with many much smaller cities and towns, and no intermediate-sized urban centers: a king effect, visible as an outlier on an otherwise linear graph, when the rest of the data fit a power law or stretched exponential function.
The law of the primate city was first proposed by the geographer Mark Jefferson in 1939. He defines a primate city as being \"at least twice as large as the next largest city and more than twice as significant.\" Aside from size and population, a primate city will usually have precedence in all other aspects of its country's society such as economics, politics, culture, and education. Primate cities also serve as targets for the majority of a country or region's internal migration.
In geography, the phenomenon of excessive concentration of population and development of the main city of a country or a region (often to the detriment of other areas) is called urban primacy or urban macrocephaly.
Urban primacy can be measured as the share of a country's population that lives in the primate city. Relative primacy indicates the ratio of the primate city's population to that of the second largest in a country or region.
Some global cities are considered national or regional primate cities. An example of a global city that is as a primate city is Istanbul in Turkey. Istanbul serves as the primate city of Turkey due to the unmatched economic, political, cultural, and educational influence that the city possesses in comparison to other Turkish cities such as the capital Ankara, İzmir, or Bursa. Another example is London in the United Kingdom. However, not all regions or countries will even possess a primate city. The United States has never had a primate city on a national level due to the decentralized nature of the country, and because the second-largest city of the country, Los Angeles, is not far behind in population and GDP, from the largest city of the country, New York City. The metropolitan area of New York City has 21 million residents and Los Angeles has 16 million residents. Mexico City, Paris, Cairo, Jakarta, and Seoul have been described as primate cities in their respective countries.
Sub-national divisions can also have primate cities. For instance, New York City is New York State's primate city because its population is 32 times bigger than the state's second-largest city of Buffalo. New York City has 44% of the population and has 65% of the GDP of New York State. China does not have a primate city at a national level, but a number of provincial capitals are disproportionately larger than other urban areas in the respective province. For example Henan, Hubei and Sichuan have provincial capitals (Zhengzhou, Wuhan, and Chengdu respectively) that are significantly larger than the second-largest city despite these provinces having the population of a large European country.
Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, has been called \"the most primate city on Earth\" when it was 40 times larger than the second-largest city of that time, Nakhon Ratchasima, in the year 2000. As of 2022, Bangkok is nearly nine times larger than Thailand's current second-largest city of Chiang Mai. Taking the concept from his examination of the primate city during the 2010 Thai political protests and applying it to the role that primate cities play if they are national capitals, researcher Jack Fong noted that when primate cities like Bangkok function as national capitals, they are inherently vulnerable to insurrection by the military and the dispossessed. He cites the fact that most primate cities serving as national capitals contain major headquarters for the country. Thus, logistically, it is rather \"efficient\" for national targets to be contested since they are all in one major urban environment.
The metropolitan area of the city of Moscow, the capital of Russia, is almost four times the size of the metropolitan area of the next largest city, Saint Petersburg, and plays a unique and uncontested role of the cultural and political center of the country. It can therefore be considered to be a primate city.
Primate cities need not be capital cities: governments may attempt to establish a new planned capital city to challenge the primacy of the largest city and provide more balanced growth, for example in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam can still be considered a primate city although the capital was moved to Dodoma in 1996. A non-capital primate city may also emerge organically: for example, the existing city of Wellington was chosen to be New Zealand's capital in 1865, although Auckland commands a greater share of the population and economy.
Although Belize does not have a primate city, Belize City is more than twice the size of San Ignacio, the country's second-largest city/urban area. It is also the cultural and economic centre of Belize. The capital is Belmopan, third-largest in the country.
Primate cities have the highest population of an entire country, hosting at least twice the population of the second largest city. Primate cities are usually highly-developed and major functions (economic, political, and cultural) are performed there. Other cities in the country tend to be smaller and less developed, with most national focus revolving around the primate city. The primate city rule is primarily a theory before it is a rule.
There are numerous reasons why primate cities develop instead of following the rank-size rule. This can depend on socioeconomic factors, physical geography, and historical events. The primate city concept is meant to explain why some countries have one major city, whereas other countries have smaller cities scattered around their country.
The primate city theory has been largely debunked, but it can provide insight into the development of geographic thought for a generation of geographers trying to understand city sizes and growth patterns.
Essentially, a primate city is considerably larger and more influential than any other city within a country. Jefferson argued that a primate city has the greatest national influence, and 'unifies' the country together. For a primate city to be achieved, a country had to reach a level of 'maturity' to attain the level of regional and global influence.
It's important to note, Jefferson was not the first geographer to theorize a primate city rule. Geographers and scholars before him attempted to understand the complexity of countries and cities at a time of limited technology and increasingly complex economic, social, and urban phenomena.
At the time, Jefferson's rule was applied to developed countries, with the exception of the US. Many geographers afterward attributed the primate city rule to developing countries, albeit more negatively. Whereas it was believed to be a positive thing before the 1940s, a harsher narrative began when describing rising population growth in cities of the developing world. The primate city concept was sometimes used to justify racist attitudes of the time.
Common characteristics of a primate city included patterns seen in most large, dense cities. Countries have changed dramatically since these characteristics have been set. However, they can generally be attributed to major cities in developing countries.
A primate city will have a very large population in comparison to other cities within the country, and may even be considered a megacity or metacity globally. It will have a well-established transportation and communication system that aims to connect all parts of the country to the city. It will be a hub for major businesses, with most financial institutions and foreign investment concentrated there.
A primate city is similar to other major capital cities in that it can provide educational and economic opportunities that other parts of the country cannot. A city is considered a primate city when it's compared to other towns and cities within the country. If it's strikingly larger and more influential, it's likely a primate city.
The primate city concept is usually taught alongside the rank-size rule. This is because the distribution and size of cities vary not only between countries but also between different time periods. Whereas Europe and North America experienced industrialization, urbanization, and population growth earlier (the late 1800s), other countries and regions in the world experienced these developments later (the mid-1900s).
Similar to the primate city rule, the rank-size rule is an outdated statistical model to apply to cities. There have been numerous journal articles using the same rule in different countries around the world. One of the main conclusions is that this theory can only apply to a small set of countries, namely some sub-samples in the US and China.3 Without larger evidence for this rule to apply, it seems likely irrelevant in describing the distribution of cities.
There are several criticisms both of primate cities themselves, as well as the theory behind them. While primate cities have a lot of influence within their respective countries, this can lead to political and economic marginalization.4 As the focus of development is placed primarily on the primate city, other areas of a country may be neglected. This can be detrimental to ongoing development in a country.
The theory behind the primate city was published during a time when many colonies were just gaining independence. Many countries began industrializing and experiencing population growth in major cities. Jefferson's theory primarily discussed the maturity and influence of major cities in industrialized countries such as London, Paris, and Moscow.5 However, the timing of his theory alongside the independence of European colonies s