Spatial Organization and Structure in Geography: Examples, Concept and Factors Affecting Spatial Organization

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Spatial organizationor spatial structure is the way a group or phenomenon is arranged on the surface of the Earth; it is concerned with the arrangement of public and private space in cities and the degree of connectivity and accessibility. However, human geography emphasizes on spaces, locations and places. This encompasses spatial structures and patterns of social interaction. For instance, this is visible in the urban structures of cities or in the spatial organization of economic areas. But it also includes spaces in our minds, geographical imaginations and the symbolic character of places.

Fundamental Conceptof Spatial Organization/Spatial Structure

Space in which people are located is the space in which we live, it is more psychological than absolute; therefore in explaining spatial interaction, what is important is not how far interacting places are from each other in absolute terms, but rather how far the people at the two places think they are apart in terms of time and cost. However, time, and cost are therefore very important in determinant of perceived space (deals with the definition of one location based on the location of another object) and absolute distances (measurement of space between two places, this can be measured with a standard unit length, such as a mile or kilometer).

They are therefore better explanatory variable of spatial interaction and spatial behaviour. Warntz (1958), stated that space and time are to be recognized not just as incurring external frictions, but rather as dimensions of the economic system and hence to be treated isomorphically in the rigid pattern of mathematical physics.

Factors Affecting Location and Spatial Interaction

There are four categories of factors that may be identified which influence the way man attempt to use space efficiently and they influence location and spatial interaction, they include:

  1. The spatial characteristics of space
  2. The nature of the environment
  3. The socio-economic characteristics
  4. The historical inertia

Spatial Characteristics of Space

The main spatial characteristics that influence location and interaction include distance accessibility, agglomeration, size, shape and relative location.

  • Distance– this is a measure of spatial separation either in physical terms or in terms of time and cost. Distance limits the area of the earth which man could utilize; mans ability to cover distance encourages him to make more intensive use of whatever space is available to him. Distance is therefore, usually regarded as a barrier to communication and interaction in space, it dictates the amount of space man can use.
  • Accessibility– it is the ease of reaching a point, this unlike distance, promotes spatial interaction. The more accessible a particular location is to other locations, the greater the interaction between them. Accessibility may be measured in terms of either physical accessibility or socio-cultural accessibility. Generally, central locations are more accessible in physical terms than peripheral locations; central locations attract higher accessibility than peripheral locations.
  • Agglomeration– this refers to the grouping of people or activities for mutual benefits. Agglomeration minimizes distance and therefore promotes spatial interactions. It also enhances social satisfaction and facilitates exchange of information. Economically, agglomeration ensures increased production efficiency by associations of related industries. It also ensures distribution efficiency by grouping buyers and sellers of goods and services together. Agglomeration also brings about threshold population (minimum population that can be sustained by the availability of resources.
  • Size– the size and complexity of organization affects the cost of maintaining, control, transporting goods efficiently and communicating with other people. These activities are usually cheaper and easier within a compact territory than within a rectangular territory. An irregular shape may lead to regionalization, diversity and difficulty of control. An irregular shape also prevents the flow of interaction.
  • Relative Location– the relative location of an area usually determines the degree of interaction of the area with other regions. Central locations as well as locations along transportation and communication network (road, river and railway) usually enhance greater interaction in space and have great impact on economic potentials and viability of a space.

The Nature of Environment (Environmental Factors)

The major elements of an environment which affect location and interaction in space include landform, climate, soils, vegetation, water body and natural resources.

  • Landforms- the nature of the terrain affects location and interaction in space. The location of human economic activities is usually influenced by the degree of slope and ruggedness of the terrain. For instance, locations of agricultural activities, urban and industrial activities are usually affected by the nature of relief. Landform conditions also affect transportation and communication. For examples, mountainous areas constitute the major barriers to interaction.
  • Water Bodies and Water Features– water bodies serve as important sources for cheap transportation and communication; River junctions are therefore advantageous locations for exchange and interaction. As transport is very important in urban economy, locations by a river are usually advantageous for larger towns and cities
  • Climate– climate affects the location of economic activities in many ways. For example, agricultural activities may be a restriction to locations where the climate is suitable. The locations of settlements also reflect the pattern of favourable climate as well as location of industries. The major climatic elements, which affect the location and interaction, are temperature and precipitation.
  • Soil– soil characteristics affect the location of a numof economic activities such as agriculture and forestry.
  • Vegetation– vegetation cover is both a barrier and a factor for location of economic activities. As a factor for location, vegetation cover provides raw materials, which may attract location of economic activities like industries, e.g. the timber and wood industries. As a barrier (constraint) vegetation cover causes great difficulties in transportation, communication and interaction in space.

Natural resources

  • Natural resources– they are elements of nature which man uses to help satisfy his needs. But because natural resources are unevenly distributed over the earth surface, they have played an important role in determining the pattern of location of economic activities such as industries and the pattern of inter-regional trade between locations which are well endowed with resources and those that are deficient in resources. Environmental influences on location and interaction are usually measured in terms of the cost of carrying on a particular activity such as agriculture, commerce or industry. Environment places a number of limits or controls on the possibilities of economic development. It also governs the cost of exploiting natural conditions and facilitates interaction in certain areas.

Socio- Economic Factors that Influence Spatial Location and Interaction

These include comparative advantage, cultural factors, technological factors and political factors.

  • Comparative advantage– this is usually seen as gift of nature, a place with more resources availability has a comparative advantage over a place with limited resources. Spatial and environmental factors usually make some location more advantageous than others for certain economic activities. Thus, certain locations have a comparative advantage over the other. The possession of comparative advantage by regions connotes the need for interaction especially inter-regional trade. Comparative advantage can also be measured based on how resources is well managed. For example, if a place with less resource can manage its resource well, it has a comparative advantage over a place with much resource who cannot manage.
  • Cultural factors– certain locations and interaction in space are based on cultural factors such as attitudes beliefs, and other cultural practices. Interaction is usually greater among communities which display similar cultures than those with dissimilar cultures.
  • Technological factors– the location of certain economic activities are partly a function of technological and developmental level of the economy. Supply, quality and price of labour, availability and price of capital and the availability of technology influence the nature and organization of human economic activities.
  • Political factors– most locational decisions and pattern of interaction in space are usually based on political factors such as structure of government, the ideologies and policies of government, political boundaries and international relations. For instance, socialism promotes interaction more than capitalism

Historical Inertia

  • Historical inertia– most present locations and interaction pattern usually depend on previous experience of patterns of location and interaction. Generally, large investment in the physical structures and human resources used in existing location often militates against radical changes in previous locations.


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