Factors Affecting the Location of Settlement

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Settlements are influenced by a number of factors for instance, soil, climate, and area of smooth or rugged terrain. In some cases, settlements are likely to be dispersed especially where there are hills, this is common in parts of Britain, France and other parts of Western and North-western Europe. In parts of Eastern Nigeria, the relief is generally smooth, but settlements are not concentrated, the nature of soil is dry, wet or marshy and these affect the location of settlements. For example, in dry areas like desert, concentration could be in Oasis especially in North Africa; the Nile valley in Egypt. Demangeon proposed that where there is abundance of water, people tend to settle more there and the likely pattern will be disperse. This assertion is true in the case of the Nile and Tunisia, in humid areas, the assertion is not true for instance Eastern Nigeria, there is very little relationship between hydrology and settlements and the likely pattern is dispersed.

Factors that Influence the location of settlements

  • Water supply
  • Flood avoidance
  • Availability of building materials
  • Food supply
  • Nature of Relief
  • Defence
  • Shelter and aspect
  • Bridging- points
  • Nodal-points
  • Harbours
  • Availability of land for agricultural activities
  • Availability resource
  • Fuel supply
  1. Water supply– a nearby guaranteed, supply of water is very essential as water is needed on a daily throughout the year and is heavy to carry over a long distance. In early times, rivers were sufficiently clean to give a town permanent supply. In lowland Britain, many early villages were located along the spring line at the foot of a chalk or limestone escarpment. In regions where rainfall is limited or unreliable, people settled where the water table is was near to the surface of desert oasis, enabling shallow wells to be dug. Such settlement sites are known as wet point or water seeking sites.
  2. Flood avoidance– elsewhere, the problem may have been too much water on the coastal mashes, villages were built on mounds which formed natural islands. Other settlements were built on river terrace which were above flood level and in some cases, avoided those diseases associated with stagnant water, such sites are known as dry point or water-avoiding sites.
  3. Availability of building materials– materials were heavy and bulky to move over a long distance and as transport was poorly developed, it was important to build settlements close to a supply of stones, clay, woods and robes.
  4. Food supply– the ideal location of early settlements was in an area that was suitable for both the rearing of animals and the growing of crops- such as the scarps and vales of southeast England. The quality and quantity of farm produce often depended upon climate and soil fertility and type.
  5. Nature of Relief– flat and low-lying land such as the North Germany plain was easier to build on than steeper, higher ground such as the Alps. However, the need for defence sometimes overruled this consideration.
  6. Defence– defence is another factor that affects the location of settlement, the conditions of security particularly where the latter is threatened, people tend to live in cluster for defence purpose and protection against surrounding tribes was often important. Jericho was built over 10000 years ago (8350BC), is the oldest city known to have had walls. In Britain, the two best types of defensive sites were those surrounded on three sides by water (Durham) or built upon high ground with commanding views over the surrounding countryside e.g Edinburgh. Hilltop sites may however have had problems with water supply.
  7. Shelter and aspect– in Britain for instance, south facing slopes offer favourable settlement sites because they are protected from cold, northerly winds and receives maximum insolation for example- Torquay.
  8. Bridging- points– settlements have tended to grow where routes had to cross river, initially where the river was hallow enough to be forded and later where the site was suitable for a bridge to be built upon in e.g Tyne.
  9. Nodal-points– sites where several valleys meet were often occupied by settlements which became route centres. Nodal settlements are settlements converged along water routes, river, railway lines, mountain passes, valleys, and gap rivers confluences. Confluence towns are formed where two rivers join (Khartoum) at the junction of the White Nile and the Blue Nile. St Louis at the junctions of the Mississippi and the Missouri. Settlements on sites, which command routes through the hills or mountains, are known as gap towns. For instance Dorking and Carcassonne.
  10. Harbours- sheltered sea inlets and rivers estuaries provided suitable sites provided suitable sites for the establishment of coastal fishing ports such as Newquar in Cornwalls; later deep-water harbours were required as ships became larger (Southamtomp.) Port sites were also important on many navigable rivers for instance, Montreal on the St Lawrence) and large lakes (the great Lakes in North America).
  11. Availability of land for agricultural activities; The areas which have fertile land attract people to settle there while infertile land make people move away from it. For example areas along Kilimanjaro slope which is fertile due to volcanic soil have high growth of settlement compared to areas such as Mpwapwa which is infertile due to soil erosion which low growth rate.
  12. Availability resource– settlements also grew in places with access to specific local resources such as salt (Nantwich, Cheshire), iron ore coal. Etc.
  13. Fuel supply– even tropical areas needed fuel especially for cooking purposes and for warmth during colder nights. In most early settlements, firewood was an important source of fuel and its still is in many of the least economically developed areas such as the Sahel.