Primate City

The primate city is a dominant city in the urban system, which is the largest and biggest city sometimes 5-10 times larger than the 2nd biggest city. The primate city is expressive of the economic, political and social elements and is representative of national aspirations e.g. Tokyo in Japan, London in UK, Sao Paulo in Brazil, Montevideo in Uruguay. 

Mark Jefferson studied 51 countries and in 46 countries found primate city hence gave the concept of Primate City in 1939 on the basis of empirical observations. Linsky tried defining factors that operate in ensuring greater primacy as follows:
Characteristics of primate cities as per Linsky

Mark did not explain reasons behind the primacy or the factors that contribute to the development of primate city. Later the process in the development of primacy can be understood under ‘Cumulative Causation Theory’ of Gurnar Mridal.

Most of the characteristics which Linsky defined are related to developing countries but developing countries universally may not have primate city e.g. in India despite its agri character, colonial history, high population growth, there are 4 cities which are comparable in size and no one is primate city. This probably can be explained as a consequence of large territorial context of country and diversity in economy & culture where no one city can effectively represent economic, social, political & historical elements and aspirations of the entire country.

Applicability and desirability of the concept: Although Linsky seems to be concluding that primate cities are characteristics of developing countries, this may not always be true.

It can’t be universally concluded that primate cities are always desirable or undesirable because in countries that have small territorial area, primate cities may be efficient way of planning the urban settlement complex e.g. in countries like UK, Malaysia where it does not make sense to disperse all forms of amenities & all scales of operation to more than one city.

Whereas in countries that have large territorial extent and also have large population, primate cities can actually increase disparities across regions e.g. Sau Paulo in Brazil deprives the rest of Brazil of it’s developmental prospects, similarly Moscow in Russia deprives Siberia of it’s development.

Primate cities may also be partly desirable in less developed economies which are trying to develop in condition of scarce resources. (Deliberate imbalance, growth pole & growth center, can be engine of growth for short timeframes). In most of the African and Latin American countries where lack of resources does not allow spreading of development, it may be desirable initially to focus on one city and develop it into a primate city.

But it can’t be universally concluded that absence of primate city implies balanced development and spread of growth to all parts of a country. Absence of primacy may also be because of undifferentiated overall lack of development.

Related Article: Rank Size Rule

Applicability (esp. in India): Although in 46 instances out of 51, Mark Jefferson found primate cities to exist but applicability is not universally valid.

Most of the countries with small territorial extent have national capital as the primate city but there are large countries such as China (Shanghai), Kazakhstan, Russia (Moscow), France (Paris) which also have primate city. Not all developing countries have primate cities.
In India at national level there is no primate city but most of the states have the state capitals as their primate cities.

Some of the large states of India like UP, MP, Bihar despite their territorial extent do not have primacy and this is mostly indicative of general lack of development across the entire state territory.

In South India, TN & AP are slowly witnessing gradual erosion of primate city. In these states, there is better spread of development beyond the state capital.

Maharashtra and Karnataka are only 2 peninsular states that have very high primacy.

Keral does not have primacy because of its narrow coastal stretch where all coastal locations have been successful in developing parallely.

The N-E states have high primacy in state capitals because of lack of development except for the state capital location.

Primate Vs Rank Size Rule: Rank size and primate city concepts are empirical, behavioral & inductive models that attempt to explain the real world reality. The RSR is more holistic as it studies the entire system but has less empirical validity. RSR is essentially an ‘economic theory of settlement structure’.

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Some Appreciation Please!

  Posted on Sunday, September 13th, 2015 at 11:27 AM under   Geography