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Unit 6

6.4 The Size and Distribution of Cities

2 min readโ€ขjune 2, 2020

Harrison Burnside


Rank Size Rule

The Rank Size Rule is a theory of how large the population of the different major cities are in a country should be. The Rank Size Rule, inspired by Zipfโ€™s Law Applied to Distribution of Cities (1935), says if all cities in a country are placed in order from the largest to the smallest, each one will have a population 1/nth the size of the largest city in the country.

Example:

Largest City in a Country - Population of 1,000,000

1,000,000 / 1

2nd Largest City in a Country - Population of 500,000

1,000,000 / 2

3rd Largest City in a Country - Population of 333,333

1,000,000 / 3

4th Largest City in a Country - Population of 250,000

1,000,000 / 4

5th Largest City in a Country - Population of 200,000

1,000,000 / 5

Problems with the Rank Size Rule

  • Some countries have some cities that fit in the rank size rule but other cities populations in the top 10.

    • In the United States, New York City is largest, then Los Angeles, then Chicago, then Houston, then Phoenix, then Philadelphia, etc.

      • In the USA, the top 5 cities fit in the Rank Size Rule, but cities 6-10 do NOT.

  • Some countries have a largest city that is way more than 2x the size of the 2nd largest city.

    • Countries that have this exception generally have Primate Cities.

Primate City

Often, because of real life, theory doesnโ€™t always match up with reality. In many countries, the largest city in the country is a primate city. This means that the largest city will have a population of over 2x of the 2nd Largest City in the Country. The primate city is usually far more populated and far more economically important. The largest city, when a primate city, has the largest influence in the country.

Paris, which has a population of 9.6 million is the largest city and most economically important city of France, while Marseilles has a population of 1.3 million. This makes Paris a Primate City.

The chart below describes the advantages and disadvantages of a Primate City!

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-Cn0EjDD4hYaj.jpg?alt=media&token=1b567715-5641-4ff8-8103-d4e6ebecae16

Source: Mr Tredinnickโ€™s AP HuG Class Website

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