News & Events

Cosmopolis Lunch Seminar: Michiel van Meeteren (Ghent University)

13 May 2015 , 12:00-14:00, Dep. of Geography (6F331), VUB

Central Places and "Big Data": Recalibrating Christaller's Theories via the Geoweb

Despite originating several decades earlier, Central Place Theory (CPT) is one of the canonical examples of the, now considered old-fashioned, "new economic geography" of the 1960s spatial science revolution. Although the theories has many varieties based on a range of assumptions this complexity is often recast as a singular "central place theory"; particularly in arguments that the theory has been made irrelevant by new developments (e.g. universal car ownership or the rise of e-commerce). In contrast to these dismissals, this paper approaches CPT from a sympathetic stance and works to falsify Christaller's original variety of CPT by utilizing large scale data on the consumption of a variety of goods gathered from the geosocial media sources such as Foursquare and Twitter. Utilizing these online data resources, we are able to resolve the focal methodological problem that has hampered CPT at least since the 1940s, namely the variability in administrative boundaries. Big data allows us to assess the centrality of places regardless of administrative boundaries or a standardized centrality coefficient. We recalibrate CPT by assessing the validity of two central axioms of Christaller original theory. 1) Specific central functions have typical ranges and thresholds relating amenity structure to population spread. 2) Amenities cluster in settlements based on an approximate hierarchical structure. We argue that the findings of this research reveal the ongoing importance of long-established mechanisms in shaping the location of economic activity.