Functional Region: Definition And Examples

While studying geography, you may have heard the term functional region before. Yet what exactly is a functional region? Put simply, a functional region is a defined geographical area centered around a specific focal point with a specific function.

A functional region is distinguished by a centralized hub with surrounding areas and structures that relate to a common activity. For example, a trade route, transportation hub, or a shopping center would all be considered functional regions. Let’s go into greater detail about the characteristics of regions, look at some examples, and see how functional regions differ from other types of geographical regions.’

Defining A Functional Region

The name of “functional region” provides an excellent clue to its definition, it is a region based around a specific activity, a region which has a primary function. Within a functional region there is usually a central hub or point of distribution for whatever function or activity the region is concerned with.

This central hub or focal point is frequently what defines the nature of the functional region, with other buildings and locations popping up in association with the central hub. For instance, a bus depot might be created at the central hub of a transportation network, and more bus routes, stops, and supporting facilities will crop up around/spread out from the initial depot. The focal point of the functional region is where the greatest amount of activity in the region will occur, falling off as one increases in distance from the focal point. People and activity will flow towards and away from the focal point at various times of the day. Although there will be a central hub or focal point for the region, the region as a whole can be considered one unit in regards to the activity it is concerned with.

Examples Of Functional Regions

Metropolitan Areas

Photo; zephylwer0 via Pixabay, CC0

The biggest examples of functional regions are metropolitan areas, and you can think of the city the metropolitan area is based around as of the central hub or focal point of the region. The major city within a metropolitan area is where most commerce and activity takes place, being the most densely populated portion of the functional region. The city or central hub is connected to outlying portions of the region by transport routes, trade routes, and communication. People commute daily from the surrounding area to the city to carry out economic activities within the central club. The urban center that the metropolitan area surrounds may perform many different functions like education, employment, and entertainment.

In the United States and other countries, metropolitan areas are comprised out of multiple different cities, towns, suburbs, or even entire counties or states. One example is the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, which connects the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, while another example is the Los Angeles metropolitan area which connects Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Anaheim.

School Districts

School districts can be thought of as functional regions centered around education. A school district is based on a certain number of schools, which as hubs for the functional region. The different schools and the school district will serve children from the surrounding neighborhoods, based on factors like population and geographical location. The students must commute to their school every day, and a number of different transportation routes link the central hubs (schools) to the homes of the students and surrounding areas.

The presence of a greater number of schools frequently draws more residents to an area, so school districts remain tied to the population growth of the greater geographical area. While schools can potentially serve a wide variety of students from different backgrounds and ethnicities, analysis of school district demographics indicates that school districts are frequently much more homogeneous than larger cities, states, and counties as a whole.

Branch Banks

Branch banks exist to provide services to people who live away from the headquarters or home branch of the bank, handling banking transactions for people at home in their own communities. In a branch banking system the main bank will create many different branches that cover a variety of geographical areas according to the needs of the population within those areas.

Branch banks can be considered a functional region because the main bank serves as the focal point or main hub of the system, and the branch banks that are distributed throughout the region interact with the main bank. Note that functional regions can be subdivided into smaller regions of their own. For instance, the local bank branches act as the central hub of that subregion, even though they are part of a larger functional region that includes the entire banking company.

Shopping Centers/Department Stores

Photo: MichaelGaida via Pixabay, CC0

Department stores and shopping centers are examples of functional regions based on shopping for material goods. A department store will attempt to serve as the primary hub for citizens looking to purchase goods in a surrounding geographical area. The store will target the citizens that live closest to the store, hoping to draw them in, with their customer base reducing as the distance from the store increases. The people who are at the far extremes of the store’s range may well choose to go to another department store to get their needed items. The department store is connected to surrounding homes, businesses, and services by a transportation network and trade routes.

Shopping centers work similarly to department stores, but instead of being a single store they are conglomerations of many different stores located in a single area. The shopping center itself is it the main hub of the functional region, and the stores there will take advantage of the presence of other shops to catch the eye of customers in the surrounding region.

Harbors and Ports

Harbors and ports are also examples of functional regions. A harbor can be thought of as the central hub of a coastal region. Harbors frequently handle industries like fishing and shipping and also serve as a base of operations for the creation of coastal infrastructure. The central hub of the harbor is linked to surrounding areas by trade routes and communication routes.

Ports, like airports and seaports, service functional regions by handling the coming and going of people in a geographical region. The airports and seaports frequently welcome tourists to an area, and as the distance from the airport increases, the tourists will have other ports they can utilize. This is also true of ports and harbors as employment centers. As the distance one must commute to a port or harbor for work increases, people become more likely to look for job opportunities elsewhere.

Other Types Of Geographical Regions

Outside of functional regions, other types of geographical regions include formal regions and perceptual or vernacular regions. Formal regions are the regions that have boundaries recognized by different cities, states, and countries. Meanwhile, perceptual regions are regions that are based around cultural factors and attributes.

Formal Regions

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A formal region is defined by officially recognized boundaries, and they typically have their boundaries set by national or local governments. Some of the criteria a governmental entity might use to create a formal region include: nationality, common languages, political affiliation,  religion, culture, and geographical features. These characteristics/features are used to distinguish them from other formal regions. Physical characteristics of an area are frequently used to create formal regions, with natural boundaries like canyons, lakes, mountains, and rivers being used as a basis for a region’s boundaries. That said, non-physical characteristics also influence the creation of boundaries.

Formal regions may be easier or harder to define depending on the criteria chosen.  Though the physical features of terrain remained fairly steady over the years, cultural factors like language, religion, or other demographic attributes may shift dramatically over the years. This might mean that that the region must be redrawn from time to time as the demographics change. Despite this, every formal region is in principle based on a variable that can be quantified.

Perceptual Region

Perceptual regions are also sometimes called vernacular regions, though some geographers do not use the terms interchangeably, using them to refer to different concepts. While a vernacular region is based on the different methods of communication people in an area have, perceptual regions are often based upon certain beliefs/feelings/attitudes that people have about a particular region.

Because vernacular/perceptual regions are based on attitudes, perceptions, and methods of communication, they are much more likely to change then regions based on physical geographical features. Examples of perceptual regions include the Northeast, SoCal and NorCal in California, and the Midwest. Global examples of perceptual regions include Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

About The Author

Daniel Nelson

Daniel obtained his BS and is pursuing a Master's degree in the science of Human-Computer Interaction. He hopes to work on projects which bridge the sciences and humanities. His background in education and training is diverse including education in computer science, communication theory, psychology, and philosophy. He aims to create content that educates, persuades, entertains and inspires.

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