Topic outline

  • General

    Introduction to Economic Geography

    Economic Geography represents the study of the location, distribution and spatial organization of economic activities across the Earth. 

    In today’s highly competitive economy, many companies, firms and organizations are aware that understanding geography, possibly through mapping, can represent a competitive strategic advantage. Significant cost savings and profit opportunities can result from the understanding of the geographic context of activities such as sales and marketing, distribution and logistics, as well as competitor activity. 

    The course examines the way in which individuals and enterprises organize their economic activities in space and the extent to which society recognizes the socio-economic impacts of such activities across space and uses its institutions to influence these interdependencies and impacts.

    The course is focused on how geographic and economic conditions affect the products, industries, commerce and resources in a variety of regions. The course tackles the concepts, theories, and methodologies used by geographers to analyze economic change. 

    An overview of the course, of the resources available and textbook is provided.

  • Topic 1

    Geography and Economic Geography

    Geography (today) is the science of interpretation of the organized space

    It studies the issues connected to:

    1) Localisation (= precise spatial position of objects within a particular area of Hearth’s surface)

    2) Human – environment relationship

    3) Regions and identification of the distinctive characters of particular partitions of space

    Role of geography. Supply:

    1) Positional information on the exact position of events; 

    2) Environmental information on quality of particular areas;

    3) Optimization = finding the ‘best’ position for things and the ‘best’ use of areas

    Economic Geography focuses on:

    1) the knowledge of the geographical space (as an index of human and natural evolutions) and on the management of space (as an index of the social, political and economical evolutions)

    Also it focuses on: 

    2) the processes of management of production of goods and services in cities and space (more in general).

    Anderson W. P. (2012)

    Economic geographers study and attempt to explain the spatial configuration of economic activities, including the production of goods and services, their transfer from one economic agent to another and their transformation into utility by consumers. The spatial configuration, which includes both the pattern of activities on the map and the relationships between activities occurring in different places, is the outcome of a vast number of distinct but interrelated decisions made by firms, households, governments and a variety of other private and public institutions. 

    Spatial interaction

    the easiest way to understand the relations between different places.

    The non-availability of a product in one place is a sufficient condition to generate a movement towards another place where it is available

    The presence of two or more places specialized in the production of different goods / services will set an interaction between them

  • Topic 2

    Location Theory – Introduction. Location of Agricultural Activities

    Location theory is the basis for examining how and why the arrangement of cities and markets has come to be and provides the rationale for siting decision making and service allocation. The primary theoretical developments have focused on land use, industrial production, central places, and spatial competition. This theory supports various forms of locational analysis and highlights the significance of spatial proximity (Murray, 2009).

    Location theory implies the concept of location:

    - Absolute location (coordinate system).

    - Relative location (referring to other locations)

    Location theory focuses on the analysis of location decisions of firms and individuals and looks for a formulation of rules of behavior.

    In particular it helps answering the questions:

    1) What locates where?

    2) Why firms (or individuals) decide to locate in a certain place?

    Location theory makes use of models and simplified assumptions regarding the real world.

    Models become necessary as reality is complex. A Model is an idealized representation of the real world, built to present some properties (in particular related to social and economic phenomena).

    In Economic theory, models do not consider space (i.e., the market is a-spatial)

    In Geography (and Economic Geography in particular) space becomes a central element in the economic reasoning.

    Location theories are different and consider different human and economic sectors (agriculture, land use, industry, services, etc.).

    Different models share some starting points and hypotheses.

    1) Homogeneity and isotropy of space - no differences in morphology of space; no transport asymmetries; ecc.

    2) Fertility of land is homogeneous – if a rent exists, it depends on transport costs based on distance.

    3) Perfect competition - same price throughout the market; freedom of movements of factors of production; no transport costs.

    The father of location theory is renown as John Heinrich Von Thunen (Jever, Oldemburg – East Germany 1783 - 1850). In 1826 he wrote ‘The isolated state’ in which he stated that differences in the cost of producing agricultural products depended on the differences in land location and therefore on the distance of the producing areas to the market.

    Von Thunen’s theory opposed David Ricardo’s one in which differences in the cost of producing agricultural products result from utilization of land of different quality.

  • Topic 3

    Location theory - Location of industrial activities

    Industrialization is an essential aspects of World Economic Growth
    I industrial revolution
    England (XVIII – start XIX Century ).
    Steam machine (James Watt, 1783).
    Coale; iron; textiles
    New organization of labour (it substitute the ‘makers’ model)
    Countryside – City movements and migrations
    II industrial revolution
    End XIX Century -  Beginining of XX century
    Coal -> Oil, hidroelectrig energy
    New industries, new locations, new markets, new products. Series production. Fordism
    III industrial revolution
    End of XX century – To-date
    Hi tech: electronics, robotics, telecommunication, bio-tech

    Spatial distribution and location of industries:
    Inserting a manufacturing firm in a given territory is important in terms of the spatial reorganization of:
    Demographic component; 
    Urban structure; 
    Other economic activities;
    Network of flows and traffic; 
    Political- social rules.
    Industrial geography: where and why industries in a given territory
    => location as a process of setting and industry. It is important to examine:
    Factors of industrial location;
    ‘geography’ of production factors;
    Location theory

    Industry clusters (Industrial districts)
    Industry clusters are geographic concentrations of competing, complementary, or interdependent firms and industries that do business with each other and/or have common needs for talent, technology, and  infrastructure. 
    The firms included in the cluster may be both competitive and cooperative. They may compete directly with some members of the cluster, purchase inputs from other cluster members, and rely on the services of other cluster firms in the operation of their business.
    Industry clusters are dynamic entities. They may change as the industries within them change or as external conditions change
    An important characteristic of clusters is that they are centered on firms that sell outside the local, state, or even national market
    Clusters may include government, nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and other infrastructure and service providers whose presence is key to the strength of the cluster.
    An industry cluster is an interconnected group of industries and firms. It differs from trade associations, which may have a narrower membership and focus. 
    A trade association, for example, may include the  members of a single industry and focus entirely on lobbying. By contrast clusters are agglomerations of  regional industries and interdependent firms that are key to the success of the industry in the state. 
    Organized industry clusters contribute broadly to the well-being of the region by addressing workforce recruitment and training issues, developing needed infrastructure, and establishing research and training  programs at universities and technical colleges, to name a few.

    Marshall (1920) identified the firm’s external economies, although internal to the district, the basic foundations' of the distrcts’ (or local labor systems)  competitiveness.. 
    The spatial aggregation of several firms, each one operating in full technical and organizational efficiency, related in terms of production and distribution processes, determines a particular efficency condition for the overall economic system. 
    Economical advantages:
    Reduction of production costs; 
    Reduction of transaction costs; 
    Innovative and incremental dynamics settings. 
    The environment allows an organization based on a non-hierarchical order. The spontaneous and self propelling  character in producing external economies seems to originate from evolutionary stability and by the convergence of a set of socio-economical, institutional and manufacturing.

    Weber’s Theory of industrial location 
    Space is characterized by:
    Uniform interest rate;
    Uniform production costs, wages, rents;
    Uniform and proportional to distance unitary transport costs;
    Resources consisting of:
    Localized materials (mine resources)
    Ubiquitous materials (water)
    Losing weight materials (raw material’s weight is only partially reflected into the final product)
    Net materials (raw material’s weight is totally reflected into the final product)
    The model is aimed at identifying the place where to locate a firm / plant minimizing costs related to places
    Raw material places
    Energy places
    Market / consumption places

  • Topic 4

    Transport and location

    The transport system can be conceptualized as the set of relationships between nodes, networks and the demand. These relationships involve locations spatially expressing this demand, flows between them and infrastructures designed to handle these flows. All the components of a transport system are designed to facilitate the movements of passengers, freight and information, either as separate or joint components.

    Demand. A derived function for the movement of people, freight and information for a variety of socioeconomic activities.
    Nodes. Where movements are originating, ending and transiting (intermediacy); points of entry or exit in a transport system. They vary according to the geographical scale being considered ranging from local nodes (such as a subway station) to global nodes (such as port or airport terminals).
    Networks. Composed of a set of linkages expressing the connectivity between places and the capacity to handle passenger or cargo volumes.
    Locations. Nodes where demand is expressed as an origin, destination or point of transit. The level of spatial accumulation of socioeconomic activities (production and consumption) jointly defines demand and where this demand is taking place.
    Flows. The amount of traffic over a network composed of nodes and linkages. This is jointly a function of the demand and the capacity of the linkages to support them.
    Infrastructures. The conveyances such as roads and terminals expressing the physical reality of a network and designed to handle a demand with specific volume and frequency characteristics. Facilities enabling access to a network are jointly characterized by their centrality and the linkages that radiate from them.

    Simplified hypotheses on transport: transport costs proportional to distance:
    Weber (minimum transport cost)
    Von Thunen (location rent)
    Real world: transport costs hold a fixed loading component, a fixed unloading component and costs varying in a less than proportional way to travel’s length.
    Economies of scale
    Different weight of distace for different transport modes:

  • Topic 5

    Systems of cities - Hierarchies. The central place theory

    The central place theory deals with the number, size and location of human settlements in an urban system. After having analyzed the spatial distribution of agricultural activities (Von Thunen model) and industries (Weber), central place theory focuses on cities as market places and therefore better respond to the logic of the service sector.

    The Central Place Theory started with a German geographer, Walter Christaller (1933), who analyzed the spatial distribution of centres in Southern Germany, trying to understand the evolution of urban settlements and their spacing in relation to each other. In particular he looked for some ‘rules’ determining size, number and distribution of towns. His ideal model foreseen the spacing of cities and their market areas in regular patterns, showing hexagonal structures and different levels.  Of course we do not spot hexagons drawn on the ground nor the market areas appear regular ones.  However Christaller’s theory was interesting as he combined different elements together.


    -  considered some extremely simplified hypotheses concerning space as already seen in other location theories (i.e., homogeneous space, even distribution of resources and population, etc.).

    - Introduced the concept of hierarchy in (urban) centres. That means that some centres can be higher in a hierarchical rank by providing goods and services rarer than those offered by other centres. Using a simplifying example, every municipality holds a primary school that therefore serves a limited space (a neighborhood) while few municipalities host universities, that consequently attract people from a wider distance

    - consider economic elements into a geographical framework.  In particular, as many elements are (theoretically) constant in his basic assumptions, the geographical distance (or the cost for covering the geographical distance) can be expressed as a price of the good that a consumers search for. In that sense the ‘traditional’ micro-economical demand curve can be rotated and ‘spatialised’ and therefore represented in the geographical space.

    Christaller’s Theory was quite static and did not allow to combine different urban functions. However the theory was modified by other authors to include more realistic situations.


    Loesch in particular modified the central place theory in order to allow multiple functions to be present in one place. That lead to specifying the conditions for developing the idea of a metropolitan area, concentrating different functions and activities and acting as an element of attraction for the surrounding area.  Loesch’s Theory was focused on the ‘city effect’ or the fact that cities are something different than just ‘settlements’ and that by concentrating functions will make them more important than surrounding centres.


    Isard introduced further modifications to the Central Place Theory, ‘distorting’ the regularity of hexagonal patterns with the introduction of a uneven distribution of population and therefore differentiated population densities (obviously in urban areas) and a different ‘spiderweb’ network drawn by major transport infrastructures connecting cities.


    Christaller, Walter. Die zentralen Orte in Suddeutschland. Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1933. (Translated (in part), by Charlisle W. Baskin, as Central Places in Southern Germany. Prentice Hall, 1966.

    Christaller, Walter, How I discovered the Theory of Central Places: A Report about the Origin of Central Places. in: English, P. W. and R. C. Mayfield, eds., Man Space and Environment. Oxford Univ. Press, 1972, pp.601–610.

    Berry, Brian J. L. and Chauncy D. Harris, Walter Christaller: An Appreciation, Geographical Review LX (1), 1970, pp.116–9.

    Heilbrun, James. Urban Economics and Public Policy, 3rd Edition. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987

    Von Boventer, Edwin. Walter Christaller's Central Places and Peripheral Areas: The Central Place Theory in Retrospect, Journal of Regional Science. Vol.9, 1969, 117–24.

    Preston, R. E., The Dynamic Component of Christaller's Central Place Theory and the Theme of Change in his Research, The Canadian Geographer, vol.27, 1983, pp.4–16.

    Losch, August, The Nature of Economic Regions, Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 5, No. 1, July 1938, pp. 71–78.

  • Topic 6

    Urban Geography
    Our society is an urbanized society.

    The world as we know it is urban and getting increasingly urbanized.

    Since 1950, the world urban population has more than doubled. In 1999, half of the world’s population of 6 billions lived in urban areas. 75% were in developing economies. The majority of economic activities are taking place in cities and they represent dominant attributes of the human landscape.

    Cities are difficult to define. A common element is represented by concentration.

    Different criteria could be considered:

    Topographic – construction (= concentration of buildings)

    Demographic (= concentration of inhabitants) - I.e., urban population in centres > 2.000 inhabitants

    Economic (= concentration of activities)

    Quantity and quality of concentration:
    different activities and different from agriculture, extra-urban demand


    Functional definition:

    Aggregation of people to better realise some activities
    (activity = a function of the city);

    Cities as rare, non ubiquitous in the geographical space produce functions over a service  area

  • Topic 7

    Population Geography

    Population Geography is concerned by the spatial aspects of population:

    1- Simple description of the location of the population.

    2- Explanation of its spatial pattern and distribution.

    3- Geographical analysis (processes such as urbanization and migration).

    The 20th Century experienced a huge growth of the world’s population, almost exponential from the 1920s until today. Population was multiplied by three and around 80-85 million persons are added each year.

    60 million new urbanites are added per year, with an urban population is now 2.6 billion, of which 1.7 billions are in developing countries. More than 65% of the global population is thus living in developing economies.

    The Explosion of the World’s Population.

     Living conditions are improving in a number of areas, notably in newly industrialized economies. Insufficient to improve the welfare of the bulk of the world’s population.  Paradox in developing countries: Population growth monitoring is essential in these areas. They have the least resources available to undertake such a process.

  • Topic 8

    Geographic Information and the Geospatial technologies 

    We live in space and surrounded by geography and geographical features.  “Almost everything that happens, happens somewhere. Knowing where something happens is critically important” (Goodchild et al., 2001).

    Geographic Information is information concerning places on the Earth’s surface, and the knowledge about where something is and – in reverse - about what is at a given location.

    Geographic Information can be very detailed (i.e., information about the location of all buildings in a city; information about individual trees in a forest) or very coarse (climate of a large region; population density of an entire country).

    In to-date world, also geographical elements can be organized and managed digitally, that means data are geographic, therefore holding a position on (or above or under) the Earth.

    Geospatial technologies were developed to acquire, manage, display, represent, analyse geographical data – and also for making maps, these including dynamic ones.

    In particular three main geospatial technologies are used for managing Geographic Information:

    GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System). GPS (Global Positioning System) is one of the examples. GNSS use satellites to determine the position of a receiver on (or above) the Earth.  Such position can be expressed as geographical coordinates and represented as a point on a (also digital) map.

    Remote Sensing. It deals with acquiring (digital) data from a remote location, or data taken without being in direct contact. Also a picture of you taken by your classmate deals with soma date taken without being in direct contact you. In Remote Sensing, sensors (cameras, using visible light, ultraviolet, radar signals, laser, etc.) are mounted on vehicles like satellites, airplanes, helicopters, UAV, etc. to acquire data of the Earth’s surface (or of features above the Earth’s surface as the atmosphere). These data are in the form of satellite images, where each pixel holds a geographical coordinate and a value that can be mapped.

    GIS (Geographical Information Systems) is an information system that allows: collecting, modelling, handling; retrieving; analyzing geographically referred (georeferenced) data.

    Two views of a GIS: “A GIS is a set of tools to collect, store, retrieve, transform, display spatial data from the real world for particular purposes” (Burrough e McDonnell, 1998)

    “A GIS is a database in which the most of data has a spatial index, and on which procedures can be executed to answer requests and queries on spatial entities in the database.” (Smith et al., 1987)

     Geographical data can be raster (as those from Remote sensing: digital images) and vector (points, lines and polygons: the restaurants, the streets and lakes/municipalities in your google maps / blackberry maps / bing maps / apple maps, etc.). Data can be organized in layers (as transparencies with different objects drawn on them and put one on top of each other on an overhead projector).

    The evolution of geospatial technologies

    Geospatial technologies has evolved and are to-date available on standard pc and laptops in the form of traditional GIS software packages or available in other forms: Virtual Globes (like Google Earth), Web mapping applications (like the recent Google Maps Engine) or apps for smartphones and tablets (like Viewranger or other geocaching / training applications as Runtastic, Endomondo,  etc.).

    Geospatial technologies evolved also thanks to the widespread use of mobile devices and the Internet. So also ‘geography goes social’ as people produce and share data and information with a geographic component! Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare , Google use social (geographical) data to target advertising and for users’ profiling. The geospatial market seems having overcome the videogames market and covering 1/3 of airline industry value.

    In the Web 2.0 logic (A Web 2.0 site may allow users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social mediadialogue as creators of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to websites where people are limited to the passive viewing of content. Examples of Web 2.0 include social networking sitesblogswikisfolksonomiesvideo sharing sites, hosted servicesweb applications, and mashups. From Wikipedia: Users can also produce their geographical data thanks to GPS-fitted portable devices and manage them in GIS packages or also on Web mapping applications (on-line GIS) or virtual globes. 

  • Topic 9

    Mapping. Investigating on-line mapping and geographical features

    Mapping exercise.

    This exercise will be useful for making you more comfortable with maps and mapmaking and also for geographical reasoning. 
    On one side you will get more familiar with geographical data, their structure and organization.
    On the other side you will observe geographical data and try to think 'geographically' to some features and things happening in the World.

    Geospatial technologies help us create content that can be changed and visualized interactively. Here there is the opportunity to get started with web mapping. 

    Web mapping is done using cloud-based technologies – similar to Facebook, Flickr, Google Drive, or Dropbox. Web mapping use logic similar to standard and professional GIS packages – as data georeferenced and organized in layers, with the possibility to query and filter them. In Web mapping applications you can organize pre-existing maps, geographical databases, satellite imagery, upload your own data (i.e., GPS tracks of your climb in the mountains or the pin-pointed clubs of your summer vacation). Also web mapping applications host tools and functions to measure things and to do some spatial analysis.

    Here in this exercise we will try some hands-on experience viewing existing maps – done by users putting together data from different sources – and making your own maps and doing spatial analysis.

    The web mapping used here is Esri’s (http:// cloud-based GIS “ArcGIS Online” while other platforms are Geocommons ( and GIS Cloud (

    Start working with the ArcGIS map “World Map. Cities, Transport, Countries, Economic indicators” available at:

    The organization of a web mapping application is a map – on the centre – a set of map layers on the left (a ‘legend’) and some tools on top of the map and other in drop-down lists on the layers’ side.

     Here in this map you find point, line and area features, as well as a background resembling the physical map of the world. Point, line and area features are referred to cities, transport infrastructure, population and GDP.

    1) Start familiarizing with the tools. Switch on and off layers, try to move them on top of each other and see what features can be visualized at the same time. Also use the mouse / pointer to pan (=move on the map) and the sidebar (or double touch) to zoom-in and out.

    Try to familiarize with the data and the software. Recall some data by clicking /double-clicking on the map. What happens? What data are you querying? How are they organized (=what kind of information are stored)?

     2) now zoom into a region of the world and try analysing it more in depth. Try changing the colours of the area layers (population density; GDP) by working on the legend on your left side of the screen. What happens? What happens if you change the size of the dots representing the world cities? How would you describe the pattern of world population density?

    After playing with tools and functions, try think about the map and the different layers loaded. At your convenience turn on and off layers to better examine data. Then try answering the following questions:

    • What can you say about the spatial distribution of largest cities?
    • How do you relate the distribution of cities and world population density?
    • Are transport networks evenly distributed? Where can you spot the higher concentrations?
    • GDP data are available at country’s level and not at a finer scale. Recalling your knowledge and what you studied how would you expect GDP distribute within a country? What could it be the relationship with cities and population density distribution?

    3) now try to add data to your map. You have to sign in to make changes and save a map (publicly viewable) Search a layer according to a criterion (i.e., transport;  unemployment;  development, etc.). What are some of the data like? Who produced them? What is the level of detail you can get?

    Now open also the Geocommons  project “World major urban and GDP” available at and observe it.


    4)  What are the differences between the two web mapping applications?  Are there the same data or they differ? If so, what are the differences?

  • Topic 10

    Retail Geography