What is urban network

Urban network is the set of cities or urban centers that are territorially articulated and that establish different relationships with each other.

Urban networks are formed by cities of different sizes and levels of development and are interconnected due to the flow of people, goods and services.

The concept of urban network can be understood as a network of interconnected cities , organized according to an urban hierarchy. At the top of this hierarchy are the cities that have the greatest influence over others.

Urban networks are the result of the transformations of society in the occupation of the territory and the process of demographic growth.

Understanding the dynamics and processes of an urban network is important for government, social and economic management and for the elaboration of public policies.

Urban network and urban hierarchy

The hierarchy of cities or urban centers is determined by the order of importance and degree of influence they have in a given region of the territory. At the highest level of the urban hierarchy will be the largest and most developed cities in a country.

This development is represented by the provision of services – public and private -, by the evolution of economic activities, and by the transport and communication infrastructure.

The configuration of an urban network is what determines the hierarchy between cities and the more exchanges between them grow, the more they rise in that hierarchy. This means that the importance of cities is due to the number of connections they make with others.

Learn more about urban hierarchy .

Brazilian urban hierarchy

The IBGE methodology for classifying urban centers according to the research “Network of influence of cities”, published in 2007, divides cities as follows:


The metropolises are the 12 largest urban centers in the country, exert a strong influence among themselves and in their regions. Metropolises are divided into three hierarchies.

  • Great national metropolis:São Paulo
  • National metropolis:Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia
  • Metropolis:Belém, Fortaleza, Manaus, Salvador, Recife, Curitiba, Goiânia, Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre

Regional capital

They are cities with a regional influence area, they are the destination of the population of other cities in the region for various activities. In this classification are 70 urban centers, divided into three levels of hierarchy.

Sub-regional center

They are cities with a smaller area of ​​activity and less complex management activities. Their external relationships, in general, happen only with national metropolises. This classification consists of 169 centers, divided into two subcategories.

Zone center

Cities with elementary management functions, operating only in their area and small. In this category there are 556 cities, divided into two levels.

Local center

Cities that have influence only within their limits and that provide services only to their inhabitants. They correspond to the remaining 4473 cities.

Source: Rede Urbana – Brasil – 2007- Fonte_Instituto Geográfico e Cartográfico – IGC. São Paulo, 2003

Urban network and urbanization

The formation of an urban network is the result of the urbanization process of a country, which occurs from the moment when the population of the urban environment grows more than the population of the rural environment.

As cities grow, the demand for services like health, education, transport and energy increases. In this process, both public and private capital will be invested in order to meet these demands.

The locations that receive more investments have a better offer of services and better infrastructure.

Better understand what urbanization is .

Brazilian urban network

In Brazil, urbanization began to intensify in the 1930s. With the development of industry and the mechanization of the countryside, a large part of the rural population was forced to migrate to cities in search of jobs – this phenomenon is called exodus. rural .

Over the following decades, the economic and political dynamics in the Brazilian territory were determining the spatial occupation and the development of the cities.

The urban centers that had more prosperous economic activities developed faster and the accumulation of capital in these regions allowed them to become richer.

As Brazil’s urbanization took place in an accelerated and unplanned manner, many regional imbalances have been reproducing and intensifying over the decades.

Today, the country is configured with an urban network that concentrates in the Southeast the most developed and economically influential cities. While other regions such as the North and Northeast have more precarious conditions for the supply of goods and services and infrastructure.

Learn more about rural exodus .

Global Cities

There are also global cities, which are represented by the main economic centers in the world, such as Paris, New York, Tokyo and São Paulo.

Global cities, by exerting influence outside the borders of their countries, create urban networks on a global scale. This configuration and interconnection between urban centers at the international level was made possible by the phenomenon of globalization .

See the map of global cities:

Map of the global metropolises. Source: Globalization and World Research Network

See the meaning of globalization .

Urban network and the spatial division of labor

The urban network reflects the spatial division of labor, that is, the division between functions that different cities play in a given region of the territory.

More influential cities and higher positions in the urban hierarchy tend to be technological hubs and important financial centers. The most peripheral cities, on the other hand, tend to perform more primary activities, such as agriculture or livestock.

This configuration is the result of the historical process of building cities , so to understand it, it is necessary to consider the political, economic and social aspects throughout its formation.

In summary, we can conclude that the spatial division of labor portrays how economic activities are distributed in space.


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