A functional region is a region that has a central node upon which everything in the region is reliant. We call it a functional region because the region is designed based upon a functional, rather than political, purpose.
Examples of central nodes around which a region exists include airports, hospitals, radio towers, and city centers. People live and work in close proximity to these things because being close to them is essential for their lives.
Because functional regions have a central node, we often also call them nodal regions.
Functional Region Examples
The most obvious example of a functional region is a city itself. The city center, with its high-rise buildings, usually has a lot of well-paid white-collar jobs that people want. So, people from rural areas move into the cities in a process often called internal migration in order to get those good jobs.
As a result, cities usually grow rapidly and become densely populated areas. The city develops a natural outer limit because, at some point, you’d be living too far away from the city for it to provide much value. At this point, land usually becomes rural.
2. Pizza Delivery Zones
When ordering pizza for delivery, the pizza store usually asks for your address. They want to know whether it’s practical for them to deliver the pizza to you. If you live too far away, you’re no longer in their functional region. You might have to call another pizza delivery company or go without!
3. Radio Reception Areas
As you drive away from a city, you might find that your radio reception fades. This is because you’re getting too far away from a central node: the radio tower.
As a result, radio stations generally aim to target an audience within a defined city area that their radio waves can reach. This reception area acts as a functional region.
As you enter a new city or town, you may drive into the reception range of another radio tower with its own radio stations. The presenters will be talking about local issues to that town. Here, you have entered a new functional region.
4. School Catchment Areas
In many nations, public schools have catchment areas. Students who live inside of these zones will have the right to (or even be required to) attend the school within the catchment area.
If you move too far out of that catchment area, however, you may have to go to a different school.
School catchment areas have a significant effect on house prices. If a school has a good reputation, then the houses in its catchment area will become more valuable to families, and the housing prices will go up.
By contrast, if you live just across the street but you’re in the catchment area of a poorer-performing school, your house prices might be significantly lower.
5. Transport Zones
Functional regions are often defined by the reach of a transportation network. For example, in major cities like London and New York, the suburbs served by their subway systems allow people fast transport all around the city.
These suburbs are inside of the city’s functional region.
By contrast, suburbs that are just fifteen or twenty miles outside of the reach of the subway systems are cut-off from fast access to the city, and therefore fall outside of the city’s functional region.
Similarly, an airport can act as a node around which cities and suburbs can thrive. Most mid-sized cities need airport nodes in order for their businesses to grow and thrive.
6. Power Grids (And other utilities)
Utility networks also act as important nodes for functional regions. For example, access to the power grid places you inside of the functional region of a particular power plant. Those who live ‘off grid’ are outside of the functional region.
The same goes for water and internet networks.
One notable real-life example is the Texas power grid. This power grid is disconnected from the power grids of the rest of the nation. As a result, when storms or power surges occur in Texas, they are unable to tap into the power grids of nearby states. This is one reason why Texas is often faced with power outages while neighboring states are fine.
7. Castle Walls
In middle ages Europe, Viking raids forced towns and cities to start building castle towers and walls around their inner market regions. This gave rise to the medieval castle era.
Most people lived outside of the castle walls where they would tend their land. They would then enter the castle walls to sell products at market or attend their workshops.
When wars or raids would occur, people would then run into the castle walls so they were protected from the raiders. Thus, people would generally want to live as close to the castle walls as possible. Here, the castle was the node which acted as a protector for the people.
8. Ski Resort Towns
Some towns that rely on tourism have a strong reliance on the central tourism attraction. One quintessential example of this is ski resort towns.
The people who live in ski towns are usually employees of the ski resort, retirees, or people who work in industries reliant on the resort (such as restaurants and ski shops).
Thus, the ski resort functions as a central node and the town that grows around it is the functional region that’s there to both serve the resort and generate income and entertainment from it.
9. Mining Towns
Mining towns are another example of towns that have an industry that acts as the central node.
Natural resources are often found underground in remote regions. In order to extract the resources, a large workforce is required. So, towns are generally established in order to service the mine.
At their peak, mines often employ many of the people in the town, and the other townspeople work in businesses that service the mine’s employees.
When all the resources are extracted, the towns often shrink again because the central node that was the ‘functional’ reason for the town to exist. Some old gold mining towns have even become ghost towns, where no one lives there anymore.
10. Emergency Services Zones
Emergency services are often divided up into service regions in order to ensure everyone gets access to fire services, police, and healthcare.
For example, when you call the fire brigade, they will send out a fire truck from the nearest fire station.
Occasionally, when you leave a town, you will see a sign that reads ‘Now leaving city fire service region’. Beyond that limit, the city fire service won’t attend a fire emergency. Likely, either a rural fire service or the next city’s fire engine will attend the emergency.
Functional regions are one of the three types of regions in human geography (the others being formal and perceptual regions). They’re defined by a central node that acts as a point of cohesion for the region. This is why they’re sometimes called nodal regions. Examples of nodes for functional regions include transport networks, emergency service networks, radio towers, wi-fi hotspots, pizza delivery zones, and (my favorite) castle keeps.