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In this investigation, I am going to aim to find out whether the sphere of influence of the market is different to that of St. Albans. The sphere of influence is the area served by the settlement. It is the area from which people travel to use the settlement or the area to which bus services run and deliveries are made. Newsagents have small spheres of influence; secondary schools have larger spheres of influence than primary schools and hospitals have very large spheres of influence.

I predict that the sphere of influence of the market will be smaller than that of St. Albans, if they both follow the Central Place Theory.

From the diagram, I predicted that the larger the settlement, the greater the number and variety of shops and services, and so the wider the area from which people will travel to use the shopping area, i.e. the larger the sphere of influence.

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The area that I’m going to study is St. Albans.

St. Albans is situated in the United Kingdom in the County of Hertfordshire. It is about 20 miles NW of London. St. Albans is encircled by the M1, M25 and the A1 motorway. I am going to collect my data in the form of a questionnaire with various questions to be filled in, which will give me the details needed to come to a conclusion about my hypothesis. Here is a more detailed map of St. Albans including the street we worked on:

In smaller cities, particularly in historical market towns, spatial concentration may not occur. This partly reflects the smaller number of outlets of any one kind needed to serve a much-reduced catchment area. Spheres of influence for a good or service, or a combination of these, may be mapped to show the relationship between the relative extent of urban fields and their respective central places. The sphere of influence for a central place declines in intensity with increasing distance from it. The greater the variety or goods and services surveyed, the more complete the relative picture of the pattern of spheres of influence.

Method

In order to examine my hypothesis, I needed to carry out some sort of investigation. To find out the sphere of influence of the market place and of St. Albans, I needed to ask people different questions in the form of a questionnaire. The questionnaire had already been designed for us. We split up into 11 groups in the afternoon so that we could cover the area needed to obtain our information in the time available. Each group got given a street or area near the CDB of St. Albans to carry out their questionnaires. Each group had to do a pedestrian count, and a congestion count at a certain time in their areas. Then we carried out our questionnaires. On the 26th of February at 1.30 PM the weather conditions were cloudy. We needed to know this because weather conditions make a difference to whether people want to go out shopping or not.

How we carried out the questionnaire

We asked about 6 people each if they could fill in our questionnaires. This is because we thought 6 people was a sufficient number of people to be representative and to get accurate results from. It wasn’t too little and it wasn’t too much. If we asked fewer people, we wouldn’t have gained enough information to get accurate results and if there were too many people, the results would basically be repeating themselves. We worked in a group because teamwork makes investigations easier. If we were each doing the work on our own, we wouldn’t have been able to finish the task in the time available. The reason why we spent the time we did in St. Albans market place was that if we had spent less time we wouldn’t have got enough information to fulfil our aim and if we had spent more time in St. Albans the results would keep on repeating themselves.

What type of data I needed to examine my hypothesis and why

The questionnaire consisted of many questions such as:

“Are you shopping in St. Albans?” and “How far have you travelled here today?” I asked people if they had come to St. Albans to shop to see if St. Albans was a place where lots of people came especially to shop. I asked people how far they had travelled to find out the size if the sphere of influence of the market and St. Albans. I could use this to compare the sphere of influences of both the locations to see if it is true that the larger the number and range of shops and services then the larger the sphere of influence would be. I needed to know how often people shopped in St. Albans to see if it was a popular place for shopping even for the people who were not locals. If it was then I could say that St. Albans had a large sphere of influence. I also needed to know if people came here to shop in the market to find out how many people actually came to shop in the market or the CBD of St. Albans. We asked them if they used out of town shopping centres and if so had this led to a reduction in the use of their own town. This helped me find out more about my hypothesis because it told me if people were willing to travel further distances out of their towns to shop.

There were many other questions that were asked in the questionnaire but these were the ones relevant to my hypothesis.

The layout of the questionnaire

Our questionnaire consisted of one tick box for every “yes/no” answer and a line for every answer, which required words. The responses were required by putting a number next to each person’s response. For example: –

“Where have you come from today to shop in St. Albans?” 1. Watford 2. London

We collected this data in the afternoon.

The type of technique that was used to sample the data

We started collecting the data at 1.30 PM. This is when we did our pedestrian count. At 1.35 we did the congestion count. At 1.40 we started carrying out the questionnaire by asking random people on the street/area we were working on. The sampling technique we used was random because we didn’t really have a system where we would interview every 5th person and we didn’t have a stratified technique either. We just asked random people on the street who were available to fill in our questionnaires.

My opinion of the layout and contents of the questionnaire

I thought that the questionnaires were a good way of recording the data and there was a big range of questions asked to find out enough information for my hypothesis. There was one thing that I think could have been improved – the presentation of the questionnaire. When people wrote the number of the people and their response, it was hard to read some peoples results as it was unclear which response went with which person. Therefore I think there should have been a box/space which we could have ticked/written in for each person.

We carried out this investigation on a Wednesday which meant it was market day and so a lot of people would be out shopping than on a normal day. This affected our results because more people would be out shopping than for other needs in St. Albans. Also as this was a market day, maybe more people than usual came to shop in the market rather than the main shopping centre. This could make some of our results partial.

Conclusion

My aim for this investigation was to find out whether the sphere of influence of St. Albans was different to that of the market. My prediction was that the sphere of influence of St. Albans is bigger than that of the market. Figure 1. tells me that my prediction was correct and so the sphere of influence of St. Albans is bigger than that of the market place.

As you can see from figure 2. the majority of the people who came to visit St. Albans came to shop in the market. However, this could be because the day we visited St. Albans was a Wednesday and therefore it was market day, which means more people would want to come to the market to shop to get all the bargains, than in the main shopping centre of St. Albans. This could have made my results partial.

As can be seen from figure 3. More people came to shop in the market than in the main shopping centre. This could again be because of Wednesday being the market day. However, from this graph I can also see that St. Albans probably has a big sphere of influence as majority of the people that visited St. Albans came to shop.

Figure 4. tells me that St. Albans has a big sphere of influence. There was a big range of places from where people travelled to visit St. Albans.

As you can see from figure 5. the people who came to St. Albans to shop, travelled relatively far but not as far as I would expect to other places. This shows that St. Albans isn’t a main shopping centre and maybe doesn’t have as big a sphere of influence as other shopping centres may do. Figure 6. tells me that people did travel quite far to shop in the market and probably travelled further than I had expected. This could, again, be because of the fact that we went on a Wednesday, which was a market day.

From figure 7. I can see that many people would come to St. Albans to shop for their low order goods and so St. Albans has probably got quite a big sphere of influence especially for its convenience goods.

The geographical theories that suggest my prediction is right is the central place theory, which states the larger the settlement, the greater the number and variety of shops and services, and so the wider the area from which people will travel to use the shopping area, i.e. the larger the sphere of influence. The diagram shown in my introduction helped me reach my conclusion that because St. Albans is a larger settlement than the market, it has a greater number and variety of shops and services and so the wider the area is from which people travelled to use the shopping area.

Evaluation

The strengths and limitations of data collection techniques

Overall I think that my data collection techniques were quite good as I collected enough data to draw a conclusion from. However, there were a few things that could have done to improve the data collection technique. I thought that the main problem with my data collection technique was the layout of the questionnaire as I mentioned earlier in my method. Our questionnaire consisted of one tick box for every “yes/no” answer and a line for every answer, which required words. The responses to each question were written down with a number next to each one so that people could tell which response went with which person. However, there wasn’t enough space to put down everyone’s responses clearly and also some responses weren’t legible which made some of the results hard to read. To avoid this, instead of a questionnaire, we could have used a Dictaphone to record our results so that when we came back from the trip, and were sorting out the data collected by various people, the results would be clear and there would be less chances of any anomalies that, may have risen.

Also I don’t think that all the results collected from this questionnaire could have been accurate as people in our group could make up some of the results and so this could have affected my results. One way of avoiding this could be for me to go round St. Albans asking the people myself, however, this would be very time consuming and also it wouldn’t be finished in the time we were given. Therefore that method is very impractical. Another way to avoid this, again, is to use a Dictaphone to ensure all the results collected from the questionnaire were reliable.

There were not any practical problems as such that we could not overcome and apart from the layout of the questionnaire, I think that everything else went according to plan.

Evaluation of my results

Out of the results that I had collected, some of them supported my hypothesis and some of them didn’t. As mentioned in my conclusion, figure 6. tells me that the market place did have a bigger sphere of influence than I had expected and therefore that piece of information that I collected definitely did not support my hypothesis. Other results obtained also tell me that majority of the people that came to St. Albans on that day, came to shop in the market as their first priority. This didn’t support my hypothesis as my hypothesis says the sphere of influence of St. Albans is bigger than the sphere of influence of the market. However, the reason for this could be because Wednesday is a market day and therefore more people could have wanted to shop in the market than in the main shopping area in St. Albans as they would be looking for bargains. This could have made my results impartial. Majority of my results did support my hypothesis, the main one being the map of the area of sphere of influence of St. Albans and the market place, as this proves that the sphere of influence of St. Albans is bigger than the sphere of influence of the market place, as said in my hypothesis.

Some of the results obtained from the questionnaire were very useful to me and some useless. The results, which were very useful to me, were those that had some relation to the sphere of influence of St. Albans or the market place and those, which told me how many people went to shop in the market and where people came from. However, results, which told me about low order goods and high order goods were completely irrelevant to me as they had nothing to do with the sphere of influence. However, these results needed to be obtained as other people were doing different titles to me.

My results did turn out to support my hypothesis, but this doesn’t necessarily make them accurate. This is because we don’t really know that the people’s responses were actually the truth. They could have been making certain parts of the questionnaire up if they were in a hurry or for any other reason. This couldn’t really be improved or avoided in any way but it probably has affected some of my results.

Strengths and limitations of the conclusions I reached

I think that my results were valid because even though we only went on one day one time of the year, my results agree to my hypothesis, which means that generally, any place which is a big settlement will have a bigger sphere of influence than that of one which is a small settlement. However, if I had gone on another day instead of Wednesday, which as mentioned earlier is a market day, then I would expect more people to be shopping in the main St. Albans shopping centre. This, however, wouldn’t affect my conclusion of the hypothesis.

If my study was carried out in a wider context, such as comparing the sphere of influence of Central London and Watford, it is very likely that my conclusion could be applied to this example as well because the Central Place Theory tells us that the bigger the settlement, the wider the ranger of services, and therefore the bigger the sphere of influence. This would be useful for extending geographical theory and understanding as Central London and Watford are better known shopping centres as opposed to St. Albans.

To increase the accuracy of my results, I think, a different data collection techniques needs to be used such as a Dictaphone. This would ensure our results were as accurate as possible, if not 100% accurate. To increase the reliability of my results, we could have gone on two different Wednesdays to compare the areas of spheres of influence on both days or we could have gone on another day to see the sphere of influence on a non-market day. Both of these suggestions would extend my study as they would extend the title of my coursework: I would be comparing two different situations on two different days.