Inward population movements

By Matt Burdett, 28 May 2018.

On this page, we look at centripetal population movements in urban environments, including rural–urban migration in industrializing cities, and inner city gentrification in post-industrial cities.

Types of population movement in urban areas

There are major similarities with migration theory when looking at how populations move around urban areas. Lee’s model of migration describes push and pull factors along with intervening obstacles. It suggests that people move due to the desire to find a better place to live and work. The movements here can largely be seen in the same way. However, various levels of government (local, regional, national) government deliberately create the conditions in different parts of the city to encourage certain types of movement. This can be through housing policies (e.g. allowing better quality housing to be built on the outskirts), tax breaks for businesses (encouraging people back to the inner city) and so on.

The movements can be seen as inward or outward:

  • Centrifugal movements are movements of people out from the centre of the urban area.
  • Centripetal movements are movements of people in the direction of the centre of the urban area, or from the surrounding rural areas into the urban area.

It’s important to recognise that almost all cities experience both centripetal and centrifugal movements simultaneously. This is due to the huge variation in wealth, income, employment, health and education requirements, and so on – all of these affect where people choose to live.

Centripetal movements in urban areas

Centripetal movements are most commonly are associated with either low income countries where rural to urban migration is bringing people into the city to avoid bad conditions in the rural areas, or high income countries where previously derelict areas are repopulated by young and wealthy residents. Centripetal movements can, of course, occur in all cities.

Rural-urban migration

Migrants move to the city for the reasons outlined in migration theories such as Lee’s Model of Migration and Reilly’s Gravity Model.

In the modern era, this is continuing to happen in almost all countries – only those which already have a very urban population are not experiencing a continuation of rural to urban migration. A major pull factor in the process is the availability of jobs in the industrializing cities of Middle Income Countries, which require inexpensive and relatively unskilled labour for manufacturing, processing and service industries. Though the movement is greatest in lower and middle income countries, it is still occurring in many high income countries too, as young people move for educational and employment opportunities.

Rural to urban migration in a globalizing world

Rural to urban migration is further complicated by international migration. Reilly’s Stepwise Model describes how migrants gravitate towards urban areas, but doesn’t mention that these urban areas can be in other countries. The result is that major urban centres such as Sao Paulo, Paris, New York and Durban are experiencing growth not only from within their own countries but also from international migrants. This type of rural to urban migration is closely linked to the concept of the World City or Global City, whereby a select few cities attain an economic status that is felt around the entire planet. Cities such as London, New York and Paris become magnets for migration due to the links they have with so many other places.


Gentrification occurs when areas that were previously poor and perhaps even derelict become popular among people with relatively high disposable incomes.

These areas are usually in the old inner city areas of urban centres in High Income Countries. Prior to gentrification, these areas were relatively undesirable for living: they often were dilapidated, polluted, with poor quality services. Their location near the Central Business District was not an asset because the housing was cramped and poor quality, and social problems such as crime and drug use may have been common.

From the point at which deindustrialisation began to occur – around the 1970s and 1980s especially – several factors combined to make these areas more attractive, especially to a younger population who were keen to locate near to work and nightlife in the CBD:

  • Closure of the light industry that used to occur here
  • Increasingly high costs for housing in the rest of the city
  • Low housing costs due to poor quality of buildings
  • Willingness of city authorities to support redevelopment
  • Historic buildings with character were vacant and could be renovated
  • Reduced population density as previous inhabitants become more affluent and move elsewhere; or the ‘ghettoisation’ of inner city areas is amplified due to White Flight (white residents move out as the area is perceived to be dominated by other racial and ethnic groups, especially in the United States), leading to a loss of population
  • Relocation of some residents to government-built housing in other parts of the city, especially the edge of the urban area
  • Minority groups grouping together in these areas for community and safety, e.g. the LGBT quarters of many HIC cities
  • Liberalisation of social norms creates a demand for spaces in which people can express themselves more freely than in other areas of the city
  • Young people get married and have families much later in their lives than they used to, so they are more willing to live in a less ‘family friendly’ area
  • The process can be ‘jump started’ by infrastructure development such as rail or metro stations

Gentrification occurs in stages. The ‘pioneers’ of the gentrified community begins to move in and update the housing stock (note: they renovate, rather than demolish); they are followed by others, until the new inhabitants have upgraded enough of the area for it to become more desirable to a wider section of the population. At this point, rental prices in the area may increase beyond the affordability of the original inhabitants, who may be forced to relocate. This is known as ‘displacement’. This has led to accusations that gentrification has a negative impact on communities.

Re-urbanisation and urban renewal

Urban renewal is very similar to gentrification, except rather than being led by individuals who move into an area, it is usually a government-led plan to improve neglected areas within the existing urban area. In some cases this appears almost identical to gentrification (the improvement of the existing housing stock, retaining most of the features of the area) but gentrification is usually driven by the ‘organic’ improvements that come about because places are popular among young professionals, while re-urbanisation can be strongly influenced by planners. Planners frequently don’t redevelop existing buildings but demolish them and build new ones. This latter type of improvement is often accompanied by deliberate planning for changes to services, employment opportunities, and transport networks.

Suburban intensification: a type of urban renewal

The suburbs are the extensive areas of housing that make up most of the urban area. They are described as ‘sub-urban’ because they a clearly a built environment but have low population densities and low levels of service provision (e.g. few shops, hospitals and transport facilities – the exception is education, because schools are located in suburban areas to avoid children having to commute long distances).

Suburban intensification occurs when the population density of the suburbs increases. This does not necessarily mean that high-rise buildings are constructed. It can be simply that derelict buildings and empty space between buildings is redeveloped, so more houses fit in the same space. In addition, houses can be converted to apartments. This can be very similar to a gentrification movement, as young couples and singles move into an area and require less space.


No specific sources were used to write this page.

Inward population movements: Learning activities


  1. Distinguish between centripetal and centrifugal movement of population in urban areas. [2]
  2. What kind of countries are generally associated with centripetal population movements? [1]
  3. Explain why rural to urban migration is common in some countries. [4]
  4. What is meant by the term ‘Global City’ (also known as ‘World City’)? [2]
  5. Why are some Global Cities continuing to experience significant rural to urban migration despite being in High Income Countries? [3]
  6. Define the term ‘gentrification’. [2]
  7. Outline the process by which areas become gentrified. [3]
  8. Outline three factors that may cause gentrification. [6]
  9. With reference to key terms, describe the impacts of gentrification on both the existing population and the new population. [4]
  10. Distinguish between re-urbanisation and gentrification. [2]
  11. Describe the features of suburban areas. [3]
  12. Explain how some suburban areas may experience population growth. [2]

Other tasks

Create an infographic of this page in conjunction with your notes from the population section of your course. Remember to consider the audience when thinking about colour, text styles and font size.