Settlement is defined as an organised colony of human beings together with buildings in which they live or use and the paths and streets over which they travel. Human settlements may consist of only a few dwelling units (hamlets), or they may be as large as megalopolis with a big cluster of buildings accommodating millions of people. Generally two types of settlements are recognized as rural and urban or villages and towns. Rural and urban are relative terms because there is no universally accepted criteria to distinguish them from each other. Different countries use different criteria for this purpose. Rural and urban settlements are distinguished from each other on the basis of occupation of its people and the population size. Rural settlements have smaller population and their inhabitants are engaged in primary activities like agriculture, fishing, mining etc. Urban settlements have larger population and their inhabitants are engaged in secondary, tertiary and quaternary activities such as manufacturing, trade, transport, service, research and development.
Rural settlements are closely related to land and have direct contact with natural environment. Two distinct forms of rural settlements are (i) Compact settlements and (ii) Scattered or dispersed settlements.
Forms of Rural Settlements
These settlements are found in fertile areas. The houses are built in close vicinity along narrow streets. Initially a rural settlement may begin as a small hamlet at the intersection of two footpaths or near a water body. e hamlet grows in size as new houses are built nearby. The size of compact settlements depends upon the fertility of the soil. It varies from a few huts in arid and semiarid areas to settlement of 500 to 1,000 persons in the Ganga plain. People work in the fields during the day and come back to the village in the evening. They live in a closely knit society.
Most of the river plains of monsoon Asia have compact settlements. In the plains of India, China and Thailand, large nucleated village is a common sight. In the Ayeyarwadi (Irrawaday) delta of Myanmar, there are linear settlements along with nucleated small villages. The Kwanto plain of Japan has the largest concentration of compact settlements.
Scattered or Dispersed Settlements. These settlements are formed of one or two dwelling units which are knitted together in a common bond by a cultural feature such as a church, a mosque or a temple. Such settlements are found in sparsely populated areas. The size of fields is large and the farmer constructs his house in the field itself. Such settlements are found in the wheat-growing areas of U.S.A., Canada and Australia. Scattered settlements are also seen in the areas of plantation agriculture in Asia and Africa. Elsewhere they are found in hills, plateaus and highlands. In India, such settlements are found in northern Karnataka. Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and hilly areas of northern part of West Bengal.
Rural Settlement Patterns
Such villages develop along some road, railway, river or a canal. The main streets run parallel to road, rail or river and main shops are also in the main street. Linear pattern is also found along the sea coast. The od plains of rivers in the hilly terrains are also occupied by linear settlements. In the low-lying areas of western Europe, villages are often positioned on dykes and levees forming linear patterns. In India, such patterns are found all along the major roads and rivers.
Cross Shape Pattern
This pattern is found at a place where two routes cross each other at right angles. The houses are built along the routes in all the four directions.
Sometimes many routes converge at or diverge from a particular point. Houses are built along all the routes and star-like pattern emerges.
Sometimes the routes meet in such a way that they make a ‘T’ junction. People start making their houses along the routes extending in all the three directions and T-shape pattern develops.
This pattern develops either in at lands or around a pond, tank or a crater. In such cases people prefer to build their houses near the centre in all the directions. Such villages are found in large number in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
When a road crosses a canal or a river through a bridge, houses are built both along the road as well as canel or river. This is known as double pattern.