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11ème Colloque Européen de Géographie Théorique et Quantitative, Durham, Royaume-Uni, 3-7 septembre 1999

Transition of Urban Space in Two Systems: the Fractal Geometry of Hungarian Provincial Cities

Les transformations de l'espace urbain et l'évolution de la géométrie fractale dans deux villes hongroises
E. Nagy


En partant d'une analyse des transformations intervenues dans l'urbanisme et les fonctions des villes hongroises depuis le début des années 1990, une étude de morphologie urbaine est conduite sur les cas de Debrecen et de Szeged et illustrée par des mesures fractales pour les cinquante dernières années.

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The global, regional and system-specific context

1In the 1990ies, two trends were in course in the countries of East Central Europe such as transformation of economic and political systems and integration into the world economy. The discussed processes involved significant economic, social and spatial changes in cities of the region. The actors of the transition were local entrepreneurs, multinational companies, the central and local governments furthermore, real estate investors and developers. (Cséfalvay Z. 1995 ; Enyedi Gy. 1998 ; Sykora, L. 1998)

  • 1 In 1988, there were no limited companies in Hungary. By the end of 1992, there were about 1380 in S (...)

2Local businesses are small in scale but major in their number. In the rush of the early 1990ies, a number of enterprises were founded particularly, in the service sector. Transformation of major state companies involved in manufacturing and construction also resulted in an increase of local businesses. Although, they were small regarding to their capital, turnover and employment, there were thousands of them1 in the largest provincial towns looking for offices, premises and plants. In the first half of the decade, they were the main agents of spatial transition of cities.

3Global actors are present in provincial cities of Hungary since the early 1990ies, but there are structural and regional discrepancies between the Northwest (the Vienna-Budapest axis) and the rest of the country. The latter was targeted by foreign investors involved in wholesale, retail, the energy and telecommunication sector in the last four years, but industrial investments are scarce in the southern and eastern regions of Hungary. As a consequence, global actors transformed urban space to different extent in provincial cities and the towns subject to our studies are not ones of the winners. However, multinational companies added new elements to urban space in the East, as well such as large scale green-field retail and storage developments on the edge of cities and reconstruction and re-use of industrial sites.

  • 2 Unfortunately, a major part of local (personal tax) incomes is channelled back to local institution (...)

4The role of the central government in local economies and urban development was turned from a direct, paternalistic control into negligence since the mid-1980ies. As a consequence of acute budget problems, the state retreated from the housing market as an investor and an owner as well. Furthermore, privatisation decreased the role of the central government in local economies through selling or closing down branches of major state-companies. (Barta Gy. 1998) Re-definition of the relation of the government to communities was an important element of the transformation of the political system: the former provides only legislative supervision of local governments and funds to finance several institutions (i.e. higher education and social care)2 . In this way, the most influential agent of the former system disappeared from urban space.

  • 3 About 90-95% of the income of communities is covered by a part (recently only 15%) of personal inco (...)

5Local governments gain a new, independent status by the 1990 Act in terms of finance and decision-making. In fact, communities were not able to exploit the situation and drive and control spatial changes. Revenues of local governments3 were insufficient to finance ambitious (re-) developments. Public services were partly privatised (i.e. local transportation, education, social care) and local authorities were also obliged by the Housing Act to sell the public housing stock at discount price to the renters. (Lichtenberger, E—Cséfalvay Z—Paal, M. 1996) Moreover, traditional urban planning (and planning in general) was in a crisis in the early 1990ies. It was re-defined by the Regional Development Act (1996) that obliged local governments to form long-term development strategies and set up action plans in accordance with it. After a seven-year pause, urban planning regained its ground and respect.

6Liberalisation of real estate markets and privatisation was also a significant element of the transition of urban space. The only major developer, the state withdrew from the market that was dominated by small capitals (households and enterprises) and local developers in the early 1990ies. International investors and developers are present in provincial towns since 1994 but their activities are limited to several large scale commercial developments office buildings. We may presume, the change in the range of actors did not stir up the market in the discussed cities. Although, trends seem to be broken recently: number of foreign investors is increasing (particularly in the western regions of Hungary) and global changes (e.g. collapse of the Russian stock market) have a considerable impact on provincial cities as well. (Nagy E. 1997)

7Such changes made us do empirical studies upon spatial transition our cities of and set up a hypothesis:

  • Erosion of local economic basis bases and the establishment of a number of new, small scale businesses (particularly, in the service industries) produced uneven spatial development inside of cities. City centres and their immediate surroundings has been transformed significantly by retailing and business services. The formerly homogeneous industrial districts have also been differentiated by new land use forms (i.e. wholesale, storage and new industrial plants). We supposed that there has been a substantial divergence between cities and inside cities in the proportion of derelict land, functions and value of real estates. Such differences are "products" of local entrepreneurs, "global" actors and the existing physical frameworks and their images.

  • Globalisation resulted in regional differentiation and a significant shift in the development of "regional centres" (in the range of our model cities). New investments produced homogenous spaces inside cities that are embodied by large scale "green field" investments on peripheral sites. The process has been accelerated by local governments through the establishment of industrial parks and selling major lots of their properties to single investors. (That is a result of their acute shortage of financial resources.)

  • Globalisation has also increased the diversity of the inner space of cities in terms of land use and real estate prices. The former process effected city centres particularly, as business services and retail businesses were expanding throughout the former CBDs and their surroundings, pushing the residential function and business services outwards. Urban cores were subjects also to the expansion of small businesses until 1994-1996.

  • Fragmentation of the city centre was a consequence of both processes (i.e. globalisation and transition) but the former has come over the latter: only a minority of small businesses remained in the centres, they slowly shifted towards the edge of it. In the meantime, shops and offices of major companies occupied the sites of the highest value. Both of our model-cities has been characterised by such trends since the mid-1990ies.

    • 4 Traditional elements of the settlement structure were market centres, scattered homesteads and vill (...)

    Increasing diversity of peripheral areas of cities has also been a general phenomenon although, new functions that made former industrial districts and vacant land along arterial roads a functional mosaic containing different elements. In parallel, "industrial" component has shrunk in the major cities of the Great Plain4 . The remains of their manufacturing sector are troubled with environmental conflicts and structural problems.

8Our preliminary findings were supported statistical analysis and empirical studies (i.e. questionnaire surveys and interviews). In this paper, we make an attempt to organise the information into a model to reveal main trends of the transition of urban space in two different economic/political systems.

Prevailing paradigms in urban studies and planning

  • 5 Studies on urban housing market, housing estates and spatial transformation of cities were publishe (...)

9In the post-war decades, urban studies were dominated by the morphological approach. It was a consequence of the peculiarities of urban development in Hungary particularly, on the Great Plain, and the major impact of German geographical studies (first of all, Christaller’s work) on Hungarian urban research. This trend corresponded with the actual political objectives and the pragmatic attitude towards urban development that concentrated national resources on industrial development and considered housing and consumer services as "complementary" investments that could not be avoided. Despite the significant growth of urban population that involved economic and social tensions in cities (particularly, in Budapest and major provincial towns), studies in urban sociology revealing the conflicts and their roots were scarcely published5. In the 1960ies and 1970ies, geographical studies were limited to spatial analysis of economic restructuring, relations between sociology and the "science of space" were incidental and rare. (Meggyesi T. 1985)

10Until the mid-1980ies, pragmatism of economic and urban policies had a major impact on town planning, as well. Three main streams of urban planning and architecture formed Hungarian towns in that period. The most influential one favoured by politicians followed the principals of the Modern Movement. Separation of urban functions by land use zoning, hierarchical system of roads, public services and retail characterised master plans in those years. In this way, extensive industrialisation (1960ies) and housing developments (1970s) resulted in new, fairly homogenous spaces in terms of functions and physical parameters but involved an increasing differentiation in social and spatial terms (i.e. on the neglected peripheral districts and declining historical residential areas). (Hall, P. 1988)

11An other group of architects followed the classical aesthetic principals of urban planning (particularly, those of Camillo Sitte). Although, they represented a minority of planners, their role was very important in initiating the renewal and preservation of historical core of cities. (Lukovich T, 1997) The third stream is defined as the "organic school" rooted in the traditional Hungarian architecture had an increasing influence in the 1980ies. It represented rather a paradigm of architecture than that of town planning, but shaped cities through designing more and more dwellings and public buildings.

12In the 1980ies, resources for extensive development were exhausted, migration to cities declined and a new regional and urban policy was introduced. A breakthrough has come in urban studies and also in town planning in the course of the decade. Geographers turned towards sociology to adapt new methods. They re-discovered urban ecology and its statistical devices (e.g. factor and cluster analysis) to reveal spatial structure of cities. Since the late 1980ies, behavioural studies have also been extended to a wide range of urban issues to discover the system of relations between factors that shaped urban space.

13Behavioural approach has also prevailed in town planning introducing new principals, such as sustainable development, preservation of historical values of cities, well-being of residents in terms of built and natural environment furthermore, efficient and accessible urban services. In terms of land use, conservation and rehabilitation of industrial districts, development of services, protection of the city centre and rehabilitation of declining residential areas are the main elements of the "new deal" of town planning in Hungary. (Lukovich T. 1997) New master plans consider cities as networks and hierarchies at once (Longley, P—Batty, M. 1996). New principals manifested in urban sub-centres included in local plans, to provide public and basic consumer services are to be developed to relieve centralised spatial structures.

System-specific and peculiar elements of urban space in Szeged and Debrecen

  • 6 It was specific of major cities of the Great Hungarian Plain
  • 7 The leasehold system remained until the 1940ies in the cities of the Great Plain.

14Both cities are "products" of retarded urban development of a region specialised to agriculture and food processing that witnessed the first wave of industrialisation related to the extensive development of the railway network and large scale immigration between the 1870ies and 1914. In both cities, local economies rested on food processing and light industries that were closely related to their agricultural hinterland. The scale of local industrial enterprises was small and medium sized. It was also a period of the rapid development of urban services (i.e. education, culture, health and social care) and infrastructure. As a consequence of economic development and population growth, it was a period of spatial expansion, as well that occurred in a specific way6 . The outskirt of cities was divided into lots and let to leaseholders (i.e. to local residents) by the only major landowner, the community itself7 . In this way, construction of industrial plants was also controlled by local authorities.

  • 8 Institutions of higher education were established in both cities in the 1920ies that involved exten (...)

15After the World War I, economic and social development of cities was retarded as a consequence of global economic crisis and loss of their hinterlands. Local economies were stagnating, only several service industries (e.g. higher education8 , retailing, transportation) were prosperous and effected spatial development considerably. In lack of resources, communities could not deal with housing and infrastructure deficiencies and an uncontrolled expansion of cities was initiated by immigrants. (Sebestyén E. 1938)

16In the centrally planned system, resources of urban development were dependent on the status inside the urban hierarchy. Large scale investments of central government manifested either in industrial developments (from the 1950ies on) or in "normative" support provided by the central government per capita (in the 1960ies and 1970ies). To achieve a better position in the re-distributive system, local authorities provided spatious industrial sites at very low prices, encouraged immigration and increased their administrative area swallowing the surrounding villages. In this period, master plans included ambitious ideas about the extension of industrial districts and transformation of peripheral residential areas of low density and rural landscape into high-rise housing estates. The latter were considered as a desired change towards a more "urban" texture of cities of the Great Plain. (Mendöl T. 1963 ; Szelényi I. 1990)

  • 9 Rural elements has always been parts of cities on the Great Plain. Urban core was surrounded by a r (...)
  • 10 Particularly, those built in the 1950ies and 1960ies

17Despite the industrialisation and housing developments implemented in the 1960ies and 1970ies, single family houses remained subjects to the desire of urbanites. Peripheral rural spaces9 included in Szeged and Debrecen were transformed into highly (or less) appreciated suburban districts in the 1980ies and 1990ies that was not included in master plans. Such trends furthermore, hierarchical approach of town planning and insufficient capacities of consumer services in the "early" housing estates10 strengthened the centralised spatial structure of cities in terms of services, transportation routes and daily paths of residents. (Mészáros R. 1994)

18Such mixture of urban and rural elements and spatial consequences of subsequent cycles of urban growth and industrialisation are present in both major cities of the Great Plain. Despite such similarities, their texture and spatial complexity are different. The reason for this is in their past : Debrecen is a product of "organic" spatial development, but Szeged was re-planned and re-built completely after the flood that had devastated the city in 1879.

  • 11 Historic core includes the area inside the central ruing and its immediate surroundings.
  • 12 The process was initiated by local authorities after the Turkish troops had been defeated and expel (...)
  • 13 Town walls were made of timber, brushwood and mud on the Great Plain.
  • 14 This structure was characteristic of the present industrial and outer residential districts.

19Despite the subsequent improvements, street lining and transformation of street network, the historic core of Debrecen11 still includes the elements of small medieval villages and the main routes linking them to the old market place. (Kozma G. 1994) Spatial expansion of the city was accelerated through absorbing a number of immigrants in the 18th and 19th century12 . As a consequence, the leasehold system discussed above emerged and expanded and the town sprawled over the medieval walls13 that resulted in a very loose, scarcely populated (rural) spatial structure including temporary dwellings, gardens, stables and plough land on the periphery of the medieval core14 . Planned elements appeared only on the edge of the medieval core.

20The first wave of industrialisation and population growth transformed the rural periphery of Debrecen. An industrial "ring" emerged along the main railway lines stretching from the West to the Southeast. A substantial increase in urban population also effected peripheral areas, as immigrants set up dwellings in such districts lacking urban amenities. Despite the rapid changes occurred from the 1860ies on, the first master plan was accepted only in 1928. Planners had to deal with the problem of an irregular street network in the city centre, deficiencies of the infrastructure on peripheral areas, lacking greenery, housing problems and the rural landscape of the edge. New, planned elements of regular spatial structure were added to the existing structure in the interwar period such as several small scale housing developments, a new campus for the university and cultural sub-centre nearby.

21After the World War II, the city was re-shaped by the increasing density of buildings and population and local infrastructure improvements (i.e. construction of high-rise blocks, transformation of the street network and providing extensive land parcels for industrial developments). Such steps increased the area characterised by regular structures significantly, but traditional elements of space (i.e. rural periphery and some elements of the street network) were resistant. Urban space must be considered as a complex system including regular and irregular elements that are characteristic of either the retarded development, or the centrally planned system or cities of the Great Plain.

22Spatial development of Szeged was determined by a master plan (1879) inspired by Hausmann’s design for Paris. Rings and avenues provided a flexible framework for the city in a period of economic prosperity and population growth (1880-1914). The master plan that was considered one of the earliest ones in Hungary defined housing standards by zones and set up a plan for infrastructure development. Development of industrial plants and institutions for public services were controlled by local authorities. An ample space was defined as city centre for retailing, business and public services and residential function between the river Tisza and the inner ring. Wholesale and manufacturing was settled along the river and in the industrial district on the Northwest.

  • 15 Such districts were populated by leaseholders and freeholders who were involved in growing red pepp (...)

23Despite the "urban" character of the plan, local authorities could not deal with housing deficiencies and the consequences of the major role of agriculture in the local economy. They manifested in rural spaces that were transformed into residential areas lacking urban amenities (particularly, after the World War I). Several elements of the master plan were in harmony with urban traditions, such as spacious streets, ample public spaces and lower density of the medieval residential districts15 that were characteristic of market centres of the Great Plain as well.

24The 1879 master plan provided an adequate framework for economic development and population growth in the centrally planned system, as well. Industrial developments were concentrated in the western part of Szeged that resulted in an ample space characterised by mono-functional land-use structure (i.e. manufacturing and producer services related to it directly). Urban space fragmented by avenues and boulevards allowed planners to separate traditional residential areas from high-rise housing estates. In this way, the planned spatial framework of the city saved the land use pattern of the city centre and the surrounding historical districts and protected residential areas from industrial pollution through land use zoning.

25As the economic and political system was transformed, spatial structure of cities was turned from a strictly hierarchical one into a complex network of relations. The process involved changes rather in quality than in quantity of urban land use. Urban space was differentiated by new service businesses that transformed city centres, declining industrial areas and the surroundings of arterial roads. However, land use structures and urban form descended from the former system seem to be resistant to recent changes and still have a major impact on spatial development of cities moving towards either more regular or irregular forms.

The changing morphology of Debrecen and Szeged

26Distinct urban functions are embodied by particular objects (i.e. residential blocks, industrial plants, shops, roads or offices) that are classified and defined as land use forms. Land use maps are imprints of distinct stages of urban development that reflects efforts of residents, local leaders, businessmen, town planners and the central government to drive and control spatial changes. In this chapter, devices of fractal geometry particularly, the analysis of perimeter and scale relations was employed to associate trends in transformation of urban space towards regularity and irregularity with distinct stages of economic, social and political development such as the post-war years, industrialisation of provincial towns (1960ies and 1970ies), the years of "public tertiarisation" (1980ies) and the transition period. In this sense, the present paper must be considered rather a theoretical than a methodological one. (Vicsek T. 1989)

27However, methodology was a major issue in our study, it took a very long time to collect land use maps and statistical information needed for the analysis. Although, digital maps of major cities are available, they include only recent boundaries and structures. Digital processing of the information of old maps required a lot of time. For this reason, we used traditional cartographic methods for stage-counting of perimeter approximation. (Longley, P—Batty, M. 1994 ; Fokasz N. 1999)

28To explain complexity of urban space, we analysed three indices referring to the discussed periods, such as

  • the increase or decrease in the area of particular land use types in the city centres and industrial districts to analyse trends in local economies and their spatial consequences ;

  • proportion of perimeter to the area of contiguous land use parcels (P/A), to follow the dispersion/concentration of urban functions due to structural changes in local economies ;

  • fractal dimensions of land use parcels, to see how the complexity of cities was changing. Dimensions of land use parcels were stabilised in the 5th-7th (in several cases, 8th or 9th) step of subsequent iterations of contiguous stages. In this way, more than 12 steps in the iteration was not needed. In our interpretation, dimensions explain to what extent our spatial object fills the space in. If the value of the dimension was

D<1, the object was considered as a point-like form,

D≈2, the object filled the space almost completely and had a plane-nature,

1≈D, the object was a curve.

The used formula was

D=lim(i → α ) log(Ni)/log(ri2) when

D : the fractal dimension of the certain land-use form,

Ni : the number of stages in the "i" iteration step,

ri : the scale indicator in the "i" iteration step.

29The new aspect of fractal geometry discussed in our study is the historical perspective. The analysis of subsequent stages of urban spatial development applying fractal dimensions in economic, social and political context promoted the modelling of "centrally planned" and transitioning cities.

Industrial districts

30Industrial districts of cities were scenes of significant changes in the past 50 years. In the post-war years, the area occupied by industrial plants was relatively small, but large scale investments resulted in enormous increase in industrial land use in Szeged and Debrecen (1960ies and 1970ies). In the transition period, there were only slight changes in industrial land use. Since we are aware of substantial transformation occurred in local economies in terms of structure, size and organisation, we must look for better indices of spatial transition.

**Planned industrial area in the Master Plan of Szeged, 1969.

Industrial area* and perimeter/area (P/A) index in industrial districts

31As consequence of the "organic" structure of Debrecen, the traditional industrial area emerged in the vicinity of the city centre. Industrial use was substantially reduced (i.e. re-settled onto peripheral areas) in the course of the 1980ies when environmental issues were increasingly considered. In parallel, a new industrial strip emerged along the Budapest-Debrecen axis (M4) on the western part of the city. As a consequence, the perimeter/area proportion increased substantially in the last years of the former system. The transition of the urban economy accelerated the displacement of industrial activities from their traditional terrain (i.e. from the vicinity of the city centre) and the emergence of a new industrial area on the South along a the arterial road M47 that resulted in a slight decrease in the P/A proportion.

  • 16 In the vicinity of the city centre, industrial plants, a market, retail and wholesale functions fur (...)

32In the case of Szeged, trends in industrial land use were similar to those in Debrecen, but the planned structure involved a more concentrated land use structure particularly, in the 1970s. However, the P/A index was slowly declining in the 1990ies, it must be considered as a consequence of the expansion of services in the area of "miscellaneous" land use that16 pushed industrial activities towards the "outer" industrial district on the West.

*Planned industrial area in the Master Plan of Szeged, 1969.

Institutional and commercial area and P/A index in industrial districts

33Institutions of public services and retail land use are also present in industrial districts in both cities and embody the differences between "organic" and planned structures. In Debrecen, institutions of education and social care (i.e. nurseries and kindergartens) were established and operated by major companies in the neighbourhood of their plants in the period of extensive industrialisation when of female labour entered the labour market en masse. Since the 1970ies, institutions of public services operated by local governments were established in housing estates and such land use forms slowly faded in industrial districts (increasing the P/A proportion). As a consequence of its mosaic-like structure, retail land use remained dispersed in the industrial district of Debrecen before and after the transition.

34In the more homogenous structure of Szeged, public services were "islands" in the industrial district however, the planned deconcentration of institutions (i.e. those of vocational training and health care) resulted in larger and less dispersed land use parcels from the 1970ies on. Retail activities were scarce in the area before the transition but it was changed dramatically in the 1990ies (i.e. 60-fold increase in the area). The recent land use structure is more compact and homogenous as a result of the emergence of retail and wholesale strips along main routes.

*The value of dimension is based on the planned area if industrial land use included in the 1969 Master Plan for Szeged.

Change in the dimension of industrial land use in industrial districts

35As a consequence of the "organic" emergence of Debrecen’s industrial district, the multi-faceted area included industrial plants, residential, retail, transportation and recreation land use parcels. Diffusion of industrial activities resulted in a dispersed spatial structure that is represented by the dimension of industrial land use in 1959. "Socialist" industrialisation was characterised by large scale developments at the expense of other functions in the discussed districts. Such trends furthermore, the emergence of the western industrial district increased the value of the dimension by 1976. Although, the period of large scale industrialisation was over in the early 1980ies, spatial transition has not ended yet: town planners made a series of attempts to form more homogenous industrial districts on the edge of the city. Such steps were followed by new green field investments in the 1990ies that explain the high value of the dimension of industrial land use.

36The industrial district of Szeged was characterised by different parameters as a consequence of its planned land use structure that was fairly compact (compared to Debrecen) and dominated by textile and food processing industries before the "socialist" industrialisation (see the dimension of the industrial land use in 1963). Spatial distribution of large scale developments of the centrally planned system were determined by the existing structure that was expanding westwards, and fragmented by open spaces, institutions and recreation areas. As a consequence, the value of industrial land use dimension slightly increased and remained stable by 1979. In the transition period, the declining value is a result of the expansion of other urban functions but not that of a new period of industrial expansion.

37*The value of the dimension is based on the planned area of commercial and institutional land use included in the 1969 Master Plan for Szeged.

Changing dimensions of institutional and commercial land use in industrial districts

  • 17 I.e. forming a buffer zone.

38The lower value of the dimension of institutional land use in Szeged is a consequence of the strictly planned use of the area. Despite the different spatial structure of the discussed cities, dimensions changed in a similar manner. The increase is a result of the planned deconcentration of public services to separate city centres and residential areas from industrial districts and17 relieve the congestion in CBDs.

  • 18 Both are included in the category of commercial land use

39The increasing dimension of retail activities18 reflect the transition of industrial district into mosaics of industrial plants, motorcar shops, filling stations, restaurants, hypermarkets and specialised stores of major floorspace. Wholesale and retail units formed contiguous strips along arterial routes. In Szeged, commercial land use penetrated into industrial districts more "deeply" that resulted in a larger rise in the dimension.

The city centres

40City centres have always been targets for the development of public services. As a consequence, they include a wide range of institutions of public administration, education, health and social care, political and local organisations etc. The area occupied by such functions and their spatial structure was changing due to the development of such services, prevailing planning paradigms, and transition of the physical framework (i.e. expansion and reconstruction of city centres).

Institutional and commercial area and P/A index in city centres

  • 19 On the eastern bank of the River Tisza

41The planned spatial structure of Szeged included an attractive urban centre characterised by two- and three-storey buildings, promenades and parks and bounded by the inner ring road at the end of the 19th century. The area was considered as the scene for development of public services in the subsequent master plans and distinct functions were separated by land use zoning (e.g. formation of a university district on the southern part of the centre and driving the expansion of public administration westwards) in the centrally planned system. Such dominance of the city centre was decreased by new developments in Újszeged19. Developments adjacent to the traditional service centre resulted in an increasingly compact structure in the former system (i.e. declining P/A proportion). In the transition period, rising real estate prices broke off this structure and dispersed public services. In parallel, the area occupied by retail functions increased dramatically and fragmented the city centre into a mosaic of shops, institutions, business services and residential functions. The declining value of the P/A index is referring to the spatial diffusion of shops that resulted in an adjacent shopping area in the 1990ies.

42The area and spatial complexity of public services did not change significantly in the CBD of Debrecen in the 1980ies and 1990ies. It is a consequence of the relatively small extension of the "urban" centre that was surrounded by streets of rural character (e.g. series of single-storey houses, uncovered roads) until the 1960ies. As a consequence, decentralisation of public services was driven towards farther areas of the city, such as the western edge of the city centre and the "Great Forest" on the North that was transformed into a major centre of recreation, culture, higher education and health services. In this way, a relatively dispersed structure of public services emerged in Debrecen. The axial structure of the city centre is also reflected by the diffusion of retail shops that moved from the main road towards the surrounding blocks increasing the diversity of land use.

Dimensions of retail function and public services in city centres

43According to the 1969 master plan for Szeged, development of public services were to be concentrated in the inner ring and Újszeged that would have resulted in a D=1,4572 value by 1990. The expansion of urban functions such as higher education and R&D activities raised the "D" value even higher. The process was going on in the transition period as the land used by public services was increasing quickly forming and adjacent district of institutions in the core of the city centre and a new zone along the inner ring where such land use is sporadic. Since the former trend was prevailing in the 1990ies, the value of dimension increased significantly.

44The "D" value of public services was rather stable in Debrecen although, considerable developments were implemented in the 1970ies and 1980ies. Since a number of new institutions were established in the transition period that concentrated in the city centre, the dimension slightly increased. The difference between the analysed cities in respect of dimensions must be explained by the consequent planning practice driving the formation of the CBD that was present in Szeged and lacking in Debrecen.

  • 20 The main shopping street of Szeged was planned in 1879 and saved its function. The main retail axis (...)

45Retailing must be considered as the counterpoint of public services in terms of spatial diffusion and planning control. Increasing dimension of such land use in both cities reflect the emergence of adjacent shopping areas along main shopping streets and in their vicinity in the 1990ies although, historical roots of retail cores are different20 . The lower value in the case of Szeged is a consequence of the strictly planned (and zoned) structure. Shops filled the space in between public and business service land use parcels, or residential ones and crossed the inner ring in lack of sites. In this way, land use structure of the "transition" zone (the area between the inner and the "major"/middle ring) shifted towards commercial use from a mixed (residential/industrial/commercial/public service) one.

What could dimensions be used for?

  • The discussed land use forms have fractal nature.

  • Results of our analysis supported the findings we presumed in our empirical studies.

  • To reveal socio-economic trends behind spatial changes, empirical studies are need and could not be replaced by mathematical models.

  • Detailed knowledge on localities (including economic, social, political and spatial information) is needed to explain dimensions particularly, in the framework of historical analysis.

  • The meaning of dimensions is ambiguous (economic/social trends may generate different spatial changes that is not reflected by the dimension), for this, other indices (e.g. P/A index) must be applied to control it.

  • Results of fractal geometry reflect the characteristics of planned/organic structures and their impact on long term spatial trends. Although, system-specific changes resulted in also similar trends in the discussed cities (e.g. expansion of retail and wholesale activities in industrial districts).

  • Subsequent periods of industrial developments ("investment booms") are reflected by changing value of dimensions industrial land use.

  • Spatial diffusion of institutions is characterised by long term trends as a consequence of the driving effect of town planning that is reflected by changing dimensions, as well.

  • Retail land use is the least "planned" function of the discussed ones (for lacking environmental considerations and the major impact of individual decisions of investors). The economic transition broke the earlier spatial trends that is clearly represented by the changing dimensions.

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1 In 1988, there were no limited companies in Hungary. By the end of 1992, there were about 1380 in Szeged and 1200 in Debrecen.

2 Unfortunately, a major part of local (personal tax) incomes is channelled back to local institutions through the central government that involves political tensions recently. The state is supposed to provide resources to relieve regional (and local) inequalities (1996, Act on Regional Development), but financial resources are very scarce for this purpose.

3 About 90-95% of the income of communities is covered by a part (recently only 15%) of personal income tax paid by the residents and local trading tax

4 Traditional elements of the settlement structure were market centres, scattered homesteads and villages (the latters’ population varied from few hundred to 8-10 thousand). All the three elements were present inside of urban areas as well forming a single functional unit. (Mendöl, 1952)

5 Studies on urban housing market, housing estates and spatial transformation of cities were published by Hungarian, Polish and Czech authors in the late 1960ies and in the 1970ies but they were censored and in several cases, suppressed (e.g. Szelényi, 1990)

6 It was specific of major cities of the Great Hungarian Plain

7 The leasehold system remained until the 1940ies in the cities of the Great Plain.

8 Institutions of higher education were established in both cities in the 1920ies that involved extensive constructions in both cities financed by the central government.

9 Rural elements has always been parts of cities on the Great Plain. Urban core was surrounded by a ring of traditional family houses with gardens and stables till the World War II. Although, such areas were shrinking permanently as a result of subsequent re-development schemes, new rural spaces were added to major cities when the nearest villages were brought under their administration in the 1960ies and 1970ies. The latter were semi-rural or semi-urban spaces rather than suburban ones at the beginning of the transition period.

10 Particularly, those built in the 1950ies and 1960ies

11 Historic core includes the area inside the central ruing and its immediate surroundings.

12 The process was initiated by local authorities after the Turkish troops had been defeated and expelled

13 Town walls were made of timber, brushwood and mud on the Great Plain.

14 This structure was characteristic of the present industrial and outer residential districts.

15 Such districts were populated by leaseholders and freeholders who were involved in growing red pepper, fruits and vegetable.

16 In the vicinity of the city centre, industrial plants, a market, retail and wholesale functions furthermore, public services were concentrated. This area must be considered as the „transition zone" according to Burgess’s model.

17 I.e. forming a buffer zone.

18 Both are included in the category of commercial land use

19 On the eastern bank of the River Tisza

20 The main shopping street of Szeged was planned in 1879 and saved its function. The main retail axis of Debrecen emerged along a main route linking surrounding villages to the marketplace

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Table des illustrations

Légende *1998=100
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Légende *Planned industrial area in the Master Plan of Szeged, 1969.
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Légende *The value of dimension is based on the planned area if industrial land use included in the 1969 Master Plan for Szeged.
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E. Nagy, « Transition of Urban Space in Two Systems: the Fractal Geometry of Hungarian Provincial Cities », Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Dossiers, document 140, mis en ligne le 18 novembre 2000, consulté le 26 janvier 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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