Analyzing County Consolidation in Kansas through Central Place Theory

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The state of Kansas has a total of 105 counties, ranking 6th in the total number of counties out of all 50 states (American Fact Finder, 2017). However, when it comes to population, Kansas is 35th overall with a population of 2,913,123. Given the state population, Kansas has an abnormally large number of total counties when compared to the correlation between counties and population in other states. This can be seen when comparing Kansas to California. The state of California ranks first in total population out of all 50 states with a population of 39,536,653. However, California only has 58 counties. That’s nearly 14 times the population of Kansas with almost half the total number of counties. If there was a constant correlation between population and total number of counties, the state of Texas would theoretically have ten times the total number of counties in Kansas since the population in Texas is almost ten times the population in Kansas. However, with only a little more than two times the total number of counties in Kansas, this comparison clearly demonstrates the exceptionally large number of counties in Kansas given the population. As a result of this unique relationship between counties and population in Kansas, the possibility of county consolidation comes into play.

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Purpose of Report

This report will analyze the positive and negative effects for both scenarios of county consolidation in Kansas. The first representation would be a no-action scenario, leaving the counties the way they are currently organized, and the other scenario is consolidating the current counties in desire of a smaller total number of counties. There have been numerous studies and reports regarding county consolidation in the past. For instance, in Dr. Burger and Dr. Combs 2009 study of county consolidation in Nebraska, it is asserted that “The pros and cons of consolidating services have been debated for decades” by referencing an argument from 1952 in favor of consolidation due to the decreased spending that would result from removing duplication (Burger and Combs, 2009). This study will not focus on defending one stance against the other, instead, this study will remain neutral and simply report the findings for both scenarios by analyzing the effects through a fresh and different lens; central place theory. The main goal of this report is to provide the reader with the necessary information to aid in a complete grasp and understanding of all aspects present when considering and evaluating the most significant effects of county consolidation.

First, I will introduce spatial analysis; a method for analysis in geography that aims to illustrate patterns of human behavior and spatial interaction through location, accessibility, connectivity and time. This will lead us into Central place theory and I will explain how this theory will help us better understand the effects of county consolidation. We will then look into the overall substantial positive and negative effects of county consolidation. Finally, we will come full circle and ask ourselves if we fully understand the consequential ramifications from both scenarios.

Overview of Spatial Analysis and Central Place Theory

In geography, spatial analysis seeks to provide us with a better explanation of the way humans behave by analyzing geographic data. It is important to note that while spatial analysis offers a unique system for analyzing data, the current research is based on a multitude of factors where many intricate issues are still present and can be difficult to clearly define and resolve. Spatial analysis accounts for a number of more specific theories and models such as location theory, the bid rent theory and central place theory.

Central Place Theory

Central place theory is a geographical theory that explains the size and distribution of central places or settlements within residential systems. This theory is the work of Walter Christaller, a German geographer who first introduced the theory in his book Central Places in Southern Germany, published in 1933. Central Place theory essentially seeks to depict the control that a central place can have on the area of a market, how settlements locate in relation to one another and why some central places operate as towns, villages, or cities. As asserted by John B. Parr, Emeritus Professor at the University of Glasgow and Honorary Professor at University College London, “the general lack of acceptance of central place theory (sometimes verging on outright dismissal) stems from the fact that it was frequently presented as a general theory of the urban system, as opposed to a partial theory that might have formed a valuable component of a broader theoretical framework for understanding such a system. As a consequence, central place theory became exposed to considerable criticism, not all of which may be considered justified.” (Parr pp. 151). When considering the establishment of the theory itself and the criticism that has followed, it’s evident that the theory requires further development and explanation to be the sole basis for analysis of any matter in geography. With that being said, central place theory still offers many beneficial aspects to contribute in part to full analysis of many geographic concerns.

In Central Place Theory, the main purpose of a settlement is to provide goods and services and make them available to the surrounding market area. These areas are typically centrally located and as a result can be called central places. Naturally, settlements that provide goods and services in a larger capacity are higher-order central places. On the other hand, smaller market areas are lower-order central places, but they provide goods and services that are purchased much more often than higher-order goods and services. Higher-order central places are distributed more broadly but smaller in number than low-order places. The sphere of influence is used to describe the area influenced by the central place.

The two key components of this theory are range and threshold (which can be seen in figure 1). Range addresses the distance a person is willing to travel for a product. The threshold is the minimum number of customers needed to support a business. In addition to these components, the theory has the following assumptions. The first assumption is that there are no topographic barriers, next, the population is evenly distributed and last, the tastes, demands, income, and behavior of all people are the same.

In his theory, Christaller utilizes three principles that represent different central place arrangements. These arrangements form a hexagonal grid as we will see in the following figures. First, we have the marketing principle. The marketing principle is focused on the minimum number of centers required to service an area. To do this, the lower-order central places such as villages (See Fig. 2) are located in the corners of the hexagons. Each higher-order area gets one third of each satellite area, resulting in six satellite centers surrounding the higher-order center. Ultimately, from this model, the higher-order centers provide service for three times the area than the lower-order centers.

Next up is the transport principle. This principle deals with minimizing the length of routes connecting central places. The transport principle is most relevant when transportation holds a strong influence over the location of central places. In this scenario, central places will fall on a single route between two areas of high importance.In the hexagonal model seen in figure 3, the shortest connection is achieved through use of the edges of the hexagons. Higher-order places are connected through the transportation lines while the lower-order places are halfway between. Essentially there is more distance between higher-order places than there is between lower-order places and there are six routes dispersing to and from each higher-order place.

The last principle we will discuss is the administrative principle. This principle primarily comes into play when the primary force for organization is administrative services. In this model, the higher-order centers and their corresponding areas including the six neighboring central place are all bunched together. Essentially, (as illustrated in Fig. 4) the smaller regions market areas are completely contained within the larger settlements market area. As a result, the higher-order corresponding region is significantly larger than the region produced from the previous two principles.

History of Kansas Counties

The Kansas Territory was organized in 1854 and officially became the 34th state on January 29, 1861. The state of Kansas is currently comprised of 105 counties. Twenty-eight other counties have existed but are now defunct due to name changes, reorganizations, or mergers and splits. Counties in Kansas are named after Indian Tribes, Presidents, Civil War Soldiers, and more. The counties named after Civil War soldiers are mostly located in central and western Kansas (Kansas Counties, Kansas Historical Society). The majority of counties in Kansas were originally established to serve a largely rural population. Given the growing trend of rural to urban migration, the majority of these counties are impacted. For the sake of adjusting and adapting for what’s to come in the future, county consolidation has appealed to many as a means to establish a more efficient use of resources in order to adequately improve available services.

In recent history, there was a short-lived effort to carry out this consolidation. In 2009, Chris Steineger, a Kansas democrat introduced Senate Bill No. 198 which aimed to consolidate the 105 counties in Kansas down to only 13 (Kansas Senate Chamber, Steineger). The bill received very mixed reactions. In the end, the bill died in committee in 2010. A very small amount of people may believe that consolidation might be effective and beneficial but consolidating 105 counties down to no more than 13 is far-reaching and too drastic. Others are absolutely for or against any serious consideration for consolidation. Overall, it seems that neither side can find common ground on this issue. As you will see below, we will discuss common examples of the specific arguments for or against consolidation and analyze these concerns through multiple connections to the aspects of central place theory.

Significant Effects of County Consolidation

County consolidation has its advantages and disadvantages. Combining resources and local government can effectively reduce unnecessary duplication and result in the formation of stronger and more capable economies. Alternatively, it can result in the loss of government jobs and increase the distance that residents travel to the nearest courthouse.

Some residents may be concerned that the loss of their county seat from consolidation would result in an economic loss for the county. In reality, reduced employment is a probable effect. A counter-argument to this stance is that the main role of local government has never been to provide jobs, therefore, we shouldn’t rely on it for employment. Additionally, some even see a positive effect from less government jobs. This positive effect is decreased tax. The fewer the government employees, the more money the taxpayers get to keep in their pockets. More money in taxpayers’ pockets leads to more spending which leads to the creation of more jobs. Elaborating further on this possible positive outcome, we can see a connection between how the creation of more job openings will help maintain population and even increase it. This result can help smaller areas increase their population and eventually become capable of meeting the threshold for the establishment of new businesses in the future.

Hitting on the next concern, residents may be worried that if the counties consolidate, they will have to travel a much further distance to the nearest courthouse in order to take care of their business. This concern directly relates to one of the key components in central place theory; range. Additionally, we can see the obvious connection to the transport principle in central place theory as well. Others might argue that there are plenty of alternative ways to handle business without having to travel to a distant courthouse such as online services or the mail.

In addition to the concern of increased travel distance for specific services, such as those from a courthouse, residents who live in rural counties may share the concern of decreased quality of service. In many rural counties, you can renew your driver’s license in the county courthouse. That one courthouse is typically the only driver’s license bureau for the county’s entire population. For example, in Greeley County, a rural county in KS with an estimated population of 1,249 in 2017 (Population in Kansas, by county), you can renew your driver’s license in the county courthouse. The concerning factor is when we consider the number of driver’s license bureaus available to residents of a more densely-populated area such as Johnson County, KS. This county has an estimated population of 591,178 in 2017 but just three locations available to complete the required exam for driver’s license renewal (Kansas Department of Revenue). Simply put, Johnson County has more than 470 times the population of Greeley County but only has three times the locations for driver’s license renewal. This clearly disproportional relationship can cause absurdly longer waiting times for something as simple as renewing your license.


This report utilizes the valuable principles and key components of a commonly dismissed theory in an effort to go against the typical focus of supporting or defending one stance against the other and, instead, evaluate the effects of county consolidation in a new manner while remaining neutral. The unique analysis in this report provides a basis for an improved conversation between individuals with opposing views. From the marketing principle to the transport or administrative principle in central place theory, we now have a comprehensive understanding of the theory itself to aid in part to an improved dynamic outlook on county consolidation.

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Analyzing County Consolidation in Kansas through Central Place Theory. (2021, Oct 13). Retrieved February 8, 2023 , from

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