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Hoyt Sector Model

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Hoyt Sector Model

During the Great Depression in the 1930s, US cities contained inner-city slums beset by many problems. The FDR administration set up new federal government structures to create ways to pull the US out of poverty. Still, it needed university social scientists to study how cities actually worked. According to the US government, an

[i]ntimate understanding of the character of residential neighborhoods, of their structure, of the conditions and forces that have created them as they are and that are constantly exerting pressures that bring about their change is basic, both to 'improvement in housing standards and conditions' and to 'sound public and private housing and home financing policy.'1

The result of one such government-academic collaboration is the famous Hoyt sector model.

Hoyt Sector Model Definition

The sector model was described by economist Homer Hoyt (1895-1984) in 1939. It is a model of the US city based on sectors. Each sector has an economic function and can be extended in space outward as an urban area grows.

The sector model is found in Hoyt's 178-page magnum opus 'The Structure and Growth of Residential Neighborhoods,'1 a study commissioned by the Economics and Statistics division of the Federal Housing Administration, a US government agency founded in 1934. Hoyt was associated with the esteemed 'Chicago school' of urban sociology at the University of Chicago. Often seen only in the form of a simplified sector diagram, the study has lengthy and complex analyses of the conditions of many US cities.

Hoyt Sector Model Characteristics

The sector model is typically boiled down to a 5-sector diagram representing Hoyt's extensive study. Below, we describe each sector as it was understood in the 1930s; keep in mind that many changes have occurred to cities since that time (see sections on strengths and weaknesses below).

Hoyt Sector model, A Hoyt Sector model, StudySmarterFigure 1: Hoyt sector model, Wikimedia Commons


The central business district or CBD in the sector model is the hub of commercial activity located at the center of the urban area. It is directly connected by river, railroad, and land border to all the other sectors. Land values are high, so there is a lot of vertical growth (skyscrapers in the big cities, if physical geographic conditions allow). The downtown often contains the headquarters of major banks and insurance companies, federal, state, and local government departments, and commercial retail headquarters.


The factories and industrial sector is aligned directly along railroads and rivers that serve as transportation corridors connecting rural areas and other urban areas to the CBD. This way, they can quickly receive the materials needed (fuel, raw materials) and ship products onward.

This zone is associated with air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, and other forms of environmental contamination.

Hoyt Sector model, Factories in Chicago 1905, StudySmarterFigure 2: The Factories/Industry sector of Chicago around 1905, Wikimedia Commons

Low-Class Residential

Also known as "working class housing," neighborhoods for the lowest income residents are located in the least desirable sectors flanking the factories/industry sector, and are connected directly to the CBD. Some of the housing is in the form of inner-city neighborhoods, but it also has room to expand outward as the city grows.

Lowest-cost housing is located in the most environmentally vulnerable and contaminated areas. There is a high percentage of rental properties. Low transportation costs attract workers to nearby jobs in the secondary sector (industries) and tertiary sector (services, in the CBD). This area is afflicted by long-term issues of poverty, racial and other forms of discrimination, and substantial health and crime problems.

Middle-Class Residential

Housing for the middle class is the largest sector by area, and it flanks both the low-class and high-class sectors while directly connected to the CBD. While the low-class residential sector has many push factors that encourage people to leave once they are economically able to do so, the middle-class residential sector has many amenities that attract people with the means to afford housing (most of which are owner-occupied). Neighborhoods tend to be safe and clean, with good schools and easy access to transportation. It takes longer for residents to commute to jobs in the CBD or Factories/Industry zone, but the increased transport cost is often seen as worth the trade-offs in terms of quality of life.

High-Class Residential

The high-class residential sector is the smallest but most expensive real estate sector. It is flanked on both sides by the middle-class residential sector and stretches from the CBD outward to the edge of the city along a streetcar or railroad line.

This sector has the most desirable living conditions and is exclusionary, meaning it is impossible for people of limited means to live there. It contains the most prominent homes, often with substantial surrounding acreage, exclusive clubs, private schools and universities, and other amenities. It serves as a source of income for residents of low-class residential sectors who are employed in local homes.

The sector would have originally (i.e., in the 1800s or before) developed in the most advantageous setting in terms of climate and elevation and distant from the pollution, squalor, and disease of the low class and factories/industrial zone. Having a house in an open, higher-elevation area far from the swampy lands along rivers was an essential consideration in the days before air-conditioning, perhaps electricity, and the prevention of diseases spread by mosquitoes and other pests.

The quaternary and quinary economic sector jobs held by residents of the high-class residential sector are found in the CBD; thus, the existence of this corridor allows them to come and go from work and to other functions in their lives and to the countryside (where they likely have second homes) without traveling through other urban sectors.

Strengths of the Hoyt Sector Model

Unlike the earlier concentric rings model of Ernest Burgess, the Hoyt sector model can be adjusted for spatial expansion. That is to say, each sector can grow outward for the following reasons:

  • The CBD expands, displacing people outward;

  • In-migration to the city necessitates new housing;

  • Urban residents change their socioeconomic status between low, middle, and high class and move to other neighborhoods.

Another strength is the conceptualization of urban sectors that allows urban planners, the government, and the private sector a powerful tool for formulating adequate real estate financing, insurance, land use/zoning, transportation, and other policies and procedures.

By utilizing a sector model approach tailored to their specific urban area, interested parties can anticipate and plan urban growth.

For the AP Human Geography exam, you may be asked to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the Hoyt sector model, compare it to other models, and analyze modifications that the sector model should or could undergo to be more relevant to modern-day cities.

Weaknesses of the Hoyt Sector Model

Like all models, Hoyt's work is a simplification of reality. Therefore, it must be modified for local conditions, particularly those determined by physical geography, history, or culture.


As it is primarily based on economic considerations, the sector model does not necessarily consider cultural factors such as the fact that certain ethnic and religious groups may prefer to live in the same neighborhoods regardless of income level, for example.

Multiple Downtowns

The position and importance of the CBD have become less evident since the 1930s. Many (but not all) CBDs have lost space and jobs to other city centers that have developed along major highways; such is the case in Los Angeles. In addition, many government and private sector employers have left the CBD for city outskirts, such as locations along beltways and other major transport corridors, regardless of whether these developed into new centers.

Physical Geography

The model does take into account physical geography to a certain extent, though not the specific conditions in each city. Mountains, lakes, and other features, not to mention urban parks and greenways, can disrupt and change the form of the model. However, Hoyt considers all of these conditions in the study on which the model is based and acknowledges that conditions on the ground will always be different and more complex than a model.

No Cars

The greatest weakness of the sector model was its lack of consideration for the dominance of the automobile as the primary mode of transport. This, for example, allowed wholesale abandonment of many central cities by people of economic means, allowing the low-class residential sector to expand and fill much of the urban core. In contrast, the middle and high-class residential sectors no longer reached the CBD.

Indeed, the automobile allowed employers and people of all economic levels to flee to cheaper, healthier, and often safer suburbs and exurbs, erasing much of the sector structure altogether.

Hoyt Sector Model Example

The classic example used by Hoyt was Chicago. This quintessential symbol of US economic power had attracted millions of immigrants by the 1930s from the US South and worldwide. Its CBD is The Loop, featuring the world's first steel-framed skyscrapers. Various factory/industrial zones along the Chicago River and major rail lines provided jobs for the city's many impoverished African Americans and whites.

Hoyt sector model, Chicago's CBD, StudySmarterFigure 3: Chicago's CBD, Wikimedia Commons

The Great Depression of the 1930s was indeed a time of enormous suffering for the working class in Chicago. Racial tension and associated violence were high. There were also labor strikes, Prohibition, and organized crime, among other issues. Hoyt's sector model provided the city a government and the state and national government a way of planning that they hoped would give Chicago's residents a safe and prosperous future.

Hoyt Sector City Examples

Hoyt provided many examples of urban growth, ranging from small cities like Emporia, Kansas, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to major metropolitan areas like New York City and Washington, DC.

We will consider Philadelphia, PA, briefly. This city fit the sector model quite well in the 1930s, with a robust CBD and a factories/industrial sector along major rail lines and the Schuylkill River, connecting to the port on the Delaware River. Hundreds of thousands of working-class immigrants lived in upstream neighborhoods like Manayunk and South Philadelphia, while middle-class neighborhoods spread to the north and northeast on higher land.

The "high-class economic sector" inhabited the most desirable land along the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad and associated streetcar lines. As the city's population spilled into adjacent Montgomery County, the "Main Line" became synonymous with some of the US's wealthiest and most exclusive suburban neighborhoods.

Some of this pattern remains today - the most impoverished neighborhoods are in the environmentally least healthy locations, the CBD has been rejuvenated as people have moved back into the city in recent decades, and exclusive neighborhoods along rail transport lines still characterize the Main Line.

Hoyt Sector Model - Key takeaways

  • The Sector model describes the growth of US cities based on economic and physical geography.
  • The Hoyt sector model is based on a CBD connected to a Factories/Industrial sector, a Low-Class (working class) Residential sector, and a Middle-Class Residential sector. There is also a High-Class Residential sector.
  • The three residential sectors are determined by location relative to employment and transportation and physical geographic conditions like climate.
  • The strength of the Hoyt model is that it allows the residential sectors to grow outward; the primary weakness is the lack of private automobiles and roadways as the primary form of transportation.


  1. Hoyt, H. 'The structure and growth of residential neighborhoods.' Federal Housing Administration. 1939.

Frequently Asked Questions about Hoyt Sector Model

This is an economic geography model devised by Homer Hoyt that describes and predicts US urban growth.

Urban sociologist Homer Hoyt created the sector model.

The sector model can be applied to any US city, but it was based principally on Chicago. All cities have to modify the model to fit actual local conditions.

The sector model's strengths are that it allows planners, government officials, and others a way to plan and predict urban growth, and it allows for the growth of each sector outward. Another strength is that it takes physical geography into consideration to a limited extent.

The sector model is important as one of the first and most influential US urban models.

Final Hoyt Sector Model Quiz


What city provided the basis for the sector model?

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Show question


(True or False) The sector model has accurately predicted the growth of US cities.

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False. The sector model failed to predict multiple downtowns and automobile transport networks.

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Which of the following is NOT a sector of the sector model?

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Why does the CBD touch all sectors?

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Because the CBD in the model is the hub of economic activity.

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What are the characteristics of the High Class Residential sector?

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A single corridor from the CBD outward; expensive land; along a transport route such as a streetcar line; allows residents to travel to CBD and country without going through other sectors; physical geographic advantages; far away from pollution.

Show question


The _____ sector pulls in recent immigrants, who when they acquire the financial means, move to the ____ sector.

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Low Class Residential; Middle Class Residential

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What was a main impetus for the development of the sector model?

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The FDR administration's focus on alleviating poverty and providing government aid during the Great Depression.

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What are the primary economic considerations in the Hoyt sector model?

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How much housing costs; how much transportation to work costs.

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Why is the factories/industrial sector located along a transport corridor?

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So raw materials can be shipped in easily and quickly, and finished products can be shipped out.

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What are the main problems in the Low Class Residential Sector?

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Racial and other discrimination, environmental contamination, poverty, health, crime, and other social problems.

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