A village is a small settlement usually found in a rural setting.


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Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, World History

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A village is a small settlement usually found in a rural setting. It is generally larger than a "hamlet" but smaller than a "town." Some geographers specifically define a village as having between 500 and 2,500 inhabitants.

In most parts of the world, villages are settlements of people clustered around a central point. A central point is most often a church, marketplace, or public space. A public space can be a open space (sometimes called a village green), or developed square (sometimes called a plaza or piazza). This type of village organization is called a nucleated settlement.

Some villages are linear settlements. They are not clustered around a central public space, but around a line. This line can be natural, such as a river bank or seashore. (Fishing villages are often linear settlements.) Linear settlements can also develop around a transportation route, such as a railroad line.

Planned villages are communities that do not develop around a central point. They are outlined by city planners, often to avoid land-use conflicts that are common in nucleated settlements.

Planned villages are sometimes called "new towns." Tapiola, Finland, for instance, was planned as an "ecological village" or "garden city" in the 1950s. The nonprofit organizations that planned Tapiola were guided by the principles of providing local jobs, including all income levels, and establishing life in harmony with nature and the natural world.

Villages often function as units of local government. In China and Japan, a village is an official administrative unit. An administrative unit is a single component of government, with its own leadership (similar to city councils) and services, such as mail delivery.

Villages in the Past

In the past, rural villagers usually engaged in a primary activity such as farming or fishing. In the United Kingdom, a "pit village" is a settlement whose primary activity is mining. In many underdeveloped nations, these primary activities are still the focus of rural village life.

Primary activities provide basic goods and services for inhabitants and for people in surrounding areas. In this way, some villages function as trading centers. Villages surrounding the city of Damascus, Syria, for example, have been trading hubs for thousands of years.

Many villages were surrounded by thick walls or gates. A tulou, for example, is a traditional building among the Hakka people of Southern China. These walled, circular buildings are constructed around a large, open, central courtyard. The tulou itself houses most villagers—up to 800.

The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries forever changed village life. The Industrial Revolution, defined as transition from animal-based labor to machines that manufacture goods, vastly increased productivity. As this happened, countless small villages grew into cities and towns.

In this process, called urbanization, nucleated settlements built up around around factories, not churches or community centers. This trend began on the island of Great Britain and eventually spread around the world. Hampstead was a English village that expanded rapidly after rail lines opened in the 1860s, for example. Today, Hampstead is a major neighborhood of London.

Village Life Today

Agricultural villages remain the predominant form of rural settlement throughout most of the world. (In much of North America and Australia, however, the most common form of rural settlement is the isolated farmstead.)

Most villages in developed countries are no longer oriented toward primary activities. Cultural changes, globalization, and other factors have encouraged residents to seek other occupations, or, in some cases, to migrate. Perhaps the most radical change in village life came to Russia during the Soviet period. In the 1920s, Russia was an agricultural nation, with more than 75 million people living in villages. Russia quickly became an industrial nation, with the government supporting a manufacturing-based economy that was mostly located in cities. By the end of the Soviet Union in 1989, fewer than 40 million Russians lived in villages.

Some urban residents moved to villages and commute to jobs in larger cities and towns. This phenomenon is referred to as "urban flight" or "suburban colonization." Villages or suburbs not only grow larger, but gain political power. Conflict between village or suburban residents and inner-city residents over resources and priorities often define political debates in urban areas such as Delhi, India, or Mexico City, Mexico.

The word “village” is sometimes used to refer to certain neighborhoods within a larger urban area. Greenwich Village in New York City, United States, for instance, has enjoyed a reputation as an artistic enclave for more than a century. Today, "the Village" is an upper middle-class residential area.

Fast Fact

Global Village
The "global village" is shorthand for the world connected by electronic devices, such as smart phones or the Internet.

Fast Fact

Philippine Villages
In the Philippines, "village" usually refers to a gated community in an urban area.

Fast Fact

Soul of India
The Indian political and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi declared that the soul of India lives in its villages. In 2011, 69% of India's 1.24 billion people lived in rural villages.

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Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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