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Key Difference – Formal vs Functional Regions

A region is a part of the earth’s surface that is characterized by a level of similarity based on certain features. They are defined by the scale of physical characteristics and human characteristics. In geography, regions are categorized into three: formal, functional and vernacular. Formal regions are politically defined regions such as countries, states, and cities. A region that is specifically divided or located for a function is called a functional region. This is the main difference between formal and functional regions.

What is a Formal Region?

A formal region is a specific area that is defined by economics, physical properties, culture or government. A formal region is also known as a uniform region as it shares one or more physical or cultural features. Such formal locations are called uniform since they are combined with, uniform soil and uniform climate that result in uniform land use, settlements and mode of life within a region.Key Difference -  Formal vs  Functional Regions

What is a Functional Region?

A region that is specifically divided or located for a function is called a functional region. A functional region is made up of a specific location and area surrounding it. Areas containing a kind of service, such as cable television, or points on a map that are a terminal for an activity, such as travel or communication via telephone can also be named as functional regions.

Difference Between Formal and Functional Regions

What is the difference between Formal and Functional Regions?

Formal Region

Functional Region

  • Often concrete and physical in nature
  •  Specific to one area
  •  Has specific boundaries that set them apart from other regions in the world
  •  Areas organized around a node or focal point. (like a university, airport, or a radio station
  •  Often can be seen inside one another
  • This kind of region diminishes in importance outward
  •  Homogeneous areas or habitats inhabited by social groups, societies, or nations
  • Often a metropolitan area that consists of a major city and lots of smaller towns or cities that surround it
  • Organized and represented by small systems or part systems
  •  The region is tied to the central point by transportation or communication systems or economic or functional associations
  •  Based on facts and knowledge of an area; like population and temperature
  • Many people live in one town and work in another because they are part of the same functional region
  • Has clear cut, political boundaries
  •  Functions and works together as part of an economic and social system
  •  Characterized by a common human property like language, religion, nationality, political identity or culture, common physical property, climate, land form and vegetation
  •  The purpose of functional locations is to study the structure and functions of community within some spaces
  • Defined by measures of: Population, ethnic background, crop production, per capita income, population density and distribution, industrial production, mapping physical characteristics, temperature, rainfall and growing season
  • The accessibility and isolation are measured in terms of cost distance, time distance or mileage through a transport network – these distances are measured from special nodes or axes
  • Defined by common political identity, political units – where all people are subject to same laws and government

   Examples: States, Countries, Cities, Counties and Provinces

  • Defined by a set of activities, connections or interactions


  • Examples for formal regions: Chinatown (San Francisco, CA) Chinatown – (big cities in USA) – Chinese people, restaurants, stores
  • Examples include newspaper circulation area, Commuter traffic patterns, Subway systems in NYC, Boston, etc., Highway systems, Los Angeles Metropolitan Area

Formal vs Functional Regions – Conclusion

Formal and functional regions both have a social, cultural and political system, along with its living population. A formal region is an area identified by a political and social system and a functional system is an area, where we find a particular function taking place like for an example; electronic production, newspaper circulation etc. Both these terms are merely man-made definitions to facilitate the governing and growth of one specific area with the vision of achieving higher status in terms of the economic, social, cultural and political growth of one’s country.

Image Courtesy:

“Paris Ring Roads A104” By User:Euro commuter – Plotted by software written by the author (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

“Russian Regions-EN” By User:TavorkRussia_-_blank_map_(2008-01).svg: Ezhikiderivative work: Plavius (talk)Luís Flávio Loureiro dos Santos – Russian-regions.pngRussia_-_blank_map_(2008-01).svg (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia