Types of Regions: Formal, Functional & Vernacular

There are many different ways to divide land up into regions. In this lesson, we’ll look at the common types of regions in geography, including formal regions, functional regions, and vernacular regions.
Imagine that you’re standing in the middle of a city and you begin to walk. You walk and walk and walk, and then you’re in the suburbs and you keep walking and walking and walking, and then you’re in the countryside and you’re still walking. Will you know when you pass from one place to another? How will you be able to tell if you cross the city line, or even the state line?
Geography is the study of the earth’s features and how human behavior interacts with them. Often, the earth is divided into regions, or areas distinguished from each other.
But how are regions formed? Are there always clear-cut boundaries from one region to the next? To answer those questions, let’s look closer at three common types of regions in geography: formal, functional, and vernacular regions.
Formal Regions
Imagine that you’re standing in the middle of Atlanta, the largest city in the state of Georgia. You are in the city of Atlanta, the state of Georgia, in the United States of America, which is in North America. Not too far away is the Smoky Mountain range.
Regions defined formally, often by government or other structures, are called formal regions. Cities, towns, states, and countries are all formal regions, as are things like mountain ranges.
Formal regions often nest inside one another, so that when you are standing in the middle of Atlanta, you are in the city of Atlanta, which is part of Fulton County, which rests inside the state of Georgia, which is in the country of the United States, which is on the continent of North America. All of those are formal regions: you are standing in five regions at once!
Functional Regions
OK, so you’re in the middle of Atlanta. Now let’s start walking. After a while, we see a sign telling us we’re moving from Atlanta into another city, or from one county into another. But things on one side of the city line aren’t immediately different from things on the other. The houses still look the same, and there are many of the same stores. In some ways, it doesn’t feel like we’ve left Atlanta at all!
Functional regions are made up of a central place and surrounding areas affected by it. Often, this is a metropolitan area that consists of a major city and lots of smaller towns or cities that surround it.
Atlanta is a good example. The Atlanta metro area includes over 140 cities and towns. Places like Marietta, Alpharetta, Sandy Springs, and others are all part of the Atlanta region. In fact, the functional region of the Atlanta metropolitan area is almost as big as the entire state of Massachusetts!
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