Tobler’s First Law of Geography

Tobler’s First Law of Geography states: “Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things” (Tobler, 1970). This is a feature of most phenomena because the world is spatially structured. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. But don’t think about it too much, or else you will start to interpret everything in relation to this Law (an affliction I have had for several years now, and one that I have passed on to many of the students I teach).

I was reminded of this Law when I recently completed a map of the countries I have visited. Low and behold, the distribution of those countries was spatially structured. This makes sense because some of them I will have visited by travelling over the border from the neighbouring country; I dropped in because I was in the area. For the same reason, I have never visited the Chagos Islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, or Antarctica. Never seemed to find myself in the area (although I have definitely wanted to!). There are lots of spatially structured processes and patterns in the world: disease, competition, rainfall, gossip, predation, fashion, the way light penetrates the ocean. Tobler’s Law is everywhere when you look for it. Have a go at your own map here and see whether your travel behaviour is also spatially structured.

shamylto’s Travel Map

shamylto has been to: Australia, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba, Brazil, Canada, Cocos Islands, Cyprus, Egypt, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Ireland, Isle of Man, Israel, Italy, Jersey, Jordan, Kenya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Philippines, Portugal, Reunion, Saint Barthélemy, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Vatican. Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

Tobler W., (1970) “A computer movie simulating urban growth in the Detroit region”. Economic Geography, 46(2): 234-240.

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