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Posted on Nov 10, 2007 in Front Page Features, Tactics101

Tactics 101: 021 – Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield in Urban Operations

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

Step 4 – Functional Zones

In any given urban area there are a number of differing landscapes.  The industrial park is vastly different than the residential areas.  During the battle of Stalingrad, the residential area burned to the ground and fell to the Germans in short order while the large factory buildings held out against all assaults and turned the tide against the Germans.  Thus, you must determine what goes on in particular areas of an urban area.  This allows you to better understand the population, society, and culture. It can assist you in answering things such as: the prevalent type of building composition, when there are likely to be crowds, types of vehicles, social and educational level of population, street patterns, road construction etc.


We typically divide an urban area into the following functional zones: city core, commercial ribbon, core periphery, residential sprawl, outlying industrial areas and outlying high-rise areas. Below you will find a photograph of these functional zones, followed by definitions of each.


City Core.  This is the hub of the urban area and usually contains the area’s downtown or central business district.  It is normally fairly small and compact, but contains the majority of the cities high-rise buildings varying in height.

Commercial Ribbon. Commercial ribbons are composed of rows of stores, shops, and restaurants that are built along both sides of major streets through built-up areas. Typically, such streets are 25 meters wide or more. The buildings in the outer areas are uniformly two to three stories tall—about one story taller than the dwellings on the streets behind them

Core Periphery. The core periphery is located at the edges of the city core.  It normally consists of streets 12 – 20 meters wide with continuous fronts of brick or concrete buildings. The building heights are fairly uniform—2 or 3 stories in small towns, 5 to 10 or more stories in large cities

Residential Sprawl. Residential sprawl areas consist mainly of low houses or apartments that are one to three stories tall. The area is primarily composed of detached dwellings that are usually arranged in irregular patterns along streets, with many smaller open areas between structures

Outlying Industrial Areas. These areas generally consist of clusters of industrial buildings varying from one to five stories in height. Buildings generally vary dramatically in size and composition to match the needs of the particular businesses they house. Industrial parks are good examples of this category

Outlying High-Rise Areas. These areas are similar in composition to city core areas, but may be composed of clusters of more modern multistory high-rise buildings in outlying parts of the city. Building height and size may vary dramatically. Generally, there is more open space between buildings located in the outlying high-rise areas than is found within the city core area.

Step 5 – Street Patterns

As discussed earlier, urban fighting is characterized by extremely close engagements.  Thus, it is critical to understand the street network of a particular area.  Streets will radically effect maneuver, command and control, and lines of communication.  An understanding of the street network sets the conditions for planning on how to isolate an area.   We categorize street patterns into radial, grid, or irregular. Certainly, a city can contain all of these patterns or various combinations of the patterns.  Below you will find a sketch of the patterns followed by definitions of each.


Radial – In this pattern, everything revolves around the center and then moves outward.  Many cities, over the years will continue to add rings around the radial as the urban area size increases.  Because of this, an attacking commander must be careful that the street pattern does not funnel his forces into the center.
Grid (Checkerboard) – This is the most adaptable and universal form of street pattern in an urban area. This pattern typically aids in command and control.

Irregular – This pattern usually results when a city has not planned its network well or has simply outgrown its infrastructure.  At a quick look you can see this pattern lends itself to unpredictability for each side.

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