Kelli Fika

Date of Award

January 2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Geography & Geographic Information Science

First Advisor

Bradley Rundquist


The face of the many rural towns in the U.S. Great Plains region has changed dramatically. Many towns that boomed in the early 1900s struggle to survive or no longer exist, collectively contributing to the depopulation of the Great Plains. One way to study these changes and understand what influences a rural town’s ability to survive is through analyzing its spatial morphology. Spatial morphology includes looking at changes in roads, buildings, and building plots and how these elements work together to shape town form and function. Previous works have focused mainly on applying this technique to urban areas, but I demonstrate here that this technique can be applied to rural towns. I selected Lakota, North Dakota, as a case study. I used historical, geographical, and theoretical methods to examine changes in town development and morphology over a period of 100 years. I also conducted a field study for comparison. The results indicate that the spatial morphology of Lakota has changed a great deal, with those changes driven mostly by changes in the predominant mode of transportation (i.e., a shift from rail traffic to road traffic). One important change in Lakota, and many other Great Plains towns, is a shift of the business district from the downtown area to the town’s periphery along a primary road. Rural towns that have survived have continually adapted to changing conditions. Studying spatial morphology is a tool to manage development, preserve history, and plan for towns that can be sustained into the future.