Current topographic databases rarely represent higher order geographic phenomena, such as city centres. However, such concepts are often referred to by humans and used in various forms of spatial analysis. Hence, the value and usability of topographic databases can greatly be improved by methods that automatically create such higher order phenomena through cartographic pattern recognition techniques, departing from the very detailed, geometry-oriented representations of topographic databases. As many higher order phenomena are only vaguely defined, this paper develops and evaluates a methodology to acquire definitional knowledge about geographic phenomena by participant experiments and use this knowledge to drive the cartographic pattern recognition process. The method is applied to acquire knowledge about British city centres and delineate referents of city centre from topographic data. City centres produced for ten British cities are compared to areas derived from alternative sources.