Urban scaling and its deviations: Revealing the structure of wealth, innovation and crime across cities

Luís M.A. Bettencourt, Jose Lobo, Deborah Strumsky, Geoffrey B. West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

221 Scopus citations

Abstract

With urban population increasing dramatically worldwide, cities are playing an increasingly critical role in human societies and the sustainability of the planet. An obstacle to effective policy is the lack of meaningful urban metrics based on a quantitative understanding of cities. Typically, linear per capita indicators are used to characterize and rank cities. However, these implicitly ignore the fundamental role of nonlinear agglomeration integral to the life history of cities. As such, per capita indicators conflate general nonlinear effects, common to all cities, with local dynamics, specific to each city, failing to provide direct measures of the impact of local events and policy. Agglomeration nonlinearities are explicitly manifested by the superlinear power law scaling of most urban socioeconomic indicators with population size, all with similar exponents (~1.15). As a result larger cities are disproportionally the centers of innovation, wealth and crime, all to approximately the same degree. We use these general urban laws to develop new urban metrics that disentangle dynamics at different scales and provide true measures of local urban performance. New rankings of cities and a novel and simpler perspective on urban systems emerge. We find that local urban dynamics display long-term memory, so cities under or outperforming their size expectation maintain such (dis)advantage for decades. Spatiotemporal correlation analyses reveal a novel functional taxonomy of U.S. metropolitan areas that is generally not organized geographically but based instead on common local economic models, innovation strategies and patterns of crime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13541
JournalPloS one
Volume5
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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