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Urban scaling and the geographic concentration of inequalities by city size

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  • Somwrita Sarkar

Abstract

Urban scaling laws summarise how socio-economic behaviours of urban systems may be predicted from city size. While most scaling analysis rests on using aggregate quantities (total incomes, GDP, etc.), examining distributions of these aggregate quantities (e.g. income distributions) could shed light on how socio-economic inequalities may correlate or be causally linked to city size. In this direction, this paper examines how geographic distributions and spatial inequalities of income and housing costs vary by city size. The paper presents three principal results. First, it brings out qualitative implications of quantitative scaling by relating scaling of the distributions of income and housing costs to their specific geographic concentrations. Second, it shows that some small and medium sized cities are clear outliers, showing behaviour similar to the largest cities and starkly different from the behaviours of the bulk of small and medium sized cities. Third, this above observation explains why heteroscedasticity, or large and heterogeneous fluctuations, are frequently observed in urban indicator data when plotted as a function of city size. Putting together these three results, overall, it is shown that income distributions and housing costs scale and concentrate in cities by size in a predictable way, where the largest cities superlinearly/disproportionately agglomerate the highest income earners and the highest housing costs, and show relatively lower concentrations of low-middle income earners and low-medium housing costs. In contrast, most of the smaller and medium sized cities show a ‘flipped’ opposite trend. A few small and medium sized cities are outliers: they show trends that match those of the largest cities, due to specialisations of economic functions or concentrations of high-paying occupations in these cities. The empirical findings lead to a discussion on the objective and normative relationships between city size and urban inequalities. It is suggested that due to the concentrations of high income and high housing costs, largest cities may have a resulting housing market structure that will push out lower and medium income earners, thereby making affordability, diversity, and socio-spatial justice emerge as important urban policy issues.

Suggested Citation

  • Somwrita Sarkar, 2019. "Urban scaling and the geographic concentration of inequalities by city size," Environment and Planning B, , vol. 46(9), pages 1627-1644, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:envirb:v:46:y:2019:i:9:p:1627-1644
    DOI: 10.1177/2399808318766070
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Tainá A Bittencourt & Mariana Giannotti & Eduardo Marques, 2021. "Cumulative (and self-reinforcing) spatial inequalities: Interactions between accessibility and segregation in four Brazilian metropolises," Environment and Planning B, , vol. 48(7), pages 1989-2005, September.
    2. Massing, Till & Puente-Ajovín, Miguel & Ramos, Arturo, 2020. "On the parametric description of log-growth rates of cities’ sizes of four European countries and the USA," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 551(C).
    3. Elisa Heinrich Mora & Jacob J. Jackson & Cate Heine & Geoffrey B. West & Vicky Chuqiao Yang & Christopher P. Kempes, 2021. "Scaling of Urban Income Inequality in the United States," Papers 2102.13150, arXiv.org.
    4. Diego Rybski & Elsa Arcaute & Michael Batty, 2019. "Urban scaling laws," Environment and Planning B, , vol. 46(9), pages 1605-1610, November.
    5. David Castells‐Quintana & Vicente Royuela & Paolo Veneri, 2020. "Inequality and city size: An analysis for OECD functional urban areas," Papers in Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 99(4), pages 1045-1064, August.

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