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Polynucleated Urban Landscapes


  • Michael Batty

    (Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London, 1-19 Torrington Place, London, WCIE 6BT, UK,


City systems show a degree of resilience and persistence that has rarely been emphasised in urban theory. There is a fascination for recent and contemporary change which suggests that phenomena such as the rise of the 'edge city', for example, comprise the predominant forces determining how a polynucleated landscape of cities is emerging. We argue here that such explanations of polynucleation are largely false. Urban settlement structures from much earlier times are persistent to a degree that is extraordinary. We show this in two ways: first, from empirical evidence of stable rank-size relations in the urban settlement system for Great Britain over the past 100 years; and, secondly, from simulations based on weak laws of proportionate effect which produce aggregate patterns entirely consistent with these empirical relations. We then propose various spatially disaggregate models of urban development which generate an evolution of polynucleated settlement from initial, random distributions of urban activity. These models simulate the repeated action of agents locating and trading in space which illustrate how early settlement patterns are gradually reinforced by positive feedback. These produce lognormally distributed settlement structures that are characteristic of city systems in developed countries. In this way, we begin to explain how aggregate urban structures persist in spite of rapid and volatile micro change at more local levels of locational decision-making. Polynucleated urban landscapes are clear evidence of this phenomenon.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Batty, 2001. "Polynucleated Urban Landscapes," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 38(4), pages 635-655, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:urbstu:v:38:y:2001:i:4:p:635-655

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    1. repec:eee:jotrge:v:16:y:2008:i:2:p:90-99 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Paola Bertolini & Enrico Giovanetti & Francesco Pagliacci, 2011. "Regional Patterns in the Achievement of the Lisbon Strategy: a Comparison Between Polycentric Regions and Monocentric Ones," Department of Economics 0664, University of Modena and Reggio E., Faculty of Economics "Marco Biagi".
    3. repec:eee:ecomod:v:201:y:2007:i:3:p:495-506 is not listed on IDEAS

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