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Measuring the size and growth of cities using nighttime light

Author

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  • Ch, R.
  • Martin, D.
  • Vargas, J.

Abstract

This paper uses high-resolution images of nighttime luminosity to estimate a globally comparable measure of the size of metropolitan areas around the world for the years 2000 and 2010. We apply recently-proposed methodologies that correct the known problems of available nighttime luminosity data including blurring, instability of lit pixels overtime and the reduced comparability of night light images across satellites and across time. We then develop a protocol that isolates stable nighttime light pixels that constitute urban footprint, including low luminosity urban settlements such as slums, and excluding confounding phenomena such as highway illumination. When analyzed together with existing geo-referenced population datasets, our measure of urban footprint, can be used to compute city densities for the entire world. After characterizing some basic stylized facts regarding the distribution of urban sprawl, urban population and population density across world regions, we offer an application of our measure to the study of the size distribution of cities, including test of the Zipf's Law and Gibrat's Law.

Suggested Citation

  • Ch, R. & Martin, D. & Vargas, J., 2018. "Measuring the size and growth of cities using nighttime light," Research Department working papers 1279, CAF Development Bank Of Latinamerica.
  • Handle: RePEc:dbl:dblwop:1279
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    Keywords

    Ciudades; Desarrollo; Desarrollo urbano; Economía; Políticas públicas;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • O18 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Urban, Rural, Regional, and Transportation Analysis; Housing; Infrastructure
    • R12 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Size and Spatial Distributions of Regional Economic Activity; Interregional Trade (economic geography)
    • R14 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Land Use Patterns

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