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Scaling evidence of the homothetic nature of cities

Rémi Lemoy, Geoffrey Caruso

posted on 24 April 2017

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In this paper we analyse the profile of land use and population density with respect to the distance to the city centre for the European city. In addition to providing the radial population density and soil-sealing profiles for a large set of cities, we demonstrate a remarkable constancy of the profiles across city size.
Our analysis combines the GMES/Copernicus Urban Atlas 2006 land use database at 5m resolution for 300 European cities with more than 100.000 inhabitants and the Geostat population grid at 1km resolution. Population is allocated proportionally to surface and weighted by soil sealing and density classes of the Urban Atlas. We analyse the profile of each artificial land use and population with distance to the town hall.
In line with earlier literature, we confirm the strong monocentricity of the European city and the negative exponential curve for population density. Moreover, we find that land use curves, in particular the share of housing and roads, scale along the two horizontal dimensions with the square root of city population, while population curves scale in three dimensions with the cubic root of city population. In short, European cities of different sizes are homothetic in terms of land use and population density. While earlier literature documented the scaling of average densities (total surface and population) with city size, we document the scaling of the whole radial distance profile with city size, thus liaising intra-urban radial analysis and systems of cities. In addition to providing a new empirical view of the European city, our scaling offers a set of practical and coherent definitions of a city, independent of its population, from which we can re-question urban scaling laws and Zipf's law for cities.

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