Evidence for the homothetic scaling of urban forms

Rémi Lemoy, Geoffrey Caruso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The size and form of cities influence their social and environmental impacts. Whether cities have the same form irrespective of their size is still an open question. We analyse the profile of artificial land and population density, with respect to the distance to their main centre, for the 300 largest European cities. Our analysis combines the GMES/Copernicus Urban Atlas 2006 land use database at 5 m resolution for 300 larger urban zones with more than 100,000 inhabitants and the Geostat population grid at 1 km resolution. We find a remarkable constancy of radial profiles across city sizes. Artificial land profiles scale in the two horizontal dimensions with the square root of city population, while population density profiles scale in three dimensions with its cube root. In short, cities of different size are homothetic in terms of land use and population density, which challenges the idea that larger cities are more parsimonious in the use of land per capita. 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. Our findings also yield homogenous spatial definitions of cities, from which we can re-question urban scaling laws and Zipf?s law for cities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)870-888
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironment and Planning B: Planning and Design
Issue number5
Early online date19 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

doi: 10.1177/2399808318810532


  • Land use
  • population density
  • radial analysis
  • urban scaling laws
  • Zipf's law for cities

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