On the problem of boundaries and scaling for urban street networks

A. Paolo Masucci, Elsa Arcaute, Erez Hatna, Kiril Stanilov, Michae Batty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Urban morphology has presented significant intellectual challenges to mathematicians and physicists ever since the eighteenth century, when Euler first explored the famous Königsberg bridges problem. Many important regularities and scaling laws have been observed in urban studies, including Zipf's law and Gibrat's law, rendering cities attractive systems for analysis within statistical physics. Nevertheless, a broad consensus on how cities and their boundaries are defined is still lacking. Applying an elementary clustering technique to the street intersection space, we show that growth curves for the maximum cluster size of the largest cities in the UK and in California collapse to a single curve, namely the logistic. Subsequently, by introducing the concept of the condensation threshold, we show that natural boundaries of cities can be well defined in a universal way. This allows us to study and discuss systematically some of the regularities that are present in cities. We show that some scaling laws present consistent behaviour in space and time, thus suggesting the presence of common principles at the basis of the evolution of urban systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20150763
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number111
StatePublished - Oct 6 2015


  • Complex systems
  • Scaling laws
  • Street networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


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