Preliminary evidence for a theory of the fractal city

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Geography and Geology


In this paper, we argue that the geometry of urban residential development is fractal. Both the degree to which space is filled and the rate at which it is filled follow scaling laws which imply invariance of function, and self-similarity of urban form across scale. These characteristics are captured in population density functions based on inverse power laws whose parameters are fractal dimensions. First we outline the relevant elements of the theory in terms of scaling relations and then we introduce two methods for estimating fractal dimension based on varying the size of cities and the scale at which their form is detected. Exact and statistical estimation techniques are applied to each method respectively generating dimensions which measure the extent and the rate of space filling. These methods are then applied to residential development patterns in six industrial cities in the northeastern United States, with an innovative data source from the TIGER/Line files. The results support the theory of the fractal city outlined in books by Batty and Longley and Frankhauser, but with the clear conclusion that different scale and estimation techniques generate different types of fractal dimension.

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