the 40 cities project


Despite growing recognition of the important role of cities in economic, political and environmental systems across the world, comparative, global-scale research on cities is severely limited. In this research we are working to understand the similarities and differences in urban form and growth in 40 mid-sized cities (1-5 mil inhabitants) from different geographical settings and levels of economic development. Our goal is to determine not only how cities have changed from a land use perspective, but to associate these trends with a range of socio-economic indicators to uncover which driving forces are affecting differential patterns of urban expansion. We derive land use information for each city from change detection analysis of satellite imagery, and combine these data with landscape pattern metrics and socio-demographic data to derive a set of four indicators: (a) the spatial extent of urban areas; (b) the rates of land conversion; (c) the location and pattern of new urban land; (d) the amount of discontinuous growth; and, (e) the efficiency of land development, as suggested by population density. Our initial results have revealed four city types: low-growth cities with modest rates of infilling (e.g. Prague); high-growth cities with rapid, fragmented development (e.g. Bangalore); expansive-growth cities with extensive dispersion at low population densities (e.g. Phoenix); and frantic-growth cities (e.g. Guangzhou) with extraordinary land conversion rates at high population densities.

Recent publications

Schneider, A. and Woodcock, C.E. (2008). Compact, dispersed, fragmented, extensive? A comparison of urban growth in 25 global cities using remotely sensed data, pattern metrics and census information. Urban Studies, vol. 45, p. 659-692.

Schneider, A. (2007). Monitoring urban areas globally and locally: understanding land use change and its possible drivers, in Our Changing Planet: A View from Space, Cambridge University Press, editors M. King, K. Partington, and R. Williams.

Click here for additional publication information.

Research questions

How are cities and metropolitan areas changing across the globe? What socioeconomic and policy factors drive these changes?

Research team

Annemarie Schneider, Curtis Woodcock (Boston University)

Similar projects

china’s rapid urbanization

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