Mathematical models to explain the origin of urban scaling laws: a synthetic review

Fabiano L. Ribeiro, Diego Rybski
The quest for a theory of cities that could offer a quantitative and systematic approach to manage cities is at the top priority, given the challenges humanity faces due to the increasing urbanization and densification of cities. If such a theory is feasible, then its formulation must be in a mathematical way. As a contribution to organizing the mathematical ideas that deal with such a systematic way of understanding urban phenomena, we present this material, concentrating on one important aspect of what recently has been called the new science of cities. In this paper, we review the main mathematical models present in the literature that aim at explaining the origin and emergence of urban scaling. We intend to present the models, identify similarities and connections between them, and find situations in which different models lead to the same output. In addition, we report situations in which some ideas initially introduced in a particular model can also be introduced in another model, generating more diversification and increasing the scope of the models. The models treated in this paper explain urban scaling from different premises: from gravity ideas, passing through densification ideas and cites’ geometry, to a hierarchical organization and socio-network properties. We also investigate scenarios in which these different fundamental ideas could be interpreted as similar — where the similarity is likely but not obvious. Furthermore, in what concerns the gravity idea, we propose a general framework that includes all gravity models analyzed as a particular case.

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