General spatiotemporal patterns of urbanization: An examination of 16 world cities

Zhifeng Liu, Chunyang He, Jianguo Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


Urbanization is the most dramatic form of land use change that has profoundly influenced environmental and socioeconomic conditions around the world. To assess these impacts and promote urban sustainability, a better understanding of urbanization patterns is needed. Recent studies have suggested several spatiotemporal patterns of urbanization, but their generality is yet to be adequately tested with long-term data. Thus, the main goal of our study was two-fold: (1) to examine the spatiotemporal patterns of urbanization of 16 world cities over a period of 200 years (1800-2000); and (2) to test four prominent hypotheses of urbanization patterns. Using a set of landscape metrics, we quantified temporal changes in the urban landscape pattern of the 16 cities and examined the four hypotheses individually. Our results show that these cities exhibit several common urbanization patterns: The urban landscape becomes compositionally more diverse, structurally more fragmented and geometrically more complex as urbanization progresses. Our study also suggests that urbanization is a process of shifting dominance among three urban growth modes: Infilling, edge expanding and leapfrogging. However, idiosyncrasies do exist for individual cities, as detailed attributes of urbanization patterns often depend on the environmental and socioeconomic settings of cities. In addition, the choice of specific landscape metrics and the scales of analysis both influence the urbanization patterns revealed. Our study examined the urbanization patterns, for the first time, on long-term and global scales. The findings shed new light on the patterns and processes of urbanization, with implications for future studies of the ecology, planning and sustainability of cities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016


  • Diffusion-coalescence hypothesis
  • Landscape fragmentation
  • Landscape metrics
  • Urban growth modes
  • Urbanization patterns
  • World cities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Hardware and Architecture
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


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