The Area and Population of Cities: New Insights from a Different Perspective on Cities

28 Pages Posted: 13 Oct 2009 Last revised: 10 Aug 2010

See all articles by Hernán Rozenfeld

Hernán Rozenfeld

City College of New York

Diego Rybski

City College of New York

Xavier Gabaix

Harvard University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Hernan Makse

City College of New York

Date Written: October 2009

Abstract

The distribution of the population of cities has attracted a great deal of attention, in part because it sharply constrains models of local growth. However, to this day, there is no consensus on the distribution below the very upper tail, because available data need to rely on the "legal" rather than "economic" definition of cities for medium and small cities. To remedy this difficulty, in this work we construct cities "from the bottom up" by clustering populated areas obtained from high-resolution data. This method allows us to investigate the population and area of cities for urban agglomerations of all sizes. We find that Zipf's law (a power law with exponent close to 1) for population holds for cities as small as 12,000 inhabitants in the USA and 5,000 inhabitants in Great Britain. In addition the distribution of city areas is also close to a Zipf's law. We provide a parsimonious model with endogenous city area that is consistent with those findings.

Suggested Citation

Rozenfeld, Hernan and Rybski, Diego and Gabaix, Xavier and Makse, Hernan, The Area and Population of Cities: New Insights from a Different Perspective on Cities (October 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w15409. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1486545

Hernan Rozenfeld

City College of New York ( email )

Convert Avenue at 138th Street
New York, NY 10031
United States

Diego Rybski

City College of New York ( email )

Convert Avenue at 138th Street
New York, NY 10031
United States

Xavier Gabaix (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

c/o ECARES ULB CP 114
B-1050 Brussels
Belgium

Hernan Makse

City College of New York ( email )

Convert Avenue at 138th Street
New York, NY 10031
United States

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