Complex Networks and Fundamental Urban Processes

25 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2019 Last revised: 10 Jun 2020

See all articles by Luís M.A. Bettencourt

Luís M.A. Bettencourt

University of Chicago; Santa Fe Institute

Date Written: June 11, 2019


Networks provide a particularly useful analytical framework for modeling many distinct phenomena in cities, from social and economic contact and exchange, to physical infrastructure and to migration flows and trade. Here, I provide a primer on the importance of networks in cities as the bases for quantitative modeling and theory. I emphasize a number of social, economic and infrastructural characteristics of these networks, and their role in expressing general phenomena such as the division of labor and knowledge, epidemics of infectious diseases and information, spatial topology and densification, mobility, congestion and migration. I also provide a framework for understanding networks at different scales in space and time from neighborhoods, to cities and to urban systems. I finish with a discussion of open questions for urban theory and network science and point to the particular multifaceted, subtle and dynamical roles of networks in cities as rich grounds for new research developments.

Keywords: Division of Labor, Knowledge, Epidemics, Infrastructure, Migration, Demography

Suggested Citation

Bettencourt, Luís M.A., Complex Networks and Fundamental Urban Processes (June 11, 2019). Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation Research Paper No. 8, Available at SSRN: or

Luís M.A. Bettencourt (Contact Author)

University of Chicago

1101 East 58th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Santa Fe Institute

1399 Hyde Park Road
Santa Fe, NM 87501
United States

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