Cities as Inverted Watersheds

31 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2023 Last revised: 3 May 2024

See all articles by Sanghoon Lee

Sanghoon Lee

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Sauder School of Business

Seung Hoon Lee

Yonsei University

Date Written: March 20, 2024


This paper proposes a novel method to delineate economic cluster boundaries like cities and subcenters, by adapting the watershed segmentation algorithm from hydrology and image processing. Our approach has three advantages. First, researchers do not have to handpick parameters for each region, allowing large-scale applications (e.g., nationwide). Second, it can identify clusters at different levels (e.g. entire cities or subcenters within cities) with a single parameter adjustment. Third, it is applicable to various data types (e.g., point, polygon, raster). We demonstrate its power through two applications: delineating consumption centers and city boundaries across the continental U.S.

Keywords: City Delineation, Watersheds Segmentation, Consumption Clusters, Sub-centers, City Size

JEL Classification: R12, R14, E21

Suggested Citation

Lee, Sanghoon and Lee, Seung Hoon, Cities as Inverted Watersheds (March 20, 2024). Available at SSRN:

Sanghoon Lee

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Sauder School of Business ( email )

2053 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2

Seung Hoon Lee (Contact Author)

Yonsei University ( email )

Korea, Republic of (South Korea)

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