How to estimate the singularity of (post-)Soviet cities?

Revue d'Economie Regionale et Urbaine - n°1 - 2017 New Article, in RERU – Revue d’Économie Régionale et Urbaine.

Cottineau C., 2017, “How to estimate the singularity of (post-)Soviet cities?”, Revue d’Économie Régionale et Urbaine, n°1-2017.

Abstract. Although the urbanisation of the Former Soviet Union is a unique experience, this article questions the possibility of estimating the share of the generic processes of urban growth, spatial location and economic specialisation, the share of the particular processes of urbanisation linked to the size and political organisation of the country, and the share of the singular processes that cannot be explained without a local knowledge of the events which happened in the cities under study. Using several types of models at different scales, we identify the residual as the element that “resists modelling” and illustrates the singular evolutions of the Soviet Union and its cities. To do so, we built a harmonised urban database and fitted hierarchical, spatial and regression models. We conclude that city size inequality increased in a generic manner compared to other systems of cities, that the spatial distribution of cities resemble that of vast countries (especially with the increased reliance on sub-surface resources), and that there exists a set of singular urban trajectories.

Key-words. System of cities, Soviet Union, Singularity, Models, Urban growth, Urban trajectories, Urbanization.

Link. Revue d’Économie Régionale et Urbaine

Cities and Transport relations in South Africa over the long-term

The aim of my study 1 is to understand the role of South African cities in the transport flux and networks, and how cities and transport are interacting, from colonization in the 17thuntil nowadays. If cities and transport interactions are a particularly interesting approach to understand the metropolisation process and the urban system building, the South African context makes it even more relevant. Indeed, South Africa is a young country and national transport networks such as the railway network, have been built while the urban system was formed.

Co-evolution of urban system and railway network in South Africa

The arrival of European settlers in 1652 to the Cape of Good Hope marked the beginning of South African modern history, in particular by initiating the urbanization process. Until then, no city, strictly speaking, existed yet (Coquery-Vidrovitch). The implementation of a settlement engaged the constitution of an urban system well connected with Europe, but not very well between cities (Vacchiani-Marcuzzo).

The discovery of the goldfields and diamond mines in the 1860’s overturned that system. In the heart of the mining region, Johannesburg faced a fast growth to become the biggest metropolis in the country. The emergence of this new centre deeply modified the urban structure by switching the country’s centre of gravity from the coast to the Witwatersrand. Indeed, the British Empire decided to experiment inner-city railways in Cape Town and Durban in the 1860’s. But given the mining revolution, the decision to extend it to the entire country was quickly made in order to dispatch the mining extractions from the Witwatersrand plateau to the shoreline before having them exported to Europe. Hence, in a bit less than 100 years, a 20 000 km railway network has been built.

The implementation of such a network whereas the urban system was formed enables us to talk about a co-evolution of urban system and transport network in South Africa. Citie’s growth has largely been influenced by their position on the railway network. Large cities benefitted from a better accessibility, which reinforced their centrality while small towns had to deal with the simplification of urban hierarchy. As in many other countries, we can notice the strong interaction between cities and transport and its effect on the process of cities selection, particularly reinforced  by the railway network in the South African example.

I started my research by focusing on the railway network given it seemed easier to start with an historical approach at the larger scale. To observe and study this co-evolution we decided to cross two databases created in Geographie-Cités. The first one, built in the research program Harmonie-Cités, gathers data about the evolution of South African cities (of more than 5 000 inhabitants) over almost a century. To create this database, South African censuses have been used. The second one, made up in the frame of Geodivercity research program, contains data about the railway network’s development in South Africa and has been built thanks to the SARH archives. By crossing these databases, we created maps over 60 years which show the concomitant evolution of the urban system and railway network.

Now, I intend to deepen my analysis and enlarge my focus to the implementation of transport in metropolitan areas on one hand, and the position of South Africa in global networks on the other.

Solène Baffi


  1. PhD project of Solène Baffi, under the supervision of Anne Bretagnolle, Olivier Ninot, Denise Pumain and Celine Vacchiani-Marcuzzo (founded by ERC GeoDiverCity)

Evolution and urban modeling: a complexity perspective on the Brazilian city system

The project performed in this thesis, aiming at the knowledge of the Brazilian system of cities, sets out to demonstrate, within an historical and legal frame, the peculiarities of the history of urbanization in Brazil, a large and populous developing country that is widely considered to have completed an early urban transition.

Undertaking a research on this topics means, primarily, to handle with a problem of an apparent dearth of literature; even if is possible to find many works on Brazilian urbanization, above all in Portuguese language, only a few of these treats urbanization under the aegis of complex systems, as an adaptation process to changes arising from massive urbanization and from insertion in a global, hierarchized network of cities, in which, each metropolitan area is compelled to adapt its internal structure in response to demographic, economic and technical changes. Brazilian main centers will be considered as nodes of a hierarchized structure extending their influence over other agglomerations and territories.

A complexity perspective can provide a general appropriate context within which to understand the behavior of socio-economic systems, notably urban cities systems; computer based models will be associated to a geographical conception in order to analyze urban systems starting with geographical and historical data and trying to foresee their future dynamics through modeling.

By the means of an analysis of both geographical conception and computer-based conception of cities, we will try to set up a model that simulates the peculiarities and so the dynamics of cities and this will be explicitly done using the software Netlogo in order to realize a simulation of a cities system in Brazil. The testing done with our model will be also used to simulate the possible effects of climate changes on the future evolution of urbanization.

Cosmo Antonio Ignazzi