The signature of organic urban growth: Degree distribution patterns of the city’s street network structure
Book chapter, 2019

Cities are complex, perhaps one of the most complex kinds of structure created by humans. Some cities have been planned to a large extent while others have grown organically. The outcome of planning and growth processes is the diverse morphological built form and street patterns observed in cities today. So far, in urban planning and history research, cities are classified as planned or organic, largely based on the visual assessment of their urban morphology. To understand cities and their characteristics, it is necessary to develop methods that quantitatively describe these characteristics and enable objective comparisons between cities. Using graph representations of the street network of cities, it is possible to calculate measures that seem to exhibit patterns with scale-free properties (Jiang in Phys A Stat Mech Appl 384(2):647–655, 2007). And thanks to progress in the field of complexity studies, it is also possible to test if and to what extent the distribution of a measure in a collection of elements fits a power law distribution (Clauset et al. in SIAM Rev 51:43, 2009). In this chapter, we show that the degree distribution of a city’s street network seems to fit a power law distribution for cities that are considered to have mostly grown organically. On the other hand, cities that are planned to a large extent do not exhibit such a good fit. This result is relevant since a power law distribution is a signature of multiplicative growth processes. Furthermore, the result of the quantitative classification method correlates well with the results of earlier qualitative morphological classifications of cities.

Spatial morphology

Degree distribution

Street networks

Growth patterns

Power law


Leonard Carl Staffan Nilsson

Chalmers, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Urban Design and Planning

Jorge Gil

Chalmers, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Urban Design and Planning

Modeling and Simulation in Science, Engineering and Technology

2164-3679 (ISSN) 2164-3725 (eISSN)


Subject Categories

Other Computer and Information Science


Landscape Architecture



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