Expanding the boundaries of urban systems research: Insights from a global spatial delineation of city-regions

Urban centres shape societies, but there is no systematic global approach analysing how countries are organized around multiple urban centres. We advance understanding by delineating 6,100 city–regions worldwide using a novel framework classifying 30,000 urban centres into four tiers and mapping their nested catchment areas based on travel time accessibility. We distinguish between primary and secondary city–regions whereby for the latter the catchment area of the urban centre being considered overlaps with that of an urban centre in a higher tier, which is not the case for primary city–regions. Our results show extensive interconnectedness among urban centres and with their surrounding areas, with 3.2 billion people having physical access to multiple tiers with 1-hour travel time, rising to 4.7 billion for 3-hours travel time. Importantly, among people living in or near towns and small cities, access to intermediate cities is far greater than to large cities. This highlights the essential role intermediate cities play in engaging surrounding populations. For the first time, city–regions around the world are identified systematically, showing great diversity in how societies are organized across urban tiers, depending on geography and national income. The associated spatial dataset is a powerful tool for regional planning, economic development, and natural resource management. The presentation will outline the approach taken to delineate city-regions and how the information in the dataset could be combined with socio-economic data for research applications in economics, regional planning, natural resource management, and geography.

About the speaker:

Dr. Andrea Cattaneo is a Senior Economist at FAO, leading the team that produces The State of Food and Agriculture, which is FAO’s flagship publication. He has over 25 years of experience in examining economic issues relating to development, food security, and climate change. In recent years his focus has been on the true cost of food, resilience of food systems, and the role of rural-urban linkages in rural transformation. He previously held positions at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the Woodwell Climate Research Center. Dr. Cattaneo has an extensive publication record in peer-reviewed journals spanning a range of topics. He has analyzed the welfare impacts of free trade agreements, written on issues of food security and barriers to innovation, designed innovative economic mechanisms for environmental programs, and studied the role of risk and uncertainty under climate change. His current research is focused on two main areas: (i) developing a suite of indicators to measure resilience of food systems, and (ii) providing a global geo-spatial representation of city-regions to support territorial development efforts.

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