Research Topic

Urban Hierarchies in an Economic Transition To Sustainable Cities

About this Research Topic

Spatial organization of (i.e., the geographic arrangement of phenomena within) regions, nations, and continents, as well as the entire globe comprises local proximity relationships (e.g., spatial autocorrelation effects, frequently in the form of spatial spillovers) that interface with an ordered a set of focal locations. Urban hierarchies have a long and illustrious history of being one such ordered set. Christaller and Lösch formulated and espoused urban economic theory (i.e., central place theory) pertaining to the geographic networks of these urban hierarchies. Meanwhile, the contemporary new science of cities and other recent research acknowledge critiques of these earlier urban economic formulations, extending, adapting, and updating them to current contexts and data availability situations in novel ways (e.g., Batty 2013, Meeteren, Michiel and Poorthuis 2018). Existing urban hierarchies constitute an integral ingredient for maintaining sustainable cities into the future: better understanding their role in a space economy can facilitate a reduction in damage to urban environments and an eradication of poor quality of urban life situations that, in turn, promote sustainable cities (i.e., according to the UN, those that are dedicated to achieving the triple bottom line of green, social, and economic sustainability). Both anecdotal and scholarly evidence exists attesting to urban hierarchy impacts upon human mobility and the diffusion of information as well as disease, electoral geography (especially rural-urban divides, and migration reinforcing pockets of similar opinions/views versus flipping near-homogeneous geographic view clusters), geographic variation in inflation and the cost of living, and other substantive demographic, economic, environmental, social issues.



Managing and successfully intervening in such human activities as epidemics, social and environmental justice, and local affordability issues that are draped over urban hierarchies requires a sound and comprehensive understanding of a geographic landscape’s prevailing urban hierarchy. This goal has never been reached worldwide, with the few selected time-dependent national successes now mostly obsolete (e.g., 2nd tier Detroit, USA, in 1979 is, at best, 3rd tier in 2021). Urban systems are in constant flux, creating a need to first establish their urban hierarchy, followed by periodic updates of that hierarchy. The principles of urban economics espouse the unifying idea of uncovering existing intra- and inter-urban hierarchies . Moreover, the only way to help future generations avoid the perils of the present and the past vis-à-vis natural disaster disruptions (e.g., COVID-19 pandemic), uninhabitability (e.g., Pripyat, Ukraine, a la the Chernobyl nuclear disaster) and shrinkage (e.g., Seoul and Busan, South Korea; highlighted in a 2008/9 UN-Habitat report entitled State of the World’s Cities: Harmonious Cities), structurally changing economic transformations (e.g., Sheffield, UK), and out-of-control inflation (e.g., Hamilton, Bermuda; https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/rankings_current.jsp), for example, is through achieving an urban space-economy understanding that promotes such urban complexes as the emergence of implicitly or explicitly cooperative polycentric conurbations [e.g., Poland’s Katowice urban region, the US’s Great Lakes megalopolis (including Gottmann’s Chi-Pitts), China’s Beijing-Tianjin mega-urban-region, Turkey’s Ista-Burs metropolitan region, and India’s Delhi-Lahore megalopolis], or even urban functions within, for example, intermediate midwestern US city landscapes (e.g., Louisville, KY) .



Therefore, in order to promote sustainability (e.g., in terms of environmental economics, ecological footprints on hinterlands, as well as additional pollution attributable to maintaining connections with other cities), empirical urban hierarchies need contemporary articulation. Relevant input considerations include population size, population density, economic base, urban commuting fields, in-migration, inter-city flows of goods/services/people, and relative centrality in infrastructure networks (e.g., expressways, airports, railroad lines). Many national governments combined with a myriad of information sources accessible by way of the internet furnish a great reservoir of data that can be used to achieve this objective. Although a small amount of this category of research presently is appearing about China’s and India’s urban systems, the literature lacks such work for South America and Africa. In addition, although dated hierarchies exist for North America, Europe, and Australia, these older articulations are in desperate need of updating, and hence merit revisiting.



This Research Topic aims to collect studies about new urban hierarchy articulations at the national, continental, and world scales. These studies are necessary to help especially policymakers better understand and then propose future solutions to emerging-in-real-time difficulties associated with living in an urban world, solutions that help to maintain and further cultivate sustainable cities.



We welcome both conceptual and empirical submissions addressing, but not limited to, the following themes in terms of how they relate to the sustainability of cities:



• the emerging urban hierarchy in a country

• an updated, contemporary urban hierarchy articulation

• the role of migration in an evolving urban hierarchy

• the role of transportation infrastructure in an evolving urban hierarchy

• the role of population density in an evolving urban hierarchy

• the role of commuting density in an evolving urban hierarchy

• the role of regional service provisions in an evolving urban hierarchy

• disease diffusion channeling by articulated urban hierarchies

• inflation diffusion channeling by articulated urban hierarchies

• emerging polycentric conurbations and their parent urban hierarchy articulation

• relationships between the flows of goods/services and urban hierarchy articulations

• “buy locally,” hinterlands, and the urban hierarchy

• the internet, social media, virtual work, and urban hierarchy articulation

• internet shopping, the decline of bricks-and-mortar stores, and urban hierarchy articulation



Batty, M. 2013. The New Science of Cities. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Van Meeteren, M., and A. Poorthuis. 2018. Christaller and “big data”: recalibrating central place theory via the geoweb, Urban Geography, 39(1): 122-148.


Keywords: central place theory, functional hierarchy, rank size rule, size hierarchy, urban hierarchy, urban system


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Spatial organization of (i.e., the geographic arrangement of phenomena within) regions, nations, and continents, as well as the entire globe comprises local proximity relationships (e.g., spatial autocorrelation effects, frequently in the form of spatial spillovers) that interface with an ordered a set of focal locations. Urban hierarchies have a long and illustrious history of being one such ordered set. Christaller and Lösch formulated and espoused urban economic theory (i.e., central place theory) pertaining to the geographic networks of these urban hierarchies. Meanwhile, the contemporary new science of cities and other recent research acknowledge critiques of these earlier urban economic formulations, extending, adapting, and updating them to current contexts and data availability situations in novel ways (e.g., Batty 2013, Meeteren, Michiel and Poorthuis 2018). Existing urban hierarchies constitute an integral ingredient for maintaining sustainable cities into the future: better understanding their role in a space economy can facilitate a reduction in damage to urban environments and an eradication of poor quality of urban life situations that, in turn, promote sustainable cities (i.e., according to the UN, those that are dedicated to achieving the triple bottom line of green, social, and economic sustainability). Both anecdotal and scholarly evidence exists attesting to urban hierarchy impacts upon human mobility and the diffusion of information as well as disease, electoral geography (especially rural-urban divides, and migration reinforcing pockets of similar opinions/views versus flipping near-homogeneous geographic view clusters), geographic variation in inflation and the cost of living, and other substantive demographic, economic, environmental, social issues.



Managing and successfully intervening in such human activities as epidemics, social and environmental justice, and local affordability issues that are draped over urban hierarchies requires a sound and comprehensive understanding of a geographic landscape’s prevailing urban hierarchy. This goal has never been reached worldwide, with the few selected time-dependent national successes now mostly obsolete (e.g., 2nd tier Detroit, USA, in 1979 is, at best, 3rd tier in 2021). Urban systems are in constant flux, creating a need to first establish their urban hierarchy, followed by periodic updates of that hierarchy. The principles of urban economics espouse the unifying idea of uncovering existing intra- and inter-urban hierarchies . Moreover, the only way to help future generations avoid the perils of the present and the past vis-à-vis natural disaster disruptions (e.g., COVID-19 pandemic), uninhabitability (e.g., Pripyat, Ukraine, a la the Chernobyl nuclear disaster) and shrinkage (e.g., Seoul and Busan, South Korea; highlighted in a 2008/9 UN-Habitat report entitled State of the World’s Cities: Harmonious Cities), structurally changing economic transformations (e.g., Sheffield, UK), and out-of-control inflation (e.g., Hamilton, Bermuda; https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/rankings_current.jsp), for example, is through achieving an urban space-economy understanding that promotes such urban complexes as the emergence of implicitly or explicitly cooperative polycentric conurbations [e.g., Poland’s Katowice urban region, the US’s Great Lakes megalopolis (including Gottmann’s Chi-Pitts), China’s Beijing-Tianjin mega-urban-region, Turkey’s Ista-Burs metropolitan region, and India’s Delhi-Lahore megalopolis], or even urban functions within, for example, intermediate midwestern US city landscapes (e.g., Louisville, KY) .



Therefore, in order to promote sustainability (e.g., in terms of environmental economics, ecological footprints on hinterlands, as well as additional pollution attributable to maintaining connections with other cities), empirical urban hierarchies need contemporary articulation. Relevant input considerations include population size, population density, economic base, urban commuting fields, in-migration, inter-city flows of goods/services/people, and relative centrality in infrastructure networks (e.g., expressways, airports, railroad lines). Many national governments combined with a myriad of information sources accessible by way of the internet furnish a great reservoir of data that can be used to achieve this objective. Although a small amount of this category of research presently is appearing about China’s and India’s urban systems, the literature lacks such work for South America and Africa. In addition, although dated hierarchies exist for North America, Europe, and Australia, these older articulations are in desperate need of updating, and hence merit revisiting.



This Research Topic aims to collect studies about new urban hierarchy articulations at the national, continental, and world scales. These studies are necessary to help especially policymakers better understand and then propose future solutions to emerging-in-real-time difficulties associated with living in an urban world, solutions that help to maintain and further cultivate sustainable cities.



We welcome both conceptual and empirical submissions addressing, but not limited to, the following themes in terms of how they relate to the sustainability of cities:



• the emerging urban hierarchy in a country

• an updated, contemporary urban hierarchy articulation

• the role of migration in an evolving urban hierarchy

• the role of transportation infrastructure in an evolving urban hierarchy

• the role of population density in an evolving urban hierarchy

• the role of commuting density in an evolving urban hierarchy

• the role of regional service provisions in an evolving urban hierarchy

• disease diffusion channeling by articulated urban hierarchies

• inflation diffusion channeling by articulated urban hierarchies

• emerging polycentric conurbations and their parent urban hierarchy articulation

• relationships between the flows of goods/services and urban hierarchy articulations

• “buy locally,” hinterlands, and the urban hierarchy

• the internet, social media, virtual work, and urban hierarchy articulation

• internet shopping, the decline of bricks-and-mortar stores, and urban hierarchy articulation



Batty, M. 2013. The New Science of Cities. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Van Meeteren, M., and A. Poorthuis. 2018. Christaller and “big data”: recalibrating central place theory via the geoweb, Urban Geography, 39(1): 122-148.


Keywords: central place theory, functional hierarchy, rank size rule, size hierarchy, urban hierarchy, urban system


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

10 September 2021 Abstract
08 January 2022 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

10 September 2021 Abstract
08 January 2022 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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