Talk: Urban hierarchies and scaling laws

This afternoon’s seminar by CASA’s Dr. Elsa Arcaute will be of interest to a wide range of students and staff at King’s – with a background in theoretical physics and complexity, Elsa now studies how urban and regional systems scale and divide, and how these aspects are expressed in infrastructure and the built environment. To put it another way: where does London end? 4:30pm today in the Pyramid Room (K4U.04) and followed by wine and soft drinks.


In this talk we look at the different ways to obtain definitions of cities and their relevance to urban scaling laws. We also look at the hierarchical structure of Britain through a percolation process on the road network. We observe how at a large scale the divisions relate to well-known fractures of Britain, such as the North-South divide, while at small scales cities can be observed at a transition where the fractal dimension of the clusters has a maximum. The clusters defined at this distance threshold are in excellent correspondence with the boundaries of cities recovered from satellite images and the previous method.

About Elsa

Elsa Arcaute, is a Lecturer in Spatial Modelling and Complexity at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at University College London. She is a physicist with a masters and a PhD in Theoretical Physics from the University of Cambridge. She decided to move to the field of Complexity Sciences and joined the Complexity and Networks group at Imperial College London. There she developed models on self-regulation for social systems, extracting fundamental behaviours from experiments on ant colonies to test on robots, and to implement for an intervention in an Irish eco-village. In 2011, Elsa moved to CASA, joining a project funded by the European Research Council and led by Prof. Michael Batty, on morphology, energy and climate change in the city. Since then Elsa has been working on applying complexity sciences to urban systems.