Gravitational Forces in the Spatial Impacts of Urban Sprawl

E. de Noronha Vaz, P. Nijkamp

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Urban sprawl has become an increasing concern in Europe, given the abandonment of rural areas and loss of natural landscapes. In southern Europe remarkable changes have been witnessed in the last few decades concerning land-use and socio-economic growth. Much of this change has had an impact on the morphology of urban footprints. While urban growth and sprawl are conceptually very different, the latter has had an unprecedented impact on the landscape and on the existing environmental systems. This paper sets out to analyse urban sprawl on the basis of the concepts of gravitational theory. This paper brings about a convergence of the spatial sciences within the scope of analysis of theoretical physics, offering a definition of urban sprawl applied in a novel context to assess urban sprawl. Methodologically, we propose to measure acceleration a as the amount of urban change witnessed in urban land-use during a given time t, affecting the regional dynamic of intra-city growth. The concept of a gravitational force F is then discussed in function of its relation to the spatial proximity of the main cities in Veneto in Italy. We provide a novel approach, which improves our quantitative understanding of urbanization between city cores, and offers a gravitational regional system, driven by laws of acceleration and forces governing the structure of urban change. This approach allows us to calculate a city mass m, which permits us to identify, using the dataset of CORINE Land Cover Survey between 2000 and 2006, the cities which will be responsible for future urban sprawl, and to quantify this phenomenon. Our results show that Verona, Padua and Trevisso generate per mass the urban sprawl, which is then validated by defining a buffer that assesses this change. In this sense, we offer a new interpretation of urban regional change in land use, and a spatial model which can efficiently assess urban areas with regard to urban sprawl, by adding geographical capabilities to regional science and classical mechanics. In addition, our work introduces a new process in describing regional urban interactions from a spatial perspective.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-105
Number of pages6
JournalHabitat International
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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