The evolution of national urban systems in China, Nigeria and India

Kyle Farrell*, Peter Nijkamp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


As a country transitions from a lower order of development to a higher order of development, it undergoes a structural transformation. Accordingly, the spatial economy transforms from a system organized around smaller economic units distributed throughout the countryside, to one comprising larger economic units concentrated in dense urban areas. While historically this process unfolded at a rather gradual pace, it is now being redefined by the unprecedented pace and scale of the contemporary urban narrative. This has presented new patterns of urbanization. Utilizing comparable datasets for China, Nigeria and India this paper examines the evolution of national urban systems under conditions of rapid urbanization. In doing so, it scrutinizes three key dynamics: the spatial distribution of cities, the rate of growth by city size class and the size hierarchy of cities. The results are compared to see if uniform patterns emerge. The findings of this paper suggest a certain degree of heterogeneity among national urban systems; and in some instances contrasting patterns can be observed. We thus caution against a ‘one size fits all’ approach to interpreting the urban transition in developing countries. The findings of this paper have implications for both theory and policy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)408-419
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Urban Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • Developing countries
  • National urban systems
  • Rank size distribution
  • Spatial Lorenz curve
  • Urban growth rate


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