Pre-conference tutorial
Address:Shanghai, China


A Full-Day Tutorial on Modeling Urban Complexity and Hierarchy

(on June 23, 2011) 

A tentative program and venue can be downloaded here. Only registered audience is allowed to attend it, and the deadline of registration is Apr. 30, 2011.


This tutorial will introduce a range of complexity modeling tools to assess urban complexity and hierarchy in order to better understand urban structure and dynamics. These tools are drawn from complexity study and include fractal, scaling, universality, agent-based modeling, complex networks and allometry. Both instructors have been working on modeling urban complexity and hierarchy for many years. It is intended to draw examples from their research and package them together as a full-day tutorial. On the one hand, we will provide a state of the art of the development and key concepts in complexity study to deal with real world problems across different disciplines. On the other hand, we will take cities as a typical complex system, and assess them from a complexity perspective and using massive geographic information assembled.  
We will present a set of software tools that can help explore massive geographic information about cities to uncover underlying patterns, structures and regularities. We will show how current date-intensive computing provides a new means to explore urban complexity and hierarchy. In particular, we will look at two examples of massive data: (1) human movement trajectories captured by GPS receivers, flights, and mobile phones, and (2) emerging volunteered geographic information like OpenStreetMap and Flickr. The tutorial participants will be provided a complete version of free data and source codes that can be further used after the tutorial for research and education purposes.

 Learning objectives

  • To introduce various complexity modeling tools such as fractal, scaling, universality, agent-based modeling, and network theories

  • To study urban complexity and hierarchy using the complexity tools and based on increasingly available geographic information

Scope of the tutorial

  • An overview of complexity study: development and key concepts

  • Introduction to self-organized cities, esp., fractal cities, chaotic cities, sandpile cities

  • Scaling and power laws, esp., allometry, 1/f noise, Zipf’s law and Pareto distributions

  • Emergence in urban evolution, including the emergence processes of fractal patterns, chaotic attractors, localization, and symmetry breaking

  • Complex network theories and modeling large geographic networks

  • Cellular automata and agent-based modeling of urban and regional systems 

Target Audience Information

PhD students or fresh PhD holders in geography or geographic information science (limited to 30 seats) 

Prerequisite knowledge of audience

Intended audience must have a basic understanding of geography and cartography, and be familiar with fundamental concepts and techniques of geographic information systems.

Instruction languages

Bilingual (Chinese and English)


Bin Jiang

Division of Geomatics, KTH Research School,

University of Gävle, SE-801 76 Gävle, Sweden


Yanguang Chen

School of Urban and Environmental Sciences

Peking University, Beijing, China


Recommended readings:

Albeverio S, Andrey D, Giordano P, and Vancheri A (editors, 2008) The Dynamics of Complex Urban Systems: An interdisciplinary approach, Physica-Verlag: Heidelberg.

Allen P. M. (1997), Cities and Regions as Self-organizing Systems: models of complexity, Gorgon and Breach Science Publishers: New York.

Batty M, and Longley P. (1994), Fractal Cities: A geometry of form and function. Academic Press: London.

Batty M. (2005), Cities and Complexity: understanding cities with cellular automata, agent-based models, and fractals, The MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.

Bertuglia C. S., Bianchi G. and Mela A. (editors, 1998), The City and Its Sciences, Physica-Verlag: Heidelberg.

Chen Y. (2008), Fractal Urban Systems: Scaling, Symmetry and Spatial Complexity (in Chinese), Science Press: Beijing.

Jia T. and Jiang B. (2011), Measuring urban sprawl based on massive street nodes and the novel concept of natural cities, Preprint,

Jiang B. and Yao X. (editors, 2010), Geospatial Analysis and Modeling of Urban Structure and Dynamics, Springer: Berlin

Jiang B. (2010), Scaling of geographic space and its implications, A position paper presented at Las Navas 20th Anniversary Meeting on Cognitive and Linguistic Aspects of Geographic Space, Las Navas del Marques, Avila, Spain, July 5 - 9, 2010.

Jiang B. and Jia T. (2011), Zipf's law for all the natural cities in the United States: a geospatial perspective, International Journal of Geographical Information Science, x, xx-xx, Preprint,

Jiang B. and Liu X. (2011), Scaling of geographic space from the perspective of city and field blocks and using volunteered geographic information, Preprint,

Portugali J (editor, 2006), Complex Artificial Environments: Simulation, Cognition and VR in the Study and Planning of Cities, Springer: Berlin.

Portugali J. (2000), Self-Organization and the City, Springer: Berlin.

Pumain D. (2006), Hierarchy in Natural and Social Sciences, Springer: Dordrecht.