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Pierre Frankhauser The fractal approach. A new tool for the spatial analysis of urban agglomerations

The fractal approach. A new tool for the spatial analysis of urban agglomerations

In: Population, 10e année, n°1, 1998 pp. 205-240.

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Frankhauser Pierre. The fractal approach. A new tool for the spatial analysis of urban agglomerations. In: Population, 10e année, n°1, 1998 pp. 205-240.

année, n°1, 1998 pp. 205-240. http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/pop_0032-4663_1998_hos_10_1_6828

Abstract Frankhauser (Pierre).- The fractal approach. A new tool for the spatial analysis of urban agglomerations. Fractal geometry is a new approach for the study of spatial distributions. The basic model is a law of hierarchical distribution corresponding to Pareto's law which is familiar to urban geographers and demographers. The methods of fractal analysis can be used to study the spatial organization of human activities across scales. The regularities and the discontinuities in the distributions can then be identified. These discontinuities can be spatially situated. Applying this concept to urbanized areas has shown that districts can be defined and classified according to their scaling relations, thereby allowing development of a typology of locational patterns. This observation reveals the existence of a principle of self-similarity in land-use patterns. An examination of time series shows that despite the apparent fragmentation of these urban tissues, urbanization is often accompanied by self- structuring development. Subsequent research will need to employ complementary morphological measures, such as measures of space filling and of population distribution, which could be used to validate the simulation models based on fractal geometry.

Résumé Frankhauser (Pierre).- L'approche fractale. Un outil de réflexion dans l'analyse spatiale des agglomérations urbaines. La géométrie fractale est une nouvelle approche pour étudier des répartitions spatiales. Le modèle de référence est une loi de distribution hiérarchique qui correspond à la loi de Pareto, bien connue en géographie urbaine et en démographie. L'utilisation des méthodes d'analyse fractale permet d'étudier l'organisation spatiale des activités humaines à travers les échelles. Il est ainsi possible de découvrir aussi bien des hiérarchies régulières que des ruptures. Ces ruptures peuvent être identifiées dans l'espace. L'application de ce concept aux tissus urbains a montré qu'il est possible de distinguer et de classifier des quartiers selon leur comportement sealant, et de développer une typologie des tissus urbains. Cette observation met en évidence l'existence d'un principe d'auto- similarité dans les tissus urbains. L'étude de séries temporelles montre que l'urbanisation est souvent accompagnée de phénomènes de structuration, en dépit de la fragmentation apparente de ces tissus. Les futures recherches devraient utiliser des mesures morphologiques complémentaires: mesures de lacunarité, mesures concernant la répartition de la population. Ces mesures pourront servir à valider des modèles de simulation basés sur la géométrie fractale.

Resumen Frankhauser (Pierre). - El análisis fractal. Un nuevo instrumente de reflexion en el análisis espacial de las aglomeraciones urbanas. La geometria fractal es un nuevo método de estudio de reparticiones espaciales. El modelo de referencia es una ley de distribución jerárquica que corresponde a la ley de Pareto, bien conocida en geografia urbana y en demografia. La utilización de los métodos de análisis fractal permite estudiar la organización espacial de las actividades humanas a tra- vés de escalas. Estas escalas permiten establecer tanto jerarquias regulares como rupturas, que se pueden identificar y situar en el espacio. La aplicación de este concepto a los tejidos urbanos ha abierto la posibilidad de distinguir y clasificar gradualmente barrios según su comportamiento, y de esta forma desarrollar tipologias urbanas. Este método muestra la ex- istencia de un principio de auto-similaridad en los tejidos urbanos. El estudio de series temporales muestra que el proceso de urbanización va frecuentemente acompafiado de un proceso de estructuración, a pesar de la fragmentación aparente de taies tejidos. En investigaciones futuras deberian utilizarse medidas morfologicas complementa- rias: medidas de lagunaridad, medidas referentes a la repartición de la población. Estas medidas podrian utilizarse también para validar los modelos de simulación basados en la geometria fractal.

Estas medidas podrian utilizarse también para validar los modelos de simulación basados en la geometria fractal.


A new tool for the spatial analysis

of urban agglomerations



A fundamental question when examining a territory's social and econ omic functioning concerns the spatial distribution of population. This phe nomenon has been studied in different contexts and on different scales by a number of disciplines: demographers and geographers but also town plan ners and economists. Whatever the scale of observation used, the results obtained all show the spatial distribution of human activities to be essent ially non-homogeneous. Various reasons can be given for this: first, some places are more propitious than others to human activity, thereby influenc ingthe areal distribution of settlement; second, urbanization has long been accompanied by a hierarchical organization of towns and cities. There have been many attempts to produce a theoretical formalization of this hierar chical structure, either from a demographic and descriptive angle as in the rank-size rule, or in the explanatory approach of central place theory. On the larger scale of agglomerations, Clark introduced a mathematic alformulation to model the decrease in population as distance from a city centre increases; the same phenomenon has been studied by Bussière and Stovall using a different formalization. It might be thought that the process of periurbanization or population decentralization has helped to reduce the difference in the density of occupation between urban cores and their suburbs, a development which could be accentuated by the growth of tertiary activities in the central districts at the expense of residential housing. However, this purely demographic perspective is in fact misleadi ng.What is observed here is simply a segregation of functions, and land use in the city centres often actually intensifies due to the new demand. This results in a high day-time concentration of non-residential population.

Université de Franche-Comté, Besançon.

Population: An English Selection, special issue New Methodological Approaches in the Social Sciences, 1998, 205-240.



By contrast, densities remain low in the residential districts of the outer suburbs. In addition, the importance of transport in the suburbs encourages

a tentacular growth along the axes of circulation, thereby adding to the

disparity in the distribution of the built-up areas. Yet if the existence of a heterogeneous distribution seems omnipresent and features in theoretical analyses of the functioning of the settlement system, the measures employed are always based on the paradigm of a uniform space: the geometrical reference remains homogeneity. The most

commonly used measure is density, which indicates the mean distribution of population in a given space and thus assumes a proportionality between population and surface occupied. The shortcomings of this approach are well known. Population density is high if a small administrative unit is chosen and lower if a larger area is considered. Without proportionality,

it is

density is thus dependent on the size of the reference surface, and thus on the scale at which we operate. Other methods for measurement besides density have been suggested, such as the 'nearest neighbour' method and the 'quadrats' method. But these methods also fail to take into account the variation in a phenomenon depending on the scale of reference (Frankhauser, 1997a). A disparity exists therefore between, on the one hand, the observat ionsand theories - whether descriptive or explanatory - and, on the other, the geometrical paradigm which underpins our spatial measures. And these measures simply reflect our approach to space, which remains based on the tradition of Euclidean geometry. The same geometrical approach is present in the theories of location of the urban economy which take as their reference the linear or circular urban settlement. Yet with Euclidean geometry it has not been possible to

produce a vision able to accommodate the complex forms found in the spatial distribution of human activities. Town planners, for example, often describe contemporary urban settlements as amorphous and irregular, and lacking any discernible internal organization. The same limits are found in every discipline. For example, the physical sciences long gave little a


appeared to be adequate for the study of crystals and planetary paths. In- depth study of more complex, nonlinear phenomena has established the shortcomings of these traditional concepts. Examples that can be mentioned are the discovery of chaotic attractors, the in-depth study of phase transition phenomena and the increased understanding of materials, notably their sur faces and textures. These investigations have discovered a close relationship between the development of complex forms and the existence of self-o rganization phenomena (Pumain, 1989; Schroeder, 1994).

The only alternative approach of an authentically geometrical char acter to date is that of fractal geometry. The physicist Nicholis has summed up the particular value of this approach: "Fractal objects are a new model

hard to move

from one scale

to another. The value

obtained for the

to forms that were perceived to be irregular, and Euclidean geometry



for structures which although complex, originate in relatively simple mech anisms"

(Nicholis, 1985). Applied in many scientific fields and at different scales, this approach has made it possible to identify hitherto unknown principles of internal order, and to incorporate these results in explanatory theories. The fractal approach has also proved a valuable instrument in image analysis, for the segmentation and classification of objects in a set.

The use of fractal geometry for the study of a spatial phenomenon is thus not simply about introducing some new measures but involves ap plying a new geometrical frame of reference."* However, there are more specific reasons favouring the adoption of this approach in demography and urban geography. Fractal geometry reflects the existence of a hierar chical organization within a spatial system which obeys a particular logic, that of the Pareto-Zipf distribution. Such a logic is known to operate in the system of settlement, so it would seem that fractal geometry can be used to verify this law of distribution, and to identify the deviations from it. The fact of being able to study a phenomenon across different scales also offers the possibility of identifying critical thresholds in spatial organization. As regards urban agglomerations, recent studies have established the value of a fractal formalization both for developing new morphological measures and for studying at a more conceptual level the spatial organiz ationand dynamic associated with them. The built-up component has been


P. Frankhauser (1994b, 1995)). These studies were initially conducted at a regional scale, but more recent efforts have been directed to the study

of urban agglomerations (Frankhauser, 1997; Batty, 1996). These works

apply a binary logic inasmuch as they distinguish simply between built-up

and non-built up areas. (2) Batty and Kim introduced the

use by making population density the third dimension (Batty and Kim, 1992). In this approach the decline of population density towards the pe


several authors, for example Bussière and Stovall. A general and consistent formalization of population distribution requires more complex concepts such as the multifractal approach. H. Le Bras has employed such a logic to model population distribution (Le Bras, 1993). This paper starts with an introduction to fractal geometry. The examples have been chosen to illustrate the application of this approach to the description of urban agglomerations. We use here mainly the binary approach, which can add significantly to our understanding of urban spatial organization. There follows a discussion of the techniques of fractal meas urement and the results produced by analysis of actual urbanized areas. This analysis is conducted using analysis programs applied to digitized maps.



Batty and



(1994), R. White, (1993b) and

intensity of land

is modelled by a hyperbolic function, as has been discussed by

(" Methods of measurement introduced or used in other contexts can be used to study fractal behaviour, for example the variogram or mathematical morphology (cf. below). (2' The concept used can be extended so as to examine the spatial distribution of several types of land use together (Frankhauser, 1994b).



In a final section we present the example of an extension of the con cept to include not only a description of built-up and non-built-up areas but population density.

I. - The fractal formalization of urban agglomerations

The Sierpinski carpet and the fractal dimension

is that the same type of geometric

alelements are found at an infinite number of scales. Fractal objects do not belong to any particular scale. The presence of the same element across many scales is reflected in the existence of a hierarchical structure within the fractal object, a property of recurrence which is often referred to as self-similarity. We illustrate this phenomenon with a special class of fractal which is particularly adapted to the study of spatial distribution in a settlement system: the Sierpinski carpet (figure 1).

The essential characteristic of fractal ge


1). The essential characteristic of fractal ge ometry Figure 1. - First iteration steps for the

Figure 1. - First iteration steps for the construction of two fractal structures. Figure (a) shows the first iteration steps in the construction of a Sierpinski carpet. The curve in (b) forms the border of each side of the Sierpinski carpet

To produce this fractal we select an initial figure, which in this case is a square of length L. A geometrical operation known as the generator is then defined which transforms the initial figure. In our example it is

reduced by a factor r = ^ , and N,= N = 5 of these squares of length /,

are arranged to form a chess-board as appears in figure la, left. This operation is repeated for each of the five squares (figure la, middle). The figure






thus now comprises N2 = N2 =


squares of length I2 = r2 ■ L = ^L.

It can

be seen that the chess-board appearance has been lost but that a spatial hierarchy has appeared in the free spaces. Repeating this operation pro duces an additional hierarchical level of free spaces, as in Figure la, right. If this iteration procedure is continued to step n, the number of grey squares •


surface of each stippled square will then be an-ri • L2. For the total surface A„ of the grey squares which form the fractal we get:

be Nn - Nn and their length will be


to l„ = rn

L, so

that the

= {N-r2)n-L2



Since | < 0, the surface diminishes at each step, and by repeating this operation to infinity we get a set of separate points whose surface tends to zero. The hierarchical distribution of the free spaces means that these points are not distributed homogeneously in the surface but produce clusters. Figure lb shows how an iteration can be used to construct a fractal

structure which reproduces at each step the border of the Sierpinski carpet.


We confirm that the total length of this object increases at each step and that it tends to infinity. The fact that the length of a curve increases towards infinity suggests that it is of a dimension greater than that of a normal curve such as a circle, i.e. one. Yet it remains topologically linear. This behaviour is inconsistent with Euclidean geometry, even more so since the object's surface seems to tend to zero. To define such sets, measure theory has introduced fractional value dimensions. A general measure, L is defined, that is required to remain constant during the iteration:

L± const =Nn-{ln)D

this case


initial figure used was the segment of line of length L.


= LD

Nn = const- l;D



Converting to logarithms, we get a linear relation:


where D is the slope of a line, defined by the points xn = log /„, yn = log N„. The condition that L remain constant is satisfied by an appropriate choice

■ L,

of D which is determined by relation (5). By introducing Nn =N"

and /„ = f1



this new parameter D is obtained which does not depend on the step n and which is referred to as the fractal dimension.


Since the parameters have the same values for both the constructions described, the same fractal dimension D - -^— ~ 1 .47 is obtained for the

perimeter and for the surface, a result which is inconsistent with normal geometry, in which curves have the dimension one and surfaces have the dimension two.

This result reflects the fact that during iteration the length of the perimeter increases disproportionately compared with a normal geometrical object, whereas the surface is increasingly dominated by free spaces. In deed, in the limit case n —¥ °° every element of the surface is also an element of the perimeter (Frankhauser, 1994b).

We verify that by

the same calculation the dimension D =




surface, that is, values

which are consistent with Euclidean geometry. Thus it is established that

fractal geometry contains conventional geometry as a limiting case. In the Sierpinski carpet, the iteration was interpreted as a gradual


for a line

and D

= 2 for a totally occupied

reduction in the surface occupied by the object, such as it appears in re


Gouyet, 1992): it is imagined that at each step a given mass or population

is concentrated on the remaining surfaces of the object. The density on

(2). A different interpretation is also possible (see for example

each element is then calculated. If the initial population

is P,




step n, for density gn = p/an on each of the Nn squares occupied:


By introducing new constants c = p/l2 and/=(Vr)2 > 1 we get:


gn = c-r


Since / >

1 the density increases towards

infinity when n —> °°.


this interpretation of a fractal structure, density becomes a measure that is subject to large fluctuations:


= 0

at the empty places,

gn —> сю

at the occupied places.

Density is thus an inappropriate indicator for the description of a structure presenting a fractal morphology. In this case a better representation of the spatial distribution of the elements is obtained by using the fractal dimension and related supplement arymeasures.



Hierarchical properties and multifractality

the distribution of free spaces. The number of non-occupied areas Nauc)(kn) of size Xn is in general:


The particularity of Sierpinski carpets is their hierarchical structure which is seen in


where 5 is an exponent which may differ from D. In the present case, the

free spaces

are of size

\\ = ^ • L, \2 = (\)

• L,



it is verified that


While iteration necessarily produces a hierarchy in the distribution of

the free

clusters. However, generators can be selected which produce hierarchies of clusters. Such a fractal appears in figure 2. In this case the generator does not distribute the elements homogeneously as in the case of the chess-board (figure la, left) but concentrates N} =9 elements in a cluster while putting N2 =4 outside this cluster. The repetition of the operation therefore pro duces a hierarchical structure. During the iteration there emerges a single large cluster, composed of increasingly slender branches. On the other hand,

in each of the N = N} + N2 elements at composed of N} squares reduced by the

spaces, the elements are of the same size even though they form

each step is generated a cluster factor r = ^. It is confirmed that

at step n we have obtained one cluster composed of m{ni)=gn elements, four of mi2) = 9"-' squares, and thereafter the following series:

Size m(3) = 9n~2 m{t] = 9"-3



The number W® = №> (m $) the following relation:


= N2 ■N

















and the size






m {nk) can be connected




212 Figure 2. step 2 with - A fractal at iteration Л/ = 1 3 and

Figure 2. step 2 with

- A fractal at iteration

Л/ = 1 3


r= £ . The

arrangement of the elements in the generator produces a hierarchy of clusters


generator produces a hierarchy of clusters P. FRANKHAUSER Figure 3. - A multifractal at iteration step

Figure 3.

- A multifractal at

iteration step 3. For some elements the factors of reduction are indicated. They are made up of two factors of

reduction h=\ and r2 = | , each

raised to a power. The numbers of


here are N2 = 4 (see

/Vi = 1 and text).

The distribution obtained is thus hyperbolic or paretian, which is

characterized by the exponent 5 = og

number N(k) of elements of this size depends on the step n of iteration by the same factor cn = N2 • TVf"-''8.

So far we have considered only fractals generated by a single factor of reduction. The name we use for such structures is monofractals.{3) More comp licated hierarchies can be constructed if the generator is constituted by several factors of reduction, for example if it produces N\ elements of size r, • L and N2 of size r2 • L. Such a structure exhibits a multifractal logic. In the example in figure 3 we selected N\ - 1 , r\ = j and N2 — 4 , r\ - j . In the subsequent iterations the same logic is applied to each element generated previously. Elements are thus produced whose factors of reduction are composed of comb inations of multiples of r, and r2 . Iteration 3 in the first ring produces, at the centre, an element of size r\ surrounded by four elements of size r\ ■ r2 . The second ring contains four clusters in the same arrangement but whose size is reduced by the factor r2: the centres were generated by the sequence of

For each

size m#° of clusters, the


f3> In preference to the name homogeneous fractal, which is often used but which in our view can lead to confusion with the usual notion of homogeneity.






r2 ■ r\ =

r\ ■ r2

• L





in size

to those

of the



of the first ring.


size of the peripheral elements is r, • r\ .

Thus it can be seen that the different rings contain squares that are


the same size but of a different 'function': the peripheral elements of


first ring are

of the same

size as the central elements of the second,

and so forth. For iteration n, we thus obtain a series of different factors

= f\~k • A ■>■■•■> A.- The number of elements correspondi


ť[ , rf1

• r2

, ngto size r"fk ■ A is:


N" (rnrk-rk)='






where the binomial prefactor expresses the phenomenon whereby elements

of the same size are found in different types of clusters.

When dealing

with towns and cities







all the

elements of the same size together but to respect their place in a particular ring and thus to respect their position (central or peripheral) in the sub- clusters. This position can be identified by respecting the order of the fac tors of reduction as they were gradually added together during the iteration.

A distinction is thus made between the elements

the factor r] • r2 . It is verified that the corresponding numbers of elements are then for each arrangement: (4)

of r, • r2 • r{ and those


If r2 < r\ and N2 > N\ there is an increasing number of units of smaller and smaller size and which are in more and more distant rings. This corre sponds to the sharp decrease in mass towards the exterior of the occupied surface in the fractal of figure 3, compared with the Sierpinski carpet. By

selecting different ratios between Г|Г2, A^andTV, it is possible to represent

a lesser decrease or the coexistence of several large clusters of the same

size and in equivalent position. This illustrates the rich potential of this approach.

When the number of elements Nn {r1k ■ r|)

with the same mass


known it is possible to introduce a relation that corresponds to (3):


and with an appropriate choice of D it is possible to satisfy the condition

L = const. The values for r, and r2 selected in figure 3 can be used to make

an explicit calculation of the fractal dimension: D = 1.36 (Gouyet, 1992).

= (N]r°-N2r°)n

(4) Since the indices are no longer to be mixed, the binomial prefactor disappears.



The fractal dimension can usually only be determined by a numerical cal


haviour varies according to one's position. Information about this local behaviour can be obtained by introducing the mass exponent or Lipschitz- Hb'lder exponent o*(LH) . Each point is surrounded by an interval £ , and to

£ we

It is only a global measure since in a multifractal the fractal be


the mass


present in this interval by the relation (Vicsek,

1989, Feder, 1988):


For a monofractal this exponent is the same at each point and identical to the fractal dimension. By contrast, in a multifractal structure it varies at every point. It is then possible to identify all the places for which there is the same value a(Lff> . A multifractal can be broken down into sub-sets each of which has its own dimension, such that a whole spectrum of dimens ions is obtained.

Random fractals

The extremely regular form of constructed fractals might be considered an obstacle to an application

to actual systems. However, fractal behaviour is not limited to objects with

a regular morphology. A random element can be introduced into the itera

tion without affecting the fractal organization of the structure obtained:

the position of the elements can be varied at each step of the iteration. In

this way the free spaces already created are not affected but the distribution of the elements is different to that observed earlier. The parameters N and

r do not change, so the fractal dimension stays the same.(5) If some range is also established within which the number of elements TV

is varied at random during the iteration, the fractal behaviour remains stat


effect as the presence of several factors of reduction, and the structure becomes multifractal (Gouyet, 1992). These variations can produce changes of fractal behaviour at some scales, as is observed in empirical structures. To describe this limited self-similarity, which reflects a hierarchical organ ization that is present at only a small number of scales, we prefer to adopt the terminology of physics and talk of scaling behaviour.

valid. However, the fact of having many numbers N has the same

II. - The methods of fractal analysis

An iterative mapping procedure cannot be used directly to measure the fractality of empirical structures, most of which present an irregular morphology. Methods of measurement have thus been elaborated which apply a logic equivalent to that of iteration: a series of measures of variable

<5> H.

Le Bras

used this method to simulate the distribution of the population at a

regional and national scale (Le Bras, 1993).



size e is introduced, and for each value e we determine the number of elements N(e) needed to cover the structure:


The scaling behaviour is usually analyzed using the bi-logarithmic representation of the function N(e):

Nn-(ln)D = L


N(e) ■ (e) D = const


log N(e) = log const- D log 8



In the case

of a fractal behaviour, this


is a line



value corresponds to the fractal dimension. Several methods have been elaborated for transcribing this logic into concrete algorithms with which to analyse the fractal behaviour of struc tures. In urban analysis, four main methods have been used: grid analysis, dilation analysis, radial analysis, and correlation analysis (Battey, Longley, 1994; White, Engelen, 1993a; Frankhauser, 1994b, 1997b). For simple fractal structures, like monofractals, all these methods should give identical results, but empirical analysis has shown that this is

not necessarily the case. This must be interpreted as a sign that the structure follows a multifractal logic. In these cases the information obtained by using more than one method is found to be complementary. Some methods produce general information about the spatial distribution of the elements,

such as the built-upon surface, in a zone. These






global analyses. Information of this type can be treated as equivalent to

the fractal dimension such as it is given by relation (14). In contrast, there is a different approach which measures the distribution of the elements in the vicinity of a selected point and which provides more detailed infor


refer to this type of analysis as local analysis.

about the spatial organization of the phenomenon in question. We

Global information

The grid method

The zone to be studied is defined and covered by a quadratical grid, and the grid distance £ is then varied. Following the logic described earlier, for each value of e, the number of squares N(z) containing any occupied point is counted. The fractal relation corresponds to (17) and is used to determine the grid-dimension Dg (Frankhauser, 1994b). This method has affinities with the procedure used in spatial statistics for studying the distribution of a phenomenon. On the other hand it shows up the ambiguity of the results obtained by counting in a grid if we use only a single scale and thus a single value of e. This can be seen by applying the method to the Sierpinski carpet in figure la. We vary the grid distance according to the iteration e = e„ = rn ■ L . For each step n, we consider that part of the occupied



surface vn or, what is equivalent, the density of the population that we assume to be concentrated on this surface (see above). For vn we get:




in which we have replaced TV according to the fractal relation N = r-D and used the relation r" = en/L and where Nitot> is the number of squares needed to cover the whole surface. The proportion of the surface on which the mass is concentrated thus depends directly on the size of the mesh: the distribution of the elements cannot be determined by a single mesh size and it is parameter D which measures the variation in v„, which is consistent with our remark about density. The results obtained by the grid method can be affected by the lo


and size of the selected zone. This is not surprising if the structure

presents multifractal behaviour. In some cases, however, the results vary according to the position and size of the window chosen for analysis even though the surface occupied inside the window remains the same. This ambiguity can be avoided by means of dilation analysis.

The dilation method

This method is based on the algorithm introduced by Minkowski and Bouligand to establish the dimension of an object using the measure theory approach/6' In this analysis each occupied point is surrounded by a square of size e, the surface of which is considered to be completely occupied (see figure 5). The size of these squares is then gradually enlarged, and we measure the total surface covered A(e) at each stage. As the squares are enlarged, any details smaller than e are overlooked and we gradually obtain an approximation of the original form.(7) Because more and more squares overlap, the total occupied surface A^dlî> (e) for a particular value e is less than what it would be if the same number of occupied points that make up the original form were surrounded individually. By dividing this total surface by the surface a^dll> (e) = e2 of a test square, we get the number of elements N(e) necessary to cover the whole and we get a relation consistent with (17). The corresponding fractal dimension DM is known as the Minkowski dimension or dilation dimension.

The correlation method and the dimensions series

A third method, spatial correlation analysis (see Batty, Longley, 1994; Frankhauser, 1994b), has sometimes been used. This involves counting the

(6> This approach has also recently been discussed in the context of 'mathematical

morphology'. (7> This approach can be compared to the gradual change in the degree of cartographical detail in drawing.



number of occupied points which lie at a certain distance from each oc


analyzed using a bi-logarithmic representation. In a multifractal dimension,

this correlation dimension Dc is the first of a series of dimensions which characterize the proximity of three, four etc. points (Feder, 1988). This gives more detailed results than grid analysis about the distribution of oc cupied points and can also be interpreted as the mean of the radial dimens ionthat is examined in the next section (Frankhauser, 1994b).

point, and thus the number of correlations. Fractality can also be

Local information

The radial method

Information of a different type is obtained by using radial analysis. This method refers to a specific point known as the counting centre and gives the law of distribution of the occupied sites around this point. A circle is drawn around this point, and the radius r is gradually increased. At each step the total number of occupied points 7V(p) inside the circle is counted. The fractal law takes the following form:




With linear relation (19) it is possible to calculate the radial dimen sionDr . When analyzing digitized patterns it is usual to surround the count ingcentre with squares. This avoids the rounding errors that result from the quadratical grid of the pixels. As a reminder that the distances are

. If we consider this type of analysis from the angle of multifractal theory, the radial dimension has a logic similar to that of the Lipschitz- Hôlder exponent mentioned earlier. For if the mass (x(e) is identified with the number of occupied points Nit), and the interval £ with p, relation (15) is identical to relation (19). The local character of this type of analysis means it can be used for detailed investigation of urban land-use patterns by comparing the results ob tained for different counting centres. On the other hand, information about the space surrounding the counting centre is aggregated. Counting the occupied points inside a circle whose radius is gradually enlarged, implies an integration over the whole range of 2 • тс of the angles ф and, simultaneously, an inte


measured in pixels, and thus in discrete terms, we

prefer to write


on the radius

from p' = 0

up to the present distance p' = p. We have

seen that the notion of density is ill-suited to a fractal logic. However, radial analysis also measures the radial decline in mean density with distance from the counting centre. This is clear if we consider the proportion of the occupied surface at a distance p from the centre, and thus the mean density g inside



this zone. Since the number Nm(p) of pixels needed to cover the whole

surface is

proportional to p2, for g we get:

D.-2 P '


Since Dr < 2, the exponent is negative and so the loss of density in the occupied surface with radial distance from the selected centre follows a hyperbolique function. The mean density thus varies continuously from the centre (Batty, Kim, 1992).

The curves of scaling behaviour

If the aim is to compare the radial loss of density at different distances from the centre and above all to identify the changes in fractal behaviour, the bi-logarithmic distortion can also be problematic. To avoid this effect, we have calculated for each distance p, the local value of the slope in the bi-logarithmic representation produced by the radial analysis. These slope values are represented for the range of distance p; (Batty, Longley, 1994; Frankhauser, 1997b):



a = log p, - log p;_,

In what follows the function oc,(p,) is referred to as the curve of scaling behaviour. This mode of representation is especially useful for identifying and measuring changes in the spatial organization of urban structures. Some care is needed when interpreting the results, however. As an example we present a theoretical pattern formed by a Sierpinski carpet surrounded by a black frame (figure 4a). In the central part we expect to observe a con stant slope value equal to the fractal dimension. But contrary to this hy

pothesis, radial analysis (figure 4b) show sharp variations which appear

fluctuations in the curve of scaling behaviour (figure 4c). This is due to the fact that the fractal law is only valid at distances from the centre that are multiples of three of the length of the square, particular to that step, which is consistent with the logic of iteration. Radial analysis does not respect this logic and deviations are observed for the intermediary distances. In particular, local values of oc, may greatly exceed the value of two. This local variation of the slope is a well-known phenomenon in frac talgeometry: free spaces in particular are responsible for local distortions in the scaling behaviour, even if their presence is consistent with the fractal logic of a structure, for example of a constructed fractal. This phenomenon can be accounted for by introducing a generalized fractal law:





























Figure 4.


Figure (a) shows a theoretical reference structure

composed of the Sierpinski carpet, surrounded by a black zone. The radial analysis and the scaling behaviour analysis are shown

in figures

(b) and (c) (see text)

where a(p,) indicates the local variations of the slope. (8) These local devi


If the local variations generate slope values that can exceed two, even larger variations are observed beyond the distance where the scaling be haviour changes. Beyond this distance the values fall and approach asympt otically the value of two which corresponds to the structure. This is a transient phenomenon: if the structure was also of dimension two prior to the rupture, the number of occupied points at this critical distance will be higher than in the case of a fractal structure. So in relation to the external part of dimension two there is a shortfall of occupied points. As distance from the centre is increased this phenomenon declines in size: the proport ionof missing points in relation to two becomes less and less significant.

from the fractal law should therefore not be over-estimated.

This example shows that the value a, does not correspond directly

to the fractal dimension but is subject to different types of perturbation.

A relation has been established which identifies the different phenomena

<8) Precise hypotheses about the form of the function a(p,) this parameter (Gouyet, 1992).

assure the local value of



influencing the value a,.

fractal dimension, we have generalized relation (22) so that the dimension

can also vary with distance: D = D(p) . In addition, we have treated dis tance p as a continuous variable, which makes it possible to interpret the slope a as the first derivative in the bi-logarithmic representation:

So as to be able to allow for any change in the

a(p) . . =










By means of law (22) generalized, it is verified that for the slope oc(p) we finally get the relation:


d\ogNfe— = dloga6— + .logp úřlogp í/logp



+ D_ = a.

Thus it can be seen that three different terms influence the slope value a:

• the first term represents the local change in the prefactor a which characterizes the local deviations. These perturbations appear on the curve of scaling behaviour as fluctuations around a constant mean value;

• the second term measures the change in the fractal dimension D, and thus authentic ruptures in the scaling behaviour. The latter appear as changes in the mean behaviour of the curve a; ;

• the third term is actually the fractal dimension itself. Because it is now assumed that D varies with distance p, we prefer to speak of the local value of dimension D.

slopes must not be taken as the fractal

dimension. In particular, because the first two terms measure variations, it is possible for the total of the three terms to exceed value two.i9) In order to distinguish local fluctuations from structural changes, it is useful to isolate the changes in the mean scaling behaviour. Gaussian smoothing has been found an effective tool for eliminating the fluctuations in a gradual and well controlled manner. (10)

The local values


of the

III. - Fractal investigation of urban patterns

Fractals, hierarchies and urbanization Fractal analysis combines several aspects. It is:

• a method of spatial analysis. In particular, it can be used to examine the law of distribution by moving across scales, as was seen in the

(9) A formal demonstration is given in Frankhauser, 1996a. (10) Comparisons have shown that the most suitable smoothing parameter for identifying the structural aspects of the curves of scaling behaviour has to be in a range of between 12 and 18 pixels. Use of the same value means that the results can be compared.


22 1

grid analysis. The reference model is a Pareto distribution which is characteristic of a hierarchical organization. It is also possible to measure the deviations from this type of distribution and identify the ruptures present in the spatial organization. The case of a homo geneous distribution is also included by the value D = 2;

• a geometrical approach. Geometric structures can be generated which respect a defined law of distribution. This makes it possible to create model urban patterns with which to illustrate certain types of spatial organization. A multifractal approach offers many possibilities for generating complex urban patterns. It may even be possible to model the ruptures at some scales by introducing a variation of the generator;

• an instrument for research. It is possible to compare empirical struc tures, even when these appear irregular, with constructed structures that follow the same law of distribution (see figure 7). These con structed patterns can then be used as reference models by town plan ners and allow the calculation of spatial measures of value for planning purposes. Such a paradigmatic transcription remains difficult to realize at present. The fractal dimension is a fairly global parameter which is not affected by the presence of free spaces/1 ')

The link between fractal geometry and the Pareto distribution appears to offer particularly rich possibilities in the field of urban theory. The ex istence of such a law of distribution is a well-known phenomenon in sys tems of settlement and at different scales:

• at the scale of urban networks, this distribution has been used to for malize the rank-size distribution of towns (see for example Pumain, 1982; Guérin-Pace, 1990), and Bussière and Stovall (1981) have found the same law by comparing the surfaces of cities by size class. In central place theory, economics provides the basis for deducing a similar law of distribution which is reflected in the presence of numerous small urban settlements and progressively fewer large urban settlements. This hierarchy is already visible at the scale of metropolitan areas, where a system of sub-centres can often be identified;

• in urban agglomerations, a radial decrease is frequently observed in the proportion of occupied surface in the agglomeration with distance from the centre, and a hyperbolic law has been proposed to describe this phenomenon, thus adopting an approach that corre sponds to fractal geometry. A more general formalization of this radial decrease is possible with a multifractal approach. From the angle of the decline in population density S. Korzibski has already analyzed this phenomenon by comparing the evolution of the urban population in London and Paris. Also in relation to population density, Batty (1992) discusses the similarities between the exponential and

(11) A different organization of the elements in a generator can change the aspect of a structure without the fractal dimension being altered.



hyperbolic approaches in empirical urban patterns with reference to the work of Zielinski (1980).

• at the intra-urban scale, hierarchy appears rather at the level of the free spaces: on the one hand there is a large number of small residential streets and internal courtyards, and on the other a small number of main avenues and large squares;

• from a morphological standpoint, the fragmented aspect of built-up

areas is also reminiscent of fractal geometry: irregularities are ob


at very different scales and, in particular, the distribution

of the built-up zones is non-homogeneous. This is reflected in a considerable lengthening of the perimeter of cities in relation to their built-up surface, which appears to be consistent with the ge ometry of Sierpinski carpets: their border line p is the same as their surface a, giving the proportionality between p and a which is in contradiction with Euclidean geometry. So we should not expect to find a fractal law that is valid for all the scales: the proportion of the surface occupied by man in space is not the same if we are studying settlement patterns at a regional scale or if we are considering the interior of an urbanized zone. Consequently we are unlikely to find a single type of behaviour for all the geographical scales. Instead, it is more reasonable to assume that there are ruptures in the hier archical organization at some scales. We have referred to different types of fractals according to the context under discussion.

Even at a single scale, fractal behaviour may vary according to the object under review: topography or the morphology of the transportation network can influence the morphogenesis of an urban pattern in different ways. It can also be noted that some algorithms are better suited than others to the study of a particular phenomenon. Thus radial analysis appears to be especially valuable in measuring the micro-structure of intra-urban pat terns. By contrast, global analysis proves more useful at a regional scale, where attention is on the spatial distribution of settlements and where se ttlements are separated by extensive unoccupied spaces.

An established field of application: Fractal analysis has proved a po-

werful tool for studying the spatial

the structure of urban patterns

organization of urban patterns. Ment ion can be made of the analyses by M. Batty and P. Longley (1994), M. Batty and Y. Xie (1996), P. Frankhauser (1994b, 1997b) and R. White (1991, 1993a).

Here we shall limit ourselves to examining different aspects of the information collected using examples from actual research.

Some general findings

We begin with a number of results which confirm the assumptions presented above. From a theoretical standpoint, it has been possible to construct



a fractal which obeys a logic similar to that which underpins central place theory (Frankhauser, 1994b). (12) For the French urban system, N. François has demonstrated that such a fractal hierarchy can be observed using a radial analysis that takes Paris as its centre (François, 1995). An analysis in the same vein concerns a number of metropolitan areas. We defined a number of surface size classes and counted the number of cities whose built-up surface corresponded to these (Frankhauser, 1994a). The metro politan areas which present a high degree of fragmentation, such as Stutt gart, Moscow, Berlin and Pittsburgh, confirm the existence of a hyperbolic distribution that is consistent with fractal geometry. Urbanization in these cases has been influenced either by the presence of valleys or by the im portance of a public transport network akin to the RER (suburban railway) around Paris. By contrast, no such hierarchy is discernible for a number of North American and Australian cities whose development has been deter mined by the private motor car from a very early date. Figure 5 shows

1 1 n г—i— i—i—i—i 0 0,5 1 1,522,53 4 567
г—i— i—i—i—i
0 0,5
1 1,522,53
4 567

Figure 5. - (a) The built-up surfaces of Pittsburgh, (b) the third

step of dilation,

(c) the curve of the dilation analysis, and curve of the clusters

(d) the

(l2) N. François has recently developed a fractal formalization of the distribution of population in a central place system (François, 1997a).



the curve of this analysis for Pittsburgh, that we have compared with the dilation curve. These two curves indicate the existence of a spatial hier archy. It may be noted, however, that fractal analysis also translates the non-homogeneous distribution of human activities within this space. A different analysis has examined the relationship between the built-

up surface

result confirms a close proportionality between the values of a and p (Frankhauser, 1994b). The fractal dimension of the perimeter can therefore be used as an indication of the degree of fragmentation of an urban pattern.

a and the perimeter p in

a sample

of sixty urban areas. The

A typology of metropolitan areas

Many fractal investigations of urban patterns have dealt with the ana of metropolitan areas and are thus conducted at a regional scale. De


tailed discussion of these results is in M. Batty and P. Longley (1994) Fractal Cities, a Geometry of Form and Function{l3) and P. Frankhauser (1994) La fractalité des structures urbaines.

These analyses are often conducted using large-scale cartographic rep from which the details of intra-urban structures are absent. A

In the sample

of thirty cities that

we analyzed, it was found that


general information is thus obtained about the spatial organization of the


European cities and some old-established cities in North America, such as Pittsburgh and Boston, are different from the cities of North America and Australia whose growth has been strongly marked by the spread of private car ownership, such as Los Angeles and Melbourne.04» In the first group, the fractal dimensions are lower, notably the global dimension (grid and correlation). The difference between the three dimensions (radial, grid and correlation) is greater in this group. Their behaviour is thus more consistent with a multifractal logic. The values obtained are direct reflections of the urban morphology: cities like Berlin and Moscow have low values of Dr, which is explained by their axial development along the lines of transport networks. The degree of urbanization in the urban hinterland is indicated by the global dimensions. Highly fragmented patterns like that in the Stutt gart region, for example, give low values. In this way several types of urban agglomeration can thus be identified.

Analysis of urban agglomerations - some comments on methodology

For the urban and intra-urban scale we draw on analyses we have conducted for several urban agglomerations in the Franche-Comté region of France, in particular Besançon, the Montbéliard urban area, the regions of Dole and of Lons-le-Saunier.(l5)

(13' This book assembles the results obtained by other authors. <14> The Third World cities we have analyzed do not form a homogeneous group. The results reflect their disparate historical evolution and an incomplete urban development. (15) These analyses are included in a number of masters theses in Geography (S. Trin- cat, Besançon; L. Goguel, Montbéliard; S. Lhomme, Dole; J. Prost, Lons-le-Saunier).



A cartographical representation as close as possible to reality is re


for this scale of observation. We used

topographical maps on the


50 000 and


25 000 scales, completed in the case of Besançon



database compiled from the GIS of the local authority.(16) Each of these studies focused on the radial analysis completed by the representation of the scaling behaviour. Local information relative to a specific point in a town and the ability to identify directly the ruptures in urban patterns are particularly well-adapted to this scale of study. The value of radial analysis also stems from the fact that this analysis has af finities with human perception of the urban space (François, 1995). Stu dying spatial patterns by gradually increasing the area around a fixed point corresponds to the situation of an observer at a certain point in a town who gradually expands his field of vision. This aspect is further reinforced by the logarithmic representation which gives greater emphasis to the phe nomena near the counting centre while aggregating the information relative to the more distant zones. (17) Studying the form of the curves has usually been found to be more revealing than the actual values of the dimensions.

Intra-urban ruptures in agglomerations

The curves for urban patterns present the same characteristics already

discussed in the analysis of theoretical reference structures: the scaling be


fluctuates locally around a dominant mean behaviour. However,

these fluctuations are usually less than in the theoretical reference struc tures, since the random phenomena present in urban patterns tend to make the curves smoother. Thus although the bi-logarithmic curves are in places surprisingly regular they also contain ruptures. By selecting different count ingcentres near to each other, it is found that the scaling behaviour varies only for the points in the immediate vicinity of the counting centre. This is due to local deviations such as the presence of large buildings or vacant lots; these are in fact the effects of free spaces. In addition, it is important to remember the in-built limits to an analysis of urban patterns: results that relate to distances smaller than the average size of small buildings give unreliable information/18'

However, the character of the curves may vary depending on the counting centre selected when we take a position close to the points where the scaling behaviour changes. The fluctuations in these zones are also greater, which is consistent with our theoretical propositions: change in the fractal dimension contributes to larger deviations. Figure 6 shows the built-up area in the north of the outer suburban ring of Besançon, plus the smoothed curves of scaling behaviour for two

(l6) The author would like to thank the municipal authorities of Besançon for making this data base available.

authors on the non-

Euclidean, heterogenous and anistropic nature of geographical space (Reymond, 1981; Brunet,

(18) For districts composed of blocks of flats this threshold may be at a greater distance, as is confirmed by an analysis of the district of Besançon-Planoise.

(17> Mention can be made in this context of the work

by several











1 000












1 000

1 250


point 1


p (in metres) point 2

1 500

1 750

р (in metres)

Figure 6. - The smoothed curves of scaling behaviour for two counting centres located in the northern part of Besançon. The squares correspond to the ruptures marked in the curves. The fact that the squares corresponding to different counting points overlap in places indicates that the ruptures are important



counting centres. The squares marked on the map correspond to the ruptures in the curves. It can be seen that some squares corresponding to different counting centres partially overlap. This indicates that in this sector the rup ture is large enough to dominate the result obtained for the whole of the perimeter of this square. By choosing a succession of positions for the counting centre it is thus possible to obtain detailed information on the aspect of the urban pattern as it appears from these points. Such information is more than a simple division into zones: it is a descriptor of the quarters in question. Fractal measures can thus be used to make a morphological com


and classification across different scales. A division into zones according to scaling behaviour can also be done

using other methods of analysis. We measured the size of the grid by grad


done, over the total surface of the urban pattern. The values obtained for

the fractal dimension were then mapped: each position selected is su


the dimension observed. For example, the colour black corresponds to dimension two, while the colour white indicates dimension zero. In this way an information is obtained about the distribution of dimensions and thus about the ruptures in the urban patterns. Additional information is supplied by certain ruptures in the actual curves obtained by the grid method. In particular, a rupture often occurs which relates to a small grid distance. This rupture corresponds to the min imum distance between buildings: when the usual size of backyards is reached, a shortfall of occupied squares will be noted for a smaller mesh, indicating that this is the lower limit at which structural phenomena can still be observed. The information obtained in this way about the spatial organization of urban districts can be used to construct theoretical fractal patterns equi valent in their internal organization to the observed patterns. Figure 7 shows an attempt to represent the aspect of the centre of Besançon in the form of a Sierpinski carpet by respecting approximately the fractal dimension and the distribution of free spaces in the urban pattern on the basis of a qualitative resemblance.' l9)

moving for a fixed distance the window in which the counting is

by a square whose degree of shading corresponds to the value of

Urban cores: centres of symmetry in urban patterns?

Characteristics of urban cores

The aspect of the curves obtained for the outer suburban districts varies depending on the spatial organization of the districts. On the other

<19) It must be remembered that this is one possibility among an arbitrary number of others, that are equivalent: a more precise method would require introducing supplementary parameters, notably to measure the distribution of free spaces with greater acuracy.




BesançonDr = 1,81 town centre














■■■■■■■MB VAVAVA■■■■■■

■■■■■■■■■■ VAVAVA■■■■■■



VAVAVAммм ммм

constructed fractal


Figure 7. - The centre of Besançon (Dr= 1.81) compared to a constructed fractal (D = 1.73). The distribution of free spaces has been chosen to be close to actual conditions, which seem to be characterized by the presence of large blocks around internal court yards

hand, if counting points at the centre of an agglomeration are selected,

the curves obtained present a similar form, even when the towns and cities are of very different sizes. Figure 8 shows this result for the agglomeration of Moscow based on a 1:500 000 map. Curves of the same type are obtained for other major European agglomerations such as Munich, Berlin and Stutt gart, but also for smaller towns like Besançon, Dole and Lons.(20) In the case of villages, the curves observed are either very irregular, with no dis


pattern, or correspond to the pattern for towns. This schema can be characterized as follows:

• as distance from the centre increases, scaling behaviour remains quite constant at a fairly high value of approximately 1.8 if topo


This zone, which varies in size, corresponds to the urban core;


This transitional zone varies in extent according to the morphology of the agglomeration. It indicates a change in spatial organization at

maps are used, and closer



for less



• when the edge of this central zone is reached, the values

of a,

(2°) The fact of having used different cartographical bases for the large cities as for the towns obviously makes comparison of the results problematic. However, as comparative studies have established, such a comparison appears to be acceptable if attention is confined to the general aspect of the curves.



this distance from the centre. This lower limit is marked on figure 8,

indeed correspond to the end of the

zone of dense urbanization which precedes the outer suburban ring dominated by strong axial growth; next there comes a fairly extensive zone that corresponds to the peripheral ring of the urbanized area. The curve here often presents an impressive degree of regularity, so we observe a constant scaling behaviour, though the value of exponent a is lower (see figure 8);

and it can be

seen that it does

a is lower (see figure 8); and it can be seen that it does Figure 8.

Figure 8. - The Moscow agglomeration and the curve of scaling behaviour obtained by a radial analysis from the city centre. The two distances for which ruptures are observed have been indicated on the curve by lines and on the diagram by squares:

one corresponds to the urban core, the other is at the boundary



• continuing towards the exterior another transitional zone appears, where the slope frequently declines gradually and which marks the start of a zone as yet largely unaffected by the growth of the central core. In figure 8, this second inflexion is indicated on both the curve and the map. In many cases, therefore, the spatial organization of urban patterns appears to follow the same principle of internal order at different scales, so this is a phenomenon of self-similarity.'21' An explanation can be found in the dendritic morphology of urbanized zones: beyond a certain distance from the centre, large unoccupied areas appear between the urbanized zones situated close to the axes of transportation, as can be seen in the example of Moscow. The same also applies to the villages which present this type of scaling behaviour. The strikingly regular form and the similarity of the curves obtained for the urban cores shows that these play the role of centres for the radial decay of built-up areas. In a certain sense they represent centres of sym metry in the morphology of urban patterns. (22) The schema described above is sometimes modified according to the specific features of the urban pattern. Smaller scale ruptures often occur, which correspond to sub-centres present some distance from the main core.

Some specific examples

There are also cases which diverge considerably from the schema out



but from what has been

said it is possible

to provide an in


of such results. A first example is that

of Los Angeles which

we studied at the scale of 1:500 000. Although the urbanized zone in this agglomeration is very extensive there exists no hierarchy of towns in the hinterland. In this case the a, values decline over a much longer range of distance and the stage of the peripheral ring is missing.

Another case that has proved interesting is that of the Montbéliard conurbation, a medium-sized agglomeration. The curve obtained for the

historic centre of Montbéliard is more like that obtained for an outer sub


ingcentre, the form of the curve is like that observed for city centres. The Peugeot factory thus plays the role of a centre of symmetry for the radial decay in this urban pattern. On the other hand, for Audincourt situ ated at the centre of the conurbation, the curve presents merely a slight inflexion as distance from the centre increases. Thereafter it rises and an inflexion occurs only when the edge of the conurbation is reached. This

(21) At the scale of metropolitan areas, the difference in scaling behaviour between the urban core and the suburban periphery has been noted by other authors, notably by R. White who refers in this context to a bifractal behaviour (White and Engelen, 1994a;

district. By contrast, if the Peugeot car factory is taken as the count


that recent analysis conducted at a national scale for the urban

network by N. François has shown that Paris similarly plays the role of a "natural centre of radial decay" in the system of settlement (François et al., 1995).

(22) It may be added


23 1

indicates that the town belongs to a network of towns which together form

a larger unit. The

behaviour shows that this set of towns together has the same spatial or

ganization as a central core. Thus the conurbation as a whole forms a struc ture organized according to a common internal hierarchy. The relative regularity of the curve for Audincourt indicates that this town is the geo


fact that no major change

is observed in the scaling

centre of the conurbation.

Spatial analysis of the urbanization process

The degree of spatial absorption

Urbanized zones are usually composed of a number of sub-centres grouped around a large urban centre. It is common for the centres of se ttlements closest to the central cluster to be absorbed by it in the process of urbanization, thereby losing their independent character and becoming part of the enlarged central cluster - even if administrative boundaries do not always keep up with such changes. The value of radial analysis as a sen


instrument for distinguishing the degree of absorption of a centre of

settlement has been demonstrated by the analyses we have conducted for the periurban towns of Munich (Frankhauser, 1994a) and Berlin, as well as at the scale of medium- and small-sized towns in the Franche-Comté region.

When other clusters are situated near to the main cluster, the smoothed curve of scaling behaviour is seen to have a weak inflexion before climbing again. On the other hand the same behaviour is observed when the position of reference is the centre of a commune (local district) situated on the pe riphery. For a periurban zone that has not yet been absorbed into the central cluster, however, a curve with a clear break is observed. By comparing the degree of absorption for the same agglomeration at different periods we can retrace the successive stages of urbanization in a periurban zone. Figure 9 shows the urban pattern of Lons-le-Saunier in 1970 and in 1985, as well as the smoothed curves of scaling behaviour for Montmorot, a commune close to Lons. A sharp break is observed in 1970 but has completely disappeared in 1985. The scaling behaviour has thus become more regular, and the urbanization process is found to act as

a self-structuring process.

Change and continuity in urban morphogenesis

In the previous example, urbanization is accompanied by a phenome nonof self-structuring which is reflected in a greater regularity of the curves, despite the fragmented morphology of the urban patterns. Therefore it seems interesting to study the process of urbanization by comparing the urban patterns of a town across time. We have conducted such investigations for Munich, Berlin, the Montbéliard region, and Lons-le-Saunier. The results confirm that fluctuations diminish greatly in the course of urbanization:


Lons-le-Saunier 1970

Montmorot •.,:




p (in metres)


Lons-le-Saunier 1985




p (in metres)

Figure 9. - The absorption of Montmorot, a village on the outskirts of Lons-le-Saunier, between 1970 and 1985. The same counting centre has been used for both periods. In 1970, the smoothed curve of scaling behaviour is seen to contain several ruptures which were then situated between the two agglomerations. In 1985 there remains only a slight inflexion. The distance of 60 pixels corresponds to 1 km

• for large agglomerations the principal observation is a decline in the fluctuations in the suburbs and beyond. This indicates that the urbanized space is increasingly dominated by the central cluster;

• for some periurban villages no structure can be identified to begin with, whereas in the course of urbanization the curves get closer to the pattern described for the urban cores. Urbanization should thus be interpreted as a self- structuring process. Figure 10 presents the comparison of two chronological sequences of smoothed curves of scaling behaviour relative to periurban development in the region of Berlin and of Lons. Although these two agglomerations

are not comparable by size, in qualitative terms the two curves are similar.

still fairly

In both cases we observe,

limited in extent.(23) For distances beyond the centre, the curve for Berlin



first date,

that the centre is

(23> By isolating the

break between the urban core and the peripheral ring at each

period it is possible to measure the growth of the space affected by urbanization. This i


can be used to study and model urban growth (Frankhauser, 1994a).



Berlin Lons-le-Saunier a 1875 1913 3, 10 15 20 25 30 35 500 1000 1500
500 1000 1500 2000 2500 3000 3500
(in kilometres)
p (in metres)
500 100015002000250030003500
(in kilometres)
p (in metres)
1000 1500 2000 25003000
(in kilometres)
p (in metres)
500 1000 1500 2000 2500 3000
p (in kilometres)
p (in metres)


10. - Comparison of the growth of Berlin and Lons-le-Saunier as transcribed by

the smoothed curves of scaling behaviour.

It will


noted that the form of both curves



same way

(see text)




levels out at a lower value before going on to reach higher values, within

a limited range. In the case of Lons, it is seen that the curve falls after reaching the edge of the core, and that a second break is observed, corr


to the suburban ring which surrounds this core. Only at a greater

distance from the centre do there exist also higher values. In both these cases this increase in values is due to the presence of other agglomerations situated at this distance. A comparison with the curves for the subsequent periods shows that the inflexions in the curves are reduced and that we observe a more extensive transitional zone. The fluctuations caused by dis tant agglomerations gradually give way under the influence of a periurban ring whose presence is indicated by a stage of constant behaviour as di


If the growth of the central cluster has a considerable influence on the spatial organization of the suburbs, it is found that the values of the parameter a, scarcely increase inside the urban core which thus does not reach the dimension of two that is indicative of a homogeneous occupation of space. The values of a, in the peripheral zones are observed to move

gradually closer to those of the core. It follows that the additional built-up surface is thus distributed according to the same principle as inside the cluster, with the result that larger free spaces continue to exist inside the urbanized zone. This form of growth corresponds to the allometric prin


consistent with the logic discussed above of a gradual fragmentation of the built-up area. This mode of growth is not the result of a planning policy but tends in fact to run counter to such policies, which means that it is a phenomenon of self-organization. In fact, the growing influence of the central cluster on the periurban area is reminiscent of the slaving principle elaborated in synergetics to explain phenomena of self-organization. One of the fun damental principles of this approach is based on the idea that the compet itionbetween sub-systems culminates in the dominance of a single element which achieves preeminence through a process of natural selection. In the case of a settlement system it can be imagined that one particular agglomera tionbenefits from an advantageous situation, in the form of political or economic advantages, or by its position. The neighbouring agglomerations then risk losing their independence. (24) These observations point to the use of the fractal approach to model urban morphogenesis, and several authors have suggested growth models based on fractal rules (Frankhauser, 1994b; Batty, Longley, 1994; White, Engelen, 1994a; Makse, Halvin, Stanley, 1995). Particular mention can be


often observed in biological systems (Frankhauser, 1994b) and is

(24) w. Weidlich and G. Haag (1988) have elaborated a synergetic model of a network of towns to show the spontaneous growth of one town to the detriment of the others. The multi-agents model, elaborated by the P.A.R.I.S. team (Guérin-Pace, 1995), also reveals the development of an urban hierarchy. In both cases, however, these are demographic models rather than a morphogenetic approach. It may be added that the socio-economic aspects of the fragmentation of the urban space are discussed in Frankhauser, 1994b.



made of the attempts by Batty et al. and more recently A. Makse et al. to model urban growth by applying methods used in physics to describe phe nomena of diffusion and of electrical discharges. These results are inter


In addition, Makse et al. also consider the influence that the surroundings

in that what is being modelled is the peripheral growth of cities.

of a place have on its probability or not of being urbanized. However, such an approach remains essentially descriptive, since it is still hard to justify this method on the basis of micro-economic processes, as for

example, decisions over residential location. In this respect, the approach adopted by R. White and G. Engelen represents a different logic: they i


example, the proximity of an industrial zone is unfavourable to the deve

zone. With this model is

into account the influence of supplementary models. On the other hand, no allowance is made for changes in the behaviour of the human agents,

for example a greater sensitivity to increasing density of the built-up space. Yet such phenomena appear to have an important role in explaining the reasons which contribute to the fragmentation of the periurban space. The use of spatial models to explore urban growth does seem nonetheless a promising field, since space is explicitly present in this approach, in cont



the laws of spatial interaction between different land-uses. For

of a residential

it also possible to take

to the traditional models whose approach is essentially economic. A

modelling concept has recently been proposed which attempts to integrate the reaction of the human agents to the spatial transformation provoked by the process of urbanization (Frankhauser, 1996b).

IV. - Towards an analysis of population distribution

Our discussion so far has been limited to studying the distribution of built-up surfaces. In terms of demography, this point of view corre sponds to a homogeneous distribution of the population across the built-up surface. At the level of a more detailed analysis of urban patterns, it would be desirable to also take into account other aspects of urban spatial or ganization, such as the density of built-up surfaces and the distribution of the population. Reference was made earlier to the work of H. Le Bras who has used a multifractal approach to analyse the non-homogeneous distribution of the population. This approach is based on an iteration whereby at each step a part of the population is allocated to a part of the available surface. A similar approach has recently also been used by S. Appelby to analyse the distribution of population at the scale of the urban network (Appelby, 1996). Application of such an approach at the scale of agglomerations re


introduction of a bivalent logic with which to model both the dis


of the built-up surface and the density of land use.

We need


measure the radial decay of the occupied surface from a city centre and



a distribution of the population which may be different/25' The aim is thus to combine two different logics of distribution.

The generator

Iteration step 2

Figure 11. - The generator discussed in the text and the iteration step 2. The percentages of population present in each square are represented by different degrees of shading: the greyer the scale, the higher the percentage

(25) It is known, for example, that the residential population is concentrated in the peripheral zones even though densities of built-up surfaces in the urban cores reach very high levels.



Figure 11 gives the example of a fractal which corresponds to such

a logic: the initial figure is a square containing the entire population. A

generator is then introduced comprising nine squares reduced to one fifth. Five of these squares are arranged in the initial square in the form of a chess-board, and another is added in each corner. This construction is not much more complicated than the carpet in figure 1. Unlike the Sierpinski carpet, however, the population is distributed over the occupied squares in

a non-homogenous way. We allocate only /?i=| to the central square,

whereas each of the squares in the first suburban ring have p2 = | of the population, and we assume that the furthest squares, situated in the corners, have only Рз = -^ of the population. This operation is repeated in the next step. The logic is thus like that of figure 3: also produced are factors of reduction which contain the factors pu p2 and p3. A hierarchy of sub-centres is obtained which obey a logic equivalent to that of the central cluster. The proportion of the built-up surface does indeed fall as distance from the centre increases. However, the distribution of the population is consistent with the idea that the largest share of the population lives in the inner suburbs, while the centre and outer suburbs are less densely populated. A fractal analysis based on this approach could be used to study this phenomenon and to divide the zones by their type of demographic dis tribution. This requires the adaptation of multifractal methods of measure mentto this phenomenon of distribution.


Application of fractal theory is not simply about the introduction of alternative methods of spatial measurement. It in fact involves a new ge

ometrical approach for understanding the organization of humanized space:

the paradigm referred to is no longer that of homogeneity as in the Eu


space. This logic appears to be consistent with many observations and with

a number of theoretical formalizations such as the rank-size law and central

place theory. By using the fractal approach it is possible to establish the existence of such an organization within a spatial system, even when it is not directly visible because masked by random phenomena. Regular and constructed geometrical structures can thus be compared with structures which though they appear to be irregular follow the same principle of internal order. In addition, the possibility of studying a phenomenon across scales also allows the identification of critical thresholds in a spatial system.

perception but that of the hierarchical distribution of elements in


The geometrical character of the fractal formalization makes it par suited to exploration of the morphology and genesis of urban pat


and in a way which goes beyond a simple topological approach. For

example, the curves of fractal analyses obtained for different periods are



found to become more regular which reflects an underlying phenomenon of self-organization. The same type of evolution is also observed for small towns as for large agglomerations. Yet it must not be thought that this is a trivial phenomenon, as topographical, socio-economic conditions and ac cessibility can all influence morphogenesis and hence the fractal indices. It must therefore be concluded that the fractal indices characterize the morphology of urban structures. Fractal dimensions have a concrete meaning:

they measure the degree of non-homogeneity in a spatial distribution. A fractal dimension close to two expresses an almost uniform distribution of the ele


ion.Compared with some traditional measures which relate to topology, such as measures of connectivity, fractal analysis provides supplementary informat ion,since it measures the non-topological properties of these structures. In other cases the fractal indices indicate the unsuitability of traditional measures:

if density varies greatly with the scale of observation, fractal analysis can eliminate this ambiguity, for example.

whereas a dimension close to zero is indicative of a strong concentrat

Fractal analysis is primarily a descriptive tool: we may observe a

structure which obeys a fractal law or identify the existence of a threshold, but these facts are not explained. However, identifying a certain type of spatial organization provides a tool with which to test theories or expla


morphogenesis has to respect the results obtained by this approach, while second, as in the physical sciences, the discovery of a certain type of struc ture can contribute to reflections about explanatory theories which repro duce the observed spatial logic. Although the fractal measures currently in use enable us to compare and classify, it can be seen that they are sometimes inadequate. Future research should thus be directed at developing supplementary measures but which are consistent with the logic of spatial hierarchies. As has been shown, a promising direction for conceptual extension appears to be that of the notion of multifractality. This should facilitate the interpretation of certain results obtained by earlier analyses.

models from a morphological standpoint: first, a model of urban

Pierre Frankhauser


The author would like to thank Denise Pumain, Lena Sanders and France Guérin-Pace of the P.A.R.I.S. group of the CNRS, for many fruitful discussions, and my colleagues at the IRADES (CNRS THEMA group) for the interest they have shown in this work. Thanks also to Joëlle Maillardet and Thomas Thevenin for the diagrams, and to Anne Marie Odouze for her critical comments on the text.




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Frankhauser (Pierre).- The fractal approach. A new tool for the spatial analysis of ur ban agglomerations.

Fractal geometry is a new approach for the study of spatial distributions. The basic model is a law of hierarchical distribution corresponding to Pareto's law which is familiar to urban geographers and demographers. The methods of fractal analysis can be used to stu dy the spatial organization of human activities across scales. The regularities and the dis continuities in the distributions can then be identified. These discontinuities can be spatially situated. Applying this concept to urbanized areas has shown that districts can be defined and classified according to their scaling relations, thereby allowing development of a typology of locational patterns. This observation reveals the existence of a principle of self-similarity in land-use patterns. An examination of time series shows that despite the apparent fragmentation of these urban tissues, urbanization is often accompanied by self- structuring development. Subsequent research will need to employ complementary morphological measures, such as measures of space filling and of population distribution, which could be used to va lidate the simulation models based on fractal geometry.

Frankhauser (Pierre).- L'approche fractale. Un outil de réflexion dans l'analyse spa tiale des agglomérations urbaines.

La géométrie fractale est une nouvelle approche pour étudier des répartitions spatial es.Le modèle de référence est une loi de distribution hiérarchique qui correspond à la loi de Pareto, bien connue en géographie urbaine et en démographie. L'utilisation des métho desd'analyse fractale permet d'étudier l'organisation spatiale des activités humaines à tra


des ruptures. Ces ruptures peuvent être identifiées dans l'espace. L'application de ce con cept aux tissus urbains a montré qu'il est possible de distinguer et de classifier des quartiers selon leur comportement sealant, et de développer une typologie des tissus urbains. Cette observation met en évidence l'existence d'un principe d'auto-similarité dans les tissus ur bains. L'étude de séries temporelles montre que l'urbanisation est souvent accompagnée de phénomènes de structuration, en dépit de la fragmentation apparente de ces tissus.

Les futures recherches devraient utiliser des mesures morphologiques complémentair es:mesures de lacunarité, mesures concernant la répartition de la population. Ces mesures pourront servir à valider des modèles de simulation basés sur la géométrie fractale.

les échelles. Il est ainsi possible de découvrir aussi bien des hiérarchies régulières que

Frankhauser (Pierre). - El análisis fractal. Un nuevo instrumente de reflexion en el análisis espacial de las aglomeraciones urbanas.

La geometria fractal es un nuevo método de estudio de reparticiones espaciales. El modelo de referencia es una ley de distribución jerárquica que corresponde a la ley de Paret o,bien conocida en geografia urbana y en demografia. La utilización de los métodos de análisis fractal permite estudiar la organización espacial de las actividades humanas a tra- vés de escalas. Estas escalas permiten establecer tanto jerarquias regulares como rupturas, que se pueden identificar y situar en el espacio. La aplicación de este concepto a los tejidos urbanos ha abierto la posibilidad de distinguir y clasificar gradualmente barrios según su comportamiento, y de esta forma desarrollar tipologias urbanas. Este método muestra la ex- istencia de un principio de auto-similaridad en los tejidos urbanos. El estudio de series tem porales muestra que el proceso de urbanización va frecuentemente acompafiado de un proceso de estructuración, a pesar de la fragmentación aparente de taies tejidos. En investigaciones futuras deberian utilizarse medidas morfologicas complementa- rias: medidas de lagunaridad, medidas referentes a la repartición de la población. Estas me didas podrian utilizarse también para validar los modelos de simulación basados en la geometria fractal.

Pierre Frankhauser, Université de Franche-Comté, 32, rue Mégevand, 25030 Besançon, France, tel: [33] (0)3 81 66 54 21, fax: [33] (0)3 81 66 53 55, e-mail: pierre.frankhauser@univ-fcomte.fr