Urban Models Seminar Series

Unforseen influence: how early simplification in analytical urban models came to shape urban analysis, theory and practice.

About the seminar series

Analytical models are everywhere in urban studies: they help us grasp what a city is, how it evolves, what it could become. They are constantly appropriated and adapted to new contexts and new uses, both by academics and practitioners across geographical space and disciplines. Models are, by construction, simplifications of reality, but some simplifications have important consequences for urban studies and policy making, especially when their users are unaware of the original design choices of the models, which can happen when the urban model is very complex or has reached a “classical” status. What are the unforeseen consequences of urban models’ simplification on our understanding of cities? Tracing the discrepancy between model results and empirical analysis back to urban models’ core assumptions and design is thus crucial to provide guidance on how to use them appropriately, avoid misleading conclusions and ultimately create better models. In this monthly seminar, we focus on several major urban models which have been durably shaped how we study cities. They will be presented and debated by urban scholars who have studied, critiqued and updated them to fit contemporary urban challenges. We aim to open a new academic debate on analytical urban models and to inaugurate the first comprehensive analysis of their circulation and impact on policy.


Session 1

Central Place Theory and urban hierarchies

Denise Pumain

25 October 2021

Session 2

Alonso's model and urban centrality

Justin Delloye

22 November 2021

Session 3

Economic Base Theory and urban development

Jessie Lerousseau

13 December 2021

Session 4

Cyclic Urbanisation Models

Session 5

Fractal models and urban scales

Cécile Tannier

7 February 2022

Session 6

Evolutionary Economic Geography and relatedness
Ron Boschma
7 March 2022

Session 7

Schelling & urban segregation
Itzhak Benenson & Erez Hatna
4 April 2022

Session 8

Forrester's Urban Dynamics & cities as systems
Michael Batty

9 May 2022

Session 9

Utilitarian models & urban resource allo-cation
Somwrita Sarkar

13 June 2022

Session 10

Models circulation across languages and disciplines
C. Cottineau + guests
19 September 2022

Who we are?

The idea for this seminar comes from the recurring observation that most models “borrowed” from ecology, mathematics or physics are generally not immediately suited for studying cities because of their unrealistic assumptions about geographical space. The discussions between urban planner Ali Sobhani, sociologist Rūta Ubarevičienė and geographer Clémentine Cottineau at the Urban Studies group in TU-Delft led to the project of opening this conversation to interdisciplinary experts, to provide the first comprehensive analysis of urban models, their circulation and policy impact to a wide audience, including master students, PhD students and early career researchers. Their professional experience in multiple cities around the world (Paris, London, Tehran, Delft, Vilnius, Leipzig, Moscow) suggested to open this discussion to international experts.

At TU-Delft Urbanism, Ali Sobhani is currently a PhD Student working on quality of life in cities and media trends ; Rūta Ubarevičienė is currently a Research Associate working on socio-spatial change, social segregation and depopulation ; and Clémentine Cottineau is currently an Assistant Professor working on urban inequality and geosimulation.