A New Way of Looking at City Growth

by / Wednesday, 05 June 2013 / Published in CRE Trends, iCORE


Using weather satellites designed to measure ocean winds, scientists have compiled graphs that depict how wide and tall cities around the world have grown over the past decade.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, “China will build the equivalent of New York every other year for 20 years, while India needs to add the equivalent of a Chicago to its building stock annually.” What scientists realized is that these staggering numbers are hard to visualize and don’t shed light on how the urban landscape will look.

That’s where Steve Frolking and his team of researchers from Yale and Boston come in. Using satellites to capture the spread of city lights over the course of a decade (from 1999 to 2009), the team was able to plot growth trajectories of a hundred cities.  Outward expansion is captured in the length of the horizontal arrows whereas vertical lines depict upward expansion. The longer the arrows extend horizontally, the more the city has expanded outward. Similarly, the longer the arrows extend vertically, the more the city has expanded upward.

New York


A summary of some of the findings:

  • Indian cities sprawled out rather than up with the fastest growth occurring at the cities’ edges
  • Developed world capitals such as London, New York, and Tokyo added considerable mass and height to their skylines while growing slowly, if at all on the periphery
  • China’s megacities expand both horizontally and vertically. Not just Beijing and Shanghai, but also second-tier cities such as Shenzhen, Dongguan, Foshan, and Tianjin experienced patterns of growth that resemble no other nation on the planet


For a look at all of the graphs, check out the article in FastCompany