PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2020, Vol. 39 ›› Issue (9): 1576-1586.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2020.09.014

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Theoretical foundation and framework for understanding urban centers

YAN Longxu(), WANG De*(), ZHANG Shangwu   

  1. College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji University, Shanghai 200092, China
  • Received:2019-08-04 Revised:2020-03-20 Online:2020-09-28 Published:2020-11-28
  • Contact: WANG De;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(51838002)


Under the "economic space" perspective, theories and empirical studies regarding urban centers system have developed in isolation from each other. This study aimed at filling this gap with a synthesized theoretical framework. Based on a general survey of theoretical models, we argued that the formation and development of urban centers system are mainly determined by two mechanisms—spatial competition and spatial connection, generating the spatial organization of local and non-local services respectively. Then we characterized the urban centers as a "semi-lattice" system that any center in a tree-structure of local service centers could be linked to higher-level centers or even global cities by non-local functions such as those derived from the space of flow. After an in-depth discussion of this framework, we proposed several research implications regarding empirical studies. We argued that empirical identification of urban centers should be consistent with theoretical concepts; reflection from empirical studies should be further linked to the refinement of the framework; and the potential of planning intervention on centers and their spatial effects is the premise of spatial policies.

Key words: urban centers system, theoretical framework, spatial competition, spatial connection, semi-lattice