‘Broad Brushes and Useful Approximations’

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‘Broad Brushes and Useful Approximations’

Next month, I’ll be presenting this paper at the ERSA Congress here in Vienna.


Scholars use a variety of methods to measure the size, shape, configuration, and characteristics of cities in analyzing the causes and consequences of urban form. The diversity of measurement approaches is a reflection of the vast range of research questions involving urban form and of various disciplinary traditions. The methodological variation is also a consequence of the complexity and diversity of urban systems themselves, which complicates the work of identifying and measuring the dimensions of interest.

One area of research that can benefit from including urban form is analyses of location affordability (LA).  LA is the joint consideration of housing and transportation costs, recognizing that these constitute the most important household cost burdens, especially for lower income households. From an LA perspective, understanding affordability requires understanding both housing cost burdens and transportation costs burdens that are associated with a given location choice. Because housing and transportation are important elements of the patterns and characteristics of urban systems, the spatial configuration of these two systems can be an important factor in shaping household cost burdens. Thus the consequences of urban form are of interest to LA researchers and those who work in the housing and transportation sectors.

This paper presents a systematic review of recently published scholarly articles that describe measures of urban form along with articles that link urban form with housing and/or transportation affordability. Measurement methods are categorized by the scale of measurement, types of metrics, and whether urban form serves as a predictor of the outcome of interest or is itself the result. The review finds urban form associated with research in a wide range of disciplines and research questions. There is a greater use of multiple metrics than single metrics, with long-accepted measures of density and spatial configuration frequently combined with other types of measures.  The review provides an overview of recent trends in methods that are relevant for the emerging LA research and policy community.


The 2016 ERSA Congress website is HERE.


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