Self-organizing criticality among Chinese cities
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This dissertation employs the theory of self-organizing criticality (SOC) into the study of Chinese cities. SOC was proposed at the end of the 1980s to explain system complexity by combining both self-organizing and critical behaviors. SOC has been broadly used in explaining phenomena in physical and social sciences. However, few attempts have been made to connect urban studies with SOC because of the extreme complexity of urban phenomena. This study develops a generalized SOC to study Chinese cities at both the inter-urban and the intra-urban levels. At the inter-urban level, this study finds that the rank size distribution of Chinese cities has followed Zipf's law since 1984. In addition, the rank size dynamics of Chinese cities experienced a spatiotemporal shift. Before 1996, city rank increases in a few small- and middle-sized cities because of favorable economic policies offered by the central government. After 1996, a majority of the Chinese cities began to be involved in this rank size shuffling. Cities with increasing ranks present clustered distribution, mainly along the south and east coastal areas. Part of the reason is that the market economy mechanism has transcended policy factors in determining the city competitiveness. At the intra-urban level, the study shows that Shenzhen's urban physical development is currently facing physical environmental thresholds, shifting the development strategies spatiotemporally from fringe and isolated growth to fringe and infill growth. The resulted urban patches show power law relationship both in the area-perimeter distributions and the magnitude-frequency distributions. In summary, this research proves the applicability of the generalized SOC in urban studies. At both the inter-urban and the intra-urban levels, the Chinese cities present the characteristics of SOC. Given a stable condition of power law, shifts occur in the inside dynamics of China's urban system and Shenzhen city. This study is one of the few empirical urban studies based on SOC. The study contributes to the literature on SOC theory and provides theoretical breakthroughs in studying Chinese cities. Finally, this study has potential implications on urban policies and urban development strategies.
Li, Shujuan (2009). Self-organizing criticality among Chinese cities. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from