The Age of urban agglomerations

Urbica carried out research for the Moscow Urban Forum 2017 — we analyzed and visualized tons of different data and discovered a lot of interesting things about urban agglomerations.

Populations density of London’s agglomeration, per square km.

What is an urban agglomeration? It is the concentration of people in built-up areas that extend outward from cities. As this process unfolds, complex relationships develop between different parts of the city due to the movement of goods and people, including traffic and commuting patterns. To better understanding the process of agglomeration, we collected various data and integrated them into one data exploration tool — «The Age of urban agglomerations». This was made available at interactive panels during the Moscow Urban Forum and available online at the URL:

Emplyment density in large agglomerations in the world, per square km.

Agglomerations comparable with Russian ones were selected from the resulting list according to various parameters. Each of them practised differing approaches to steering their development.

  • Major world agglomerations: Shanghai, Beijing, New York, London, Seoul, Tokyo, Buenos Aires
  • Small world agglomerations: Milan, Copenhagen and Malmö, Montreal, Brisbane, Oakland, Lyon
  • Russian agglomerations: Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don, Yekaterinburg, Perm, Samara and Togliatti, Kazan, Novosibirsk, Vladivostok, Makhachkala

The territory of an agglomeration may be divided into two main parts: the core and the periphery. In order to delineate the core, we divided the urban territory into square kilometre blocks, and filtered out those blocks which had a population density of over 1,500 people. Enclaves with a lower population density were also included in the core.

The periphery of an agglomeration comprises municipalities where at least 15% of the employed population travel regularly into the core of the agglomeration for work or study, and then return back home again. Such journeys are referred to as pendulum migration or commuting.

The rates of the employed people commuting to the core

In order to determine agglomerations boundaries and cores we analysed anonymised data from mobile network operators, because there is no official commute rates statistics.

Looking at the 3D-maps of these locations we can see detailed parameters of the chosen agglomeration:

Population and employment density in four large cities, per square killometer.

For example Tokyo: the population here is spread out very evenly. This difference is largely explained by the large proportion of residents who live in their own homes. The maintenance of an optimal density at such a size is one of the strong points of the Tokyo agglomeration.

The Moscow agglomeration, unlike Tokyo, is densely populated only within the boundaries of its core. Residents of the Moscow agglomeration primarily work in Moscow proper. This puts significant pressure on the transportation infrastructure both in the capital and in its suburbs.

The employment density in the center of London is one of the highest in the world. It is also very high in many of its second order cores. The structure of the London agglomeration is completely different from Moscow.

CO₂ emissions, tons/km², Tokyo, Japan.

Secondly, the data research tool allows for the comparison of 8 large world agglomerations by any one of the given parameters. For example, you can compare the maps of urban buildup.

Comparison tool for 8 large agglomerations, urban builtup by years

Thirdly, the “Tendencies” tool allows visitor to simultaneously look at the average values of the main analytical layers. This can be useful to trace the cross-influences of some aspects of urban development to others. The graph is based on the average value of a separate analytical layer at a relevant distance from the center of agglomeration core. The resulting “profiles” show a certain trend in the structure of the city.

«Tendencies» tool

During the Moscow Urban Forum (6–12 July) the data research tool was represented at the central place of the exhibition. Now it’s available at the following website:

This project forms part of Agglomerations. «World>Russia>Moscow», an investigation carried out for the Moscow Urban Forum 2017. Сartographic data, graphics, diagrams and texts presented here will help the reader get to grips with what exactly agglomerations are, how they are organised, and how their existence impacts the lives of each and every inhabitant of a major city.

Urbica Design practice in data analysis and visualisation. We are focused on human experience design around cities. We will be happy to help organisations to develop processes, products, services, tools and environments with a focus based on the data & design. @urbicadesign