Measuring urban form : overcoming terminological inconsistencies for a quantitative and comprehensive morphologic analysis of cities

Fleischmann, Martin and Romice, Ombretta and Porta, Sergio (2021) Measuring urban form : overcoming terminological inconsistencies for a quantitative and comprehensive morphologic analysis of cities. Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science, 48 (8). pp. 2133-2150. ISSN 2399-8091 (

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Unprecedented urbanisation processes characterise the Great Acceleration, urging urban researchers to make sense of data analysis in support of evidence-based and large-scale deci- sion-making. Urban morphologists are no exception since the impact of urban form on funda- mental natural and social patterns (equity, prosperity and resource consumption’s efficiency) is now fully acknowledged. However, urban morphology is still far from offering a comprehensive and reliable framework for quantitative analysis. Despite remarkable progress since its emergence in the late 1950s, the discipline still exhibits significant terminological inconsistencies with regards to the definition of the fundamental components of urban form, which prevents the establishment of objective models for measuring it. In this article, we present a study of existing methods for measuring urban form, with a focus on terminological inconsistencies, and propose a systematic and comprehensive framework to classify urban form characters, where ‘urban form character’ stands for a characteristic (or feature) of one kind of urban form that distinguishes it from another kind. In particular, we introduce the Index of Elements that allows for a univocal and non-interpretive description of urban form characters. Based on such Index of Elements, we develop a systematic classification of urban form according to six categories (dimension, shape, spatial distribution, intensity, connectivity and diversity) and three conceptual scales (small, medium, large) based on two definitions of scale (extent and grain). This framework is then applied to identify and organise the urban form characters adopted in available literature to date. The resulting classification of urban form characters reveals clear gaps in existing research, in particular, in relation to the spatial distribution and diversity characters. The proposed framework reduces the current inconsistencies of urban morphology research, paving the way to enhanced methods of urban form systematic and quantitative analysis at a global scale.