About Michael Batty

I chair CASA at UCL which I set up in 1995. I am Bartlett Professor In UCL.

At the Crossroads of Urban Growth


A spectre is haunting urban growth relating to how development is financed. My current editorial in Environment and Planning B (December 2014, issue 6) discusses the increasing disconnect between demand and supply of new buildings using the example of Wuhan in China where the dash for growth is turning traditional notions of how cities get built upside down. The prospects are frightening for there are many parts of the world where the economies might crash as the link between demand and supply is broken. We may well be in line for a series of linked credit crunches, one of which follows another as government debt, inflation, and the printing of money are increasingly out of step with what is feasible and sustainable.

The conventional wisdom is that developers borrow cash to construct buildings and infrastructure for which there is demonstrable demand, at least in the medium term. Banks that are risk averse will only lend money to those developers who have not only good track records but a convincing argument that their products will find a market. This is little different from any production which is predicated, to an extent, on present and future consumption. By and large for the last 200 years, this process had led to balanced supply with demand, notwithstanding more than normal profits being generated quite frequently. But in many parts of the world, particularly where urban growth is very rapid, a disconnect between the rate of growth and development and the rationale for its financing has emerged. In fact the credit crunch in the west and globally began with financial institutions lending to all and sundry without any of the collateral needed to justify this lending. This is being perpetuated particularly in China, and my editorial discusses some of the consequences.

Virtuální Geografická Prostředí


Well I don’t know what it means either. But if you read Czech you should be off to a flying start, and the Czech guy who translated it assures me that all of Eastern Europe read Czech so there you are. Well, Virtuální Geografická Prostředí or in more familiar terms Virtual Geographic Environments is the term increasingly used to embrace a range of technologies that seek to extend GIS into wider digital contexts – the web, VR, and associated ways of interacting with spatial media. Hui Lin at the Chinese University of Hong Kong popularised the term through a series of conferences and papers over the last decade or longer, and our English version of the book contains the papers presented at the second conference held at the CUHK in 2008. It is published by ESRI Press in the west. It contains the papers from the second conference on VGE held in January 2008, and some of our colleagues in CASA have papers in the volume. The picture of the ‘death star’ type globe was generated by our illustrious Director Andy Hudson-Smith. More information on the recent conference at CUHK is available on the web site.

Constructing Cities, Deconstructing Scaling Laws


Our work on attempting to repeat the work of the Santa Fe group who show that as cities get bigger (primarily for the USA) they get more than proportionately richer, has drawn a massive blank for the UK urban system (England and Wales). It has taken us a while to get this paper published but here it is in Interface (J. R. Soc. Interface 12: 20140745) and you can get it from this blog by clicking on the link or from Interface as it is open access. Essentially what we show for UK cities, in fact for thousands of realisation of city morphologies, the super linear scaling of income against population size is for the most part not borne out. A million explanations suggests themselves, and although these are not attempted in this paper for our concern here is to show how the lack of superlinear scaling is resilient to city definitions in the UK, we will develop explanations in later papers. The integrated nature of the urban economy in the UK, globalisation, the fact that we are dealing essentially with a smaller scale than the US, the fact that the UK is largely a service based economy, these are some of the reasons why we might not expect super linear scaling. And there is even the prospect that as cities become more integrated in a global economy, then any such superlinear scaling that there might have been will disappear. We need to look at the past to second guess the future. More papers forthcoming. Watch this space.

Reference the article as: Arcaute E, Hatna E, Ferguson P, Youn H, Johansson A, Batty M. 2015 Constructing cities, deconstructing scaling laws. J. R. Soc. Interface 12: 20140745. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2014.0745