The significance of scaling laws for the development and management of urban systems
with Denise Pumain (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, France)
Hybrid event
Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER)
Maison des Sciences Humaines
11, Porte des Sciences
L-4366 Esch-sur-Alzette / Belval
Salle de conférence (1st floor)
11:00 am
12:30 pm
For inquiries:


Since some twenty years the literature on scaling laws is booming, especially regarding their applications to urban systems. Is this a real breakthrough in the understanding of city dynamics, or just a passing fad for a new scientific fashion? What are the results of this research trend? Can we draw interesting directions from it to deepen theoretical knowledge and to improve urban policies? I will answer these questions by recalling the conditions in which the first work on scaling laws applied to cities emerged, between our Parisian team of geographers and those of the Santa Fe Institute and London Imperial College. I will then show how the conception of these scaling laws evolved as they were confronted with a variety of empirical data and a diversity of city systems. By comparing the results obtained with those of other modelling approaches, I will make a provisional assessment of the contribution of this work to the evolution of urban theories and models. Some basic principles explain the great difficulty of transferring and integrating models between the natural and social sciences. These issues need to be widely discussed in order to avoid too risky interventions in the dynamics of complex systems before new models can be proposed to planners.


Denise Pumain is a geographer, Emeritus Professor at University Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. Her main scientific contribution is about building an evolutionary theory of urban systems and transferring concepts and models from self-organising complex systems towards social sciences. Founder of the research laboratory P.A.R.I.S. (1984), Director of the UMR Géographie-cités (CNRS 1992-2000), Chair of the Commission on Urban Development and Urban Life of the IGU (1992-2000), Director of the European Research Group S4 (Spatial Simulation for Social Sciences, 2006-2013), Founder and Director of Cybergeo, European Journal of Geography (1996-2022), Principal Investigator of the ERC advanced grant GeoDiverCity (2011-2016). In 2010 she received the CNRS silver medal and was the recipient of the Prix International de Géographie Vautrin Lud (generally known as the 'Nobel de Géographie'). She is a Fellow of the Academia Europaea (1995), corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (1999), Fellow of the British Academy (2011), she was awarded Officier de l’ordre national du mérite and Commandeur dans l’ordre de la Légion d’Honneur. She has Honorary Doctorates from the University of Lausanne and the University of Liège.

Supported by the Luxembourg National Research Fund (RESCOM/2021/16537536)

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