China is the world’s largest developing country and its regions vary considerably. However, spatial heterogeneity in determinants of urban expansion in prefecture-level cities have not been identified. The present study explored the spatiotemporal characteristics of Chinese urban expansion and adopted a geographically weighted regression (GWR) method to determine this spatial heterogeneity. The results indicated that China experienced massive urban expansion during 1990–2015, with urban areas growing from 4.88 × 104
to 1.06 × 105
, 46.42% of which was distributed in the eastern region. The results of the GWR model revealed the spatial heterogeneity in the determinants of urban expansion. Marketization was vital for urban expansion and had a stronger impact in the developed eastern and southern regions than in the less-developed northern and western regions. Globalization and decentralization bi-directionally affected urban expansion. The constraining effects of physical factors were limited and stronger in the developing northern region than in the developed southern region. Identifying the varying determinants of urban expansion is essential for policy-making in various regions.
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