Special Issue "Zipf’s Law, Central Place Theory, and Sustainable Cities and City Systems"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 December 2020.

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Bin Jiang
Guest Editor
Faculty of Engineering and Sustainable Development, Division of GIScience, University of Gävle, SE-801 76 Gävle, Sweden
Interests: geospatial analysis and modeling; structure and dynamics of urban systems; geoinformatics and computational geography
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals
Prof. Dr. Yanguang Chen
Guest Editor
College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, China
Interests: urban science; theoretical geography; fractal geometry; scaling hierarchy

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

One fundamental law underlying sustainable cities and city systems is Zipf’s law, a statistical regularity regarding city sizes in a country or region: The largest city is twice as big as the second largest, three times as big as the third largest, and so on. This law was named after the American linguist George Kingsley Zipf (1902–1950), who popularized it and sought to explain it through the principle of least effort (Zipf 1949), but the observation was first made by Auerbach (1913). Another important observation regarding cities or human settlements in general is central place theory (CPT) (Christaller 1933, 1966) and its variants, which are able to formulate a geometric regularity about cities in a country or region. That is, the largest cities are surrounded by some middle-sized cities, which are further surrounded by many smaller cities in some recursive manner. Both Zipf’s law and CTP have one thing in common, i.e., the scaling hierarchy of “far more smalls than larges”, either statistically or in terms of underlying spatial configuration. The underlying scaling hierarchy of “far more smalls than larges” has actually illustrated the deep insights into many sustainable cities and city systems.

We call for papers that demonstrate applications and/or further development of Zipf’s law and CPT, either to better understand cities and city systems as sustainable systems or to better plan or design them towards more sustainable or more resilient systems. We are interested in different types of papers, including research papers (case studies, comparison studies), concept papers, and review papers, as long as they are able to clarify how law and theory bring new insights into sustainability. Interdisciplinary research and comparisons are particularly welcome, for example, galaxies in comparison to cities, biological systems in comparison to city systems, and the world wide web in comparison to transport networks.


Auerbach F. (1913), Das Gesetz der Bevölkerungskonzentration, Petermann's Geographische Mitteilungen, 59, 74–76.

Christaller W.  (1933, 1966), Central Places in Southern Germany, Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, N. J.

Zipf G. K. (1949), Human Behaviour and the Principles of Least Effort, Addison Wesley: Cambridge, MA.

Prof. Dr. Bin Jiang
Prof. Dr. Yanguang Chen
Guest Editors

More information can be found here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336460575_CALL_FOR_PAPERS_Zipf's_Law_Central_Place_Theory_and_Sustainable

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • sustainable cities
  • sustainable city systems
  • Zipf’s law
  • central place theory

Published Papers (1 paper)

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Open AccessArticle
Rank-size Distribution of Cities and Municipalities in Bangladesh
Sustainability 2020, 12(11), 4643; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12114643 - 06 Jun 2020
This paper examines and updates the rank-size distribution of cities and municipalities in Bangladesh between 1990 and 2019 based on two criteria: (1) built-up urban areas; and (2) population. The distribution of built-up urban areas and population are compared to provide a robust [...] Read more.
This paper examines and updates the rank-size distribution of cities and municipalities in Bangladesh between 1990 and 2019 based on two criteria: (1) built-up urban areas; and (2) population. The distribution of built-up urban areas and population are compared to provide a robust theoretical underpinning of Zipf’s law for future urban developmental planning framework. The data on built-up urban areas is extracted from land cover classification using Google Earth Engine and the population data is obtained from the decennial censuses. The comparison of the conformity to Zipf’s law indicated contradictory results. While a greater proportion of the population has been increasingly concentrated in the smaller and midsized cities over the last three decades, built-up urban areas, on the other hand, have been mostly clustered in two largest cities— Dhaka and Chittagong—accounting for 50 to nearly 60 percent of the total built-up urban areas. These results shed light on the magnitude of continued spatial inequalities in urban development amongst cities and municipalities in Bangladesh despite there being an overall increase of evenness in the distribution of population over time. These results imply an unsustainable rate of urban expansion in Bangladesh and reinforce the need for the exploration of policies and regulations targeted at guiding the rate and direction of evenness in urban expansion. Full article
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