Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2014, Vol. 24 ›› Issue (6): 1161-1174.doi: 10.1007/s11442-014-1145-8

• Research Articles • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Sequential city growth: Theory and evidence from the US

Kerong SHENG1(), Wei SUN2,3,*(), Jie FAN2,3   

  1. 1. Business School, Shandong University of Technology, Zibo 255012, Shandong, China
    2. Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    3. Key Laboratory of Regional Sustainable Development Modeling, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
  • Received:2014-01-26 Accepted:2014-02-18 Online:2014-06-20 Published:2014-06-20
  • About author:

    Author: Sheng Kerong (1977-), Associate Professor, specialized in economic geography. E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41230632.Key Project for the Strategic Science Plan in IGSNRR, CAS, No.2012ZD006


City growth patterns are attracting more attention in urban geography studies. This paper examines how cities develop and grow in the upper tail of size distribution in a large-scale economy based on a theoretical model under new economic geography framework and the empirical evidence from the US. The results show that cities grow in a sequential pattern. Cities with the best economic conditions are the first to grow fastest until they reach a critical size, then their growth rates slow down and the smaller cities farther down in the urban hierarchy become the fastest-growing ones in sequence. This paper also reveals three related features of urban system. First, the city size distribution evolves from low-level balanced to primate and finally high-level balanced pattern in an inverted U-shaped path. Second, there exist persistent discontinuities, or gaps, between city size classes. Third, city size in the upper tail exhibits conditional convergence characteristics. This paper could not only contribute to enhancing the understanding of urbanization process and city size distribution dynamics, but also be widely used in making effective policies and scientific urban planning.

Key words: sequential city growth, discontinuities, city size distribution, conditional convergence