Bright lights, big city: Causal effects of population and GDP on urban brightness

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Cities are arguably both the cause, and answer, to societies’ current sustainability issues. Urbanization is the interplay between a city’s physical growth and its socio-economic development, both of which consume a substantial amount of energy and resources. Knowledge of the underlying driver(s) of urban expansion facilitates not only academic research but, more importantly, bridges the gap between science, policy drafting, and practical urban management. An increasing number of researchers are recognizing the benefits of innovative remotely sensed datasets, such as nighttime lights data (NTL), as a proxy to map urbanization and subsequently examine the driving socio-economic variables in cities. We further these approaches, by taking a trans-pacific view, and examine how an array of socio-economic ind0icators of 25 culturally and economically important urban hubs relate to long term patterns in NTL for the past 21 years. We undertake a classic econometric approach—panel causality tests which allow analysis of the causal relationships between NTL and socio-economic development across the region. The panel causality test results show a contrasting effect of population and gross domestic product (GDP) on NTL in fast, and slowly, changing cities. Information derived from this study quantitatively chronicles urban activities in the pan-Pacific region and potentially offers data for studies that spatially track local progress of sustainable urban development goals.




Lu, Y., & Coops, N. C. (2018). Bright lights, big city: Causal effects of population and GDP on urban brightness. PLoS ONE, 13(7).

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