Introduction to uci: urban centrality index

uci is an R package to measure the centrality of cities and regions. The package implements the Urban Centrality Index (UCI) originally proposed by Pereira et al. (2013). UCI measures the extent to which the spatial organization of a city varies from extreme monocentric to extreme polycentric in a continuous scale, rather than considering a binary classification (either monocentric or polycentric). UCI values range from 0 to 1. Values closer to 0 indicate more polycentric patterns and values closer to 1 indicate a more monocentric urban form.


# from CRAN

# development version from GitHub

Demonstration on sample data

First, let’s load a few libraries we’ll be using in this vignette.


Data input

The uci package comes with a sample data for demonstration and test purposes. The data is a small sample of the spatial distribution of the population, jobs and schools around the city center of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. This sample data set is a good illustration of the type of data input required by uci.

Here is how the sample data looks like:

data_dir <- system.file("extdata", package = "uci")

grid <- readRDS(file.path(data_dir, "grid_bho.rds"))
#> Simple feature collection with 6 features and 4 fields
#> Geometry type: POLYGON
#> Dimension:     XY
#> Bounding box:  xmin: -43.96438 ymin: -19.97414 xmax: -43.93284 ymax: -19.96717
#> Geodetic CRS:  WGS 84
#>                id population jobs schools                       geometry
#> 1 89a881a5a2bffff        439  180       0 POLYGON ((-43.9431 -19.9741...
#> 2 89a881a5a2fffff        266  134       0 POLYGON ((-43.94612 -19.972...
#> 3 89a881a5a67ffff       1069  143       0 POLYGON ((-43.94001 -19.972...
#> 4 89a881a5a6bffff        245   61       0 POLYGON ((-43.9339 -19.9728...
#> 5 89a881a5a6fffff        298   11       0 POLYGON ((-43.93691 -19.971...
#> 6 89a881a5b03ffff        555 1071       0 POLYGON ((-43.96136 -19.970...

The data is an object of class "sf" "data.frame" with spatial polygons covering our study area and a few columns indicating the number of activities (e.g. jobs, schools, population) in each polygon. Our particular sample data is based on a spatial hexagonal grid (H3 index). While there are advantages of using regular spatial grids to calculate spatial statistics, uci also works with non-regular geometries, such as census tracts, enumeration areas or municipalities.

We can visualize the spatial distribution of jobs using ggplot2:


ggplot(data = grid) +
  geom_sf(aes(fill = jobs), color = NA) +
  scale_fill_viridis_c() +

Calculating UCI

In the example below, we calculate how mono/polycentric our study area is considering its spatial distribution of jobs.

Mind you that, by default, the uci() functions uses Euclidean distances between polygons. * The uci function now has a new parameter dist_type that allows users to choose whether calculations should be based on "euclidean" distances (Default) or "spatial_link" distances. Spatial link distances consider Euclidean distances along the links of spatial neighbour links. In the case of areas with a concave shape (like a bay), it is strongly recommended to use "spatial_link" distances (even though they are computationally more costly) because simple Euclidean distances can bias UCI estimates in those cases.

df <- uci(
  sf_object = grid,
  var_name = 'jobs', 
  dist_type = 'euclidean'

#>         UCI location_coef spatial_separation spatial_separation_max
#> 1 0.2538635     0.5278007           3880.114               7475.899

By default, the uci() functions uses Euclidean distances between polygons. However, Euclidean distances can lead to misleading results in the case of areas with a concave shape (like a bay). In these cases, it is strongly recommended to use dist_type = 'spatial_link' distances, even though they are a bit computationally more costly.

Mind you that when using "spatial_link" distances, there should be no disconnected island of polygon (or group of polygons). In some cases, users might need to manually edit their spatial data to include a polygon representing a road or bridge connecting disconnected parts of the area.

df <- uci(
  sf_object = grid,
  var_name = 'jobs', 
  dist_type = 'spatial_link'
#> The legacy packages maptools, rgdal, and rgeos, underpinning the sp package,
#> which was just loaded, will retire in October 2023.
#> Please refer to R-spatial evolution reports for details, especially
#> It may be desirable to make the sf package available;
#> package maintainers should consider adding sf to Suggests:.
#> The sp package is now running under evolution status 2
#>      (status 2 uses the sf package in place of rgdal)

#>         UCI location_coef spatial_separation spatial_separation_max
#> 1 0.2535891     0.5278007           4281.819               8241.617

Formal definition of UCI

The Urban Centrality Index (UCI) is given by the product of the Location Coefficient (LC) and the Proximity Index (PI). With this formulation, UCI calculates urban centrality simultaneously accounting for both the concentration of activities and the proximity between activities.

\[ \begin{aligned} UCI = LC * PI \end{aligned} \] The Location Coefficient (LC) was introduced by Florence (1948) to measure the unequal distribution factor of jobs within an urban area. It works as a nonspatial inequality measure (similarly to Gini, for example). It reflects, for example, the extent to which the number of activities are concentrated in few polygons. The range of the LC is 0 to (1 - 1/n). If LC equals zero, then economic activity is evenly distributed, while values close to (1 - 1/n) indicate that employment is concentrated in a few areas.

\[ \begin{aligned} LC = \frac{1}{2} \sum_{1}^{n}∣S_{i} − \frac{1}{n}​|\\ S_{i} = \frac{E_{i}}{E} \end{aligned} \]

where Si is the share of employment in area i (Ei) relative to the total employment (E) of the city; E is the total number of jobs in a city; and n = number of areas.

Meanwhile, the Proximity Index (PI) is a transformation that Pereira et al. (2013) proposed for the Venables index, originally developed by Midelfart-Knarvik et al. (2002) to examine changes in the spatial distribution of economic activity. The Venables index (aka spatial separation index) is defined as:

\[ \begin{aligned} V = S' * D * S \end{aligned} \] where S is a column vector of Si; and D is a distance matrix whose entry dij is the distance between the centroids of areas i and j.

When all employment activity is concentrated in just one spatial unit, the minimum value of V is reached; that is, zero (no matter where this spatial unit is located). However, the index has no maximum value and therefore cannot be compared across different spatial settings. To overcome this limitation, it is necessary to calculate the maximum attainable value of V.

The Proximity Index (PI) solves the normalization issue with V and changes its interpretation to suit our needs. The interpretation of PI is the opposite of V, with its theoretical range being (0, 1). Values of PI closer to 1 mean that employment is clustered in one single center. If PI is 0, employment is as spatially separated as possible. In other words, activities are distributed in a way that maximizes the distances between them.

\[ \begin{aligned} P = 1 - \frac{V}{V_{max}} \end{aligned} \]

The normalization by Vmax is what makes the comparison of urban areas of different shapes and sizes possible. However, the estimation of Vmax is not trivial, because it has no closed-form solution. In a very simple square grid, Vmax is obtained when each corner has one-fourth of the total employment. In a region forming a perfect circle, the maximum value of V occurs when all employment is evenly distributed along the external edge.

In the original paper, Pereira et al. (2013) proposed a simple heuristic approach to calculate Vmax(the “opposite of maximum proximity”) as a homogeneous distribution of values along the edge of the study area. This is the default strategy used in the uci() function with the default parameter bootstrap_border = FALSE. Nonetheless, the users can also use a bootstrap simulation approach to estimate Vmax by setting bootstrap_border = TRUE.

Bootstraping Vmax

Using bootstrap to find max Venables spatial separation. Users can set parallel = TRUE to speed uo computation using parallel processing.

df_bootstrap <- uci(
  sf_object = grid,
  var_name = 'jobs',
  bootstrap_border = TRUE,
  showProgress = FALSE

#>         UCI location_coef spatial_separation spatial_separation_max
#> 1 0.2554492     0.5278007           3880.114               7519.424

This bootstrap approach simulates 20000 random distributions of activities along the border. It practice, it works interacting two simulations: (1) it simulates that all jobs are concentrated in up to 2, 3, 4, 5 … 51 polygons along the border, and (2) for each number of selected polygons, it shuffles 400 random positions of those polygons along the border.

The bootstrap approach is more computationally expensive but it returns Vmax values that can be between 5 and 25% higher than the heuristic approach. Although the bootstrap simulation might still not return the maximum theoretical value of spatial separation, it is probably very close to it


Florence, Philip Sargant. 1948. Investment, Location and Size of Plant: A Realistic Enquiry into the Structure of British and American Industries. Vol. 8. CUP Archive.
Midelfart-Knarvik, Karen Helen, Henry G. Overman, Stephen Redding, and Anthony J. Venables. 2002. “Integration and Industrial Specialisation in the European Union.” Revue Économique 53 (3): 469–81.
Pereira, Rafael H. M., Vanessa Nadalin, Leonardo Monasterio, and Pedro H. M. Albuquerque. 2013. “Urban Centrality: A Simple Index.” Geographical Analysis 45 (1): 77–89.