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Top Lights: Bright cities and their contribution to economic development

Richard Bluhm and Melanie Krause ()

No 2020-08, SoDa Laboratories Working Paper Series from Monash University, SoDa Laboratories

Abstract: Tracking the development of cities in emerging economies is difficult with conventional data. Even the commonly-used satellite images of nighttime light intensity fail to capture the true brightness of larger cities. This paper shows that nighttime lights can be used as a reliable proxy for economic activity at the city level, provided they are first corrected for top-coding. We present a stylized model of urban luminosity and empirical evidence which both suggest that these ‘top lights’ can be characterized by a Pareto distribution. We then propose a correction procedure which recovers the full distribution of city lights. Our results show that the brightest cities account for nearly a third of global economic activity. Applying this approach to cities in Sub-Saharan Africa, we find that primate cities are outgrowing secondary cities but are changing from within. Poorer neighborhoods are developing and sub-centers are emerging, with the side effect that Africa’s cities are also becoming increasingly fragmented.

Keywords: Development; urban growth; night lights; top-coding; inequality (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: O10 O18 R11 R12 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020-11
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-big, nep-geo, nep-gro and nep-ure
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Related works:
Working Paper: Top Lights - Bright Cities and their Contribution to Economic Development (2018) Downloads
Working Paper: Top Lights: Bright cities and their contribution to economic development (2018) Downloads
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