Top Lights: Bright cities and their contribution to economic development
Richard Bluhm and
Melanie Krause ()
No 41, MERIT Working Papers from United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT)
Tracking the development of cities in emerging economies is difficult with conventional data. We show that satellite images of nighttime lights are a reliable proxy for economic activity at the city level, provided they are first corrected for topcoding. The commonly-used data fail to capture the true brightness of many cities. 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 simple 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, but sub-centers are forming so that Africa's largest 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)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-big, nep-geo, nep-gro and nep-ure
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Working Paper: Top Lights - Bright Cities and their Contribution to Economic Development (2018)
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Persistent link: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:unm:unumer:2018041
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