Another tale of two cities: Understanding human activity space using actively tracked cellphone location data

Yang Xu, Shih Lung Shaw, Ziliang Zhao, Ling Yin, Feng Lu, Jie Chen, Zhixiang Fang, Qingquan Li

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

78 Citations (Scopus)


� 2016 by American Association of Geographers. Activity space is an important concept in geography. Recent advancements of location-aware technologies have generated many useful spatiotemporal data sets for studying human activity space for large populations. In this article, we use two actively tracked cellphone location data sets that cover a weekday to characterize people’s use of space in Shanghai and Shenzhen, China. We introduce three mobility indicators (daily activity range, number of activity anchor points, and frequency of movements) to represent the major determinants of individual activity space. By applying association rules in data mining, we analyze how these indicators of an individual’s activity space can be combined with each other to gain insights of mobility patterns in these two cities. We further examine spatiotemporal variations of aggregate mobility patterns in these two cities. Our results reveal some distinctive characteristics of human activity space in these two cities: (1) A high percentage of people in Shenzhen have a relatively short daily activity range, whereas people in Shanghai exhibit a variety of daily activity ranges; (2) people with more than one activity anchor point tend to travel further but less frequently in Shanghai than in Shenzhen; (3) Shenzhen shows a significant north–south contrast of activity space that reflects its urban structure; and (4) travel distance in both cities is shorter around noon than in regular work hours, and a large percentage of movements around noon are associated with individual home locations. This study indicates the benefits of analyzing actively tracked cellphone location data for gaining insights of human activity space in different cities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-502
Number of pages14
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Active cellphone location data
  • Association rules
  • Human activity space
  • Spatiotemporal patterns

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes

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