Quantifying segregation in an integrated urban physical-social space

Yang Xu, Alexander Belyi, Paolo Santi, Carlo Ratti

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Our knowledge of how cities bring together different social classes is still limited. Much effort has been devoted to investigating residential segregation, mostly over well-defined social groups (e.g. race). Little is known of how mobility and human communications affect urban social integration. The dynamics of spatial and social-network segregation and individual variations along these two dimensions are largely untapped. In this article, we put forward a computational framework based on coupling large-scale information on human mobility, social-network connections and people’s socio-economic status (SES), to provide a breakthrough in our understanding of the dynamics of spatio-temporal and social-network segregation in cities. Building on top of a social similarity measure, the framework can be used to depict segregation dynamics down to the individual level, and also provide aggregate measurements at the scale of places and cities, and their evolution over time. By applying the methodology in Singapore using large-scale mobile phone and socio-economic datasets, we find a relatively higher level of segregation among relatively wealthier classes, a finding that holds for both social and physical space. We also highlight the interplay between the effect of distance decay and homophily as forces that determine communication intensity, defining a notion of characteristic ‘homophily distance’ that can be used to measure social segregation across cities. The time-resolved analysis reveals the changing landscape of urban segregation and the time-varying roles of places. Segregations in physical and social space are weakly correlated at the individual level but highly correlated when grouped across at least hundreds of individuals. The methodology and analysis presented in this paper enable a deeper understanding of the dynamics of human segregation in social and physical space, which can assist social scientists, planners and city authorities in the design of more integrated cities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0536
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number160
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019


  • Big data analytics
  • Homophily
  • Mobile phone data
  • Social network
  • Social segregation
  • Urban mobility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomaterials
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Quantifying segregation in an integrated urban physical-social space'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this