Research Highlights

Simulations for more equitable cities

Published online 11 September 2020

A new approach could guide city planners where best to place important facilities for more equitable access of residents.

Letizia Diamante

Using algorithms and modelling, scientists have developed an approach that pinpoints underserved neighbourhoods in cities. “Our experiments in six cities show that accessibility to facilities could be improved by as much as 50 percent if they were more optimally distributed,” says UC Berkeley statistical physicist and professor of urban planning, Marta C. González. 

 The research team, which included a scientist at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar, evaluated the current travel distances to various facilities, including hospitals, supermarkets, fire stations and schools, in Doha, Dubai, Riyadh and three US cities. 

They then designed an algorithm that shows where facilities would have to be relocated to reduce the travel distance for most people. 

Finally, the team built a model that can estimate the number of facilities needed for a given level of accessibility to residents. They tested their model in 17 artificial and 12 real-world cities. 

“A better understanding of facility distribution in cities can help planners sustainably develop urban areas and improve equity of accessibility,” says González. 

The authors suggest the model could help plan the reallocation of resources in crisis situations. “Our model and simulation could help determine the number and optimal location of new COVID-19 testing centres in a city, for example,” says MIT-based urban computing specialist, Yanyan Xu.


Xu, Y. et al. Deconstructing laws of accessibility and facility distribution in cities. Sci. Adv. 6, eabb4112 (2020).