Why topology matters in predicting human activities

Ding Ma, Itzhak Omer, Toshihiro Osaragi, Mats Sandberg, Bin Jiang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Geographic space is better understood through the topological relationship of the underlying streets (note: entire streets rather than street segments), which enables us to see scaling or fractal or living structure of far more less-connected streets than well-connected ones. It is this underlying scaling structure that makes human activities predictable, albeit in the sense of collective rather than individual human moving behavior. This topological analysis has not yet received its deserved attention in the literature, as many researchers continue to rely on segment analysis for predicting human activities. The segment analysis-based methods are essentially geometric, with a focus on geometric details of locations, lengths, and directions, and are unable to reveal the scaling property, which means they cannot be used for the prediction of human activities. We conducted a series of case studies using London streets and tweet location data, based on related concepts such as natural streets, and natural street segments (or street segments for short), axial lines, and axial line segments (or line segments for short). We found that natural streets are the best representation in terms of human activities or traffic prediction, followed by axial lines, and that neither street segments nor line segments bear a good correlation between network parameters and tweet locations. These findings point to the fact that the reason why space syntax based on axial lines, or the kind of topological analysis in general, works has little to do with individual human travel behavior or ways that humans conceptualize distances or spaces. Instead, it is the underlying scaling hierarchy of streets – numerous least-connected, a very few most-connected, and some in between the least- and most-connected – that makes human activities predictable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1297-1313
Number of pages17
JournalEnvironment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2019


  • Topological analysis
  • natural streets
  • scaling of geographic space
  • segment analysis
  • space syntax


Dive into the research topics of 'Why topology matters in predicting human activities'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this