On the evolution of hierarchical urban systems in soviet Russia, 1897–1989

Kazuhiro Kumo*, Elena Shadrina

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


One piece of evidence of the inefficiency of the spatial economy of modern Russia presented in the seminal work of Hill and Gaddy (2004) is that Russian urban agglomerations are non-viable. This was demonstrated using Zipf’s rank-size distribution, which does not hold for Russian urban systems. Hill and Gaddy explained this through the legacy of the Soviet command-administrative planning. Having constructed an original dataset, which incorporated comprehensive historical data for all the cities in the former Soviet Union republics and tested the rank-size distributions for the respective years, the study yielded more nuanced findings. First, unlike the modern Russian hierarchical urban systems, the Soviet ones followed rank-size distribution fairly well. Second, the Soviet urban systems were evolving. In the late Imperial era and early Soviet period, they followed the Zipf’s law prediction. However, between 1939 and 1959, the rank-size distribution diverged from the predicted one. Yet again, the Soviet hierarchical urban systems revealed a trend of convergence toward the traditional rank-size distribution in the late Soviet era. A corollary to such evidence from data trajectory appears that the evolution of the Soviet hierarchical urban systems was not necessarily the ultimate product of the urban development policies of the command-administrative system. It can be thus presumed that, contrary to the established belief, command administrative urban development might be ineffectual even in centrally planned socialist economies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11389
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Oct 1


  • Hierarchical urban system
  • Rank-size rule
  • Russia
  • Soviet Union
  • Zipf’s law

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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