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Measuring the Urban Space-filling Efficiency using Fractal

Dimension: The Case of Safranbolu, Turkey

K. Mert CUBUKCU, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Dokuz Eylul University, Turkey
Assistant Professor
Dokuz Eylul University, Turkey
Fractals are spatial entities that are irregular in terms of geometry and independent
from scale. Recent research has demonstrated that the urban form can not be fully
described by Euclidean geometry, but rather be treated as fractals (Batty and Longley,
1987; Benguigui and Daoud, 1991; Batty and Xie, 1996; 1999; Shen 1997; 2002).
Fractal dimension is a quantitative measure of the efficiency of space-filling. It is
almost always not a whole number, which implies that fractal objects occupy
irregularly shaped spaces (Ball, 2004).
Sustainability, by definition, requires the usage of resources in their most efficient
form. Sustainability development should ensure that human economic systems last
longer and have less impact on ecological systems. Undoubtedly, this can only be
achieved through an efficiently organized urban form and efficient space-filling. The
efficiency of urban form can well be measured using fractal dimensions of the builtup urban areas. As the city grows, its fractal dimension is expected to increase as the
city becomes increasingly dense, using the three dimensional space more efficiently
(Ball, 2004). Batty and Longley, for example, shows that the fractal dimension of
London has increased from 1.32 to 1.79 between the years 1820 and 1962, indicating
a better form of spatial organization and more efficient space-filling. This paper
examines the urban space-filling efficiency of a historic city, Safranbolu, using its
fractal dimensions to investigate in which time period the urban form had the most
efficient form of spatial organization. Time series spatial data pertaining the years
between 1960 and 2007 are utilized.
Safranbolu is one of the 138 historic cities listed in UNESCOs World Heritage List,
and it is one of the two listed cities in Turkey, the other being Istanbul. Safranbolu
was added to list in 1994 due to its well-preserved Ottoman era architecture and urban
pattern. Safranbolu's architecture and urban pattern influenced the urban development
throughout much of the Ottoman Empire. Safranbolu is thus thoroughly a good
representative of Ottoman urban pattern in the 18th and 19th centuries. The city of
Safranbolu, outside the historic core, is also a good representative of the planned postimperial Republican era.
In spatial analysis, fractal dimensions are mainly computed using the box-counting
method and the mass-radius method (Shen, 2002). Batty and Longley (1994) and
Shen (1997) apply the box-counting method and Batty and Longley (1987),

Benguigui and Daoud (1991), and Batty and Xie (1996) apply the mass-radius
method. A systematic analysis of planar urban fractal dimensions of Safranbolu is
derived for 5 different time periods using the Box-Counting Fractal Dimension
algorithm described in detail in Shen (1997). The approximation procedure in
algorithm is based on the work of Mandelbrot (1983):
n(s) * sd = U,
where n(s) is the number of boxes containing the built-up urban areas U, d is the true
fractal dimension. The estimated fractal dimension D of the true fractal dimension d is
derived by estimated slope of the log(n(s)) and log(1/s) graph (Shen, 2007). That is to
say, the fractal dimension values for the 5 different time periods of the urban form of
Safranbolu are the least-square estimates of their true fractal dimensions:
log(n(s)) = log(U) + DLog(1/s) + s,
where log(U) is the constant with U being the built-up urban area size, s is the error
term, and D is the estimated fractal dimension.
The data used in the study were derived from the digital and hardcopy aerial
photographs available from the Municipality of Safranbolu. The photographs were
first refined using image processor software, Photohop version 6, and then scaled,
registered, and vectorized using GIS software, ArcGIS 9. The fractal dimensions are
then calculated for each time period using fractal analysis software, Fractalyse.
The results are parallel to the claims in the literature. The city of Safranbolu has
moved from a less efficient spatial organization and space-filling to a more efficient
one between the years 1960 and 2007. This achievement towards a more sustainable
type of urban form is an expected result of population increase and increased density
through modern planning efforts.
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