David O’Sullivan

David O'Sullivan

Associate Professor
PH.D. University College London, 2000
Urban geography, simulation and modeling, geospatial technologies, Spatial analysis, GIS

589 McCone Hall


A visualization of openflights data using graph drawing

My research and teaching interests are eclectic, perhaps because I came to geography late with a first degree in engineering science. I am an urban geographer, with a particular interest in novel (and mixed!) geographic methods. Some common threads are fundamental concepts in spatial analysis, modeling and visualization, and the implications of geospatial technologies, computation, and especially, the complexity sciences, for how we can and should represent the world. How can we use the geographical representations we make to do geography, particularly (but not exclusively) urban and human geography? At the most general level I explore relationships between spatial structures and processes using the simulation models of complexity science. At heart this is the central idea of my recent book Spatial Simulation: Exploring Pattern and Process.

Dynamic spatial models focus attention on the neighborhood as a fundamental spatial concept. More concretely, this interest owes a great deal to growing up in the 1970s and 80s in Belfast (Ireland), a place where local urban geographies mattered a great deal. I have worked on measuring and modeling neighborhood characteristics in urban settings, particularly patterns of ethnic settlement. This research highlights the importance of scale to understanding segregation: for example, in US cities quite different scales are evident in the segregation from other communities of African-American compared to Asian and Hispanic groups. I am fascinated by urban change, particularly the spatial dynamics of rent, and how capital flows in contest with local communities, produce and remake urban landscapes over time.

Sitting at the boundary between quantitative and qualitative methods, I am intrigued by how narratives can be constructed using simulation models and have argued for narrative approaches to the analysis of models. This is shaky ground from a philosophy of science perspective. Statistical methods are how we traditionally cope with the biases of narrative explanations, but a lesson from complexity science is that a pervasive feature of geographical systems is how they scale up from local events to wider effects, strengthening the persuasiveness of narrative explanations. Finding ways to balance narrative explanation with statistical methods is an area for further research.

Looking ahead, a key challenge is to understand how near-ubiquitous geospatial technologies (cellphones, the Internet, web-mapping, GPS) actively shape the sociospatial (urban) world. Spatial search, geo-tagging, and location-based services alter how places are perceived, locking-in misconceptions, and creating new perceptions. Notions such as ‘hotspots’—whether of crime, ill-health, or poverty, but rarely, if ever, of wealth—increasingly, ironically, have broad effects on policy, as ‘targeting’ turns communities into ‘segments’, neighborhoods into ‘lifestyles’, and people into ‘profiles’. Studying these phenomena requires theoretical insight and technical expertise, and I am enthusiastic about developing both, in collaboration with colleagues and students, at all levels.


O’Sullivan D. 2017. Section Editor for ‘Fundamentals of GIScience’ (32 articles) in The International Encyclopedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment, and Technology. Richardson, D. (ed). New York: Wiley.

Miller JA, D O’Sullivan and Wiegand N eds. 2016. Geographic Information Science: Proceedings of the 9th International Conference, GIScience 2016 Lecture Notes in Computer Science Vol. 9927. (Springer: Cham, Switzerland).

OSullivan D and GLW Perry. 2013. Spatial Simulation: Exploring Pattern and Process. Wiley, Chichester, England. See also patternandprocess.org.

OSullivan D and DJ Unwin. 2010. Geographic Information Analysis. 2nd edition. Wiley, Hoboken, NJ.

Journal articles & book chapters

Last five years

Liu C and D O’Sullivan. 2016 (Online first). An abstract model of gentrification as a spatially contagious succession process. Computers, Environment and Urban Systems.

Thatcher J, D OSullivan and D Mahmoudi. 2016. Data colonialism through accumulation by dispossession: new metaphors for everyday dataEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space 34(6) 990-1006.

Cheung AK-L, G Brierley and D O’Sullivan. 2016. Landscape structure and dynamics on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Ecological Modelling 339 7–22.

Thatcher J, L Bergmann, B Ricker, R Rose-Redwood, D O’Sullivan, TJ Barnes, LR Barnesmoore, L Beltz Imaoka, R Burns, J Cinnamon, CM Dalton, C Davis, S Dunn, F Harvey, J-K Jung, E Kersten, L Knigge, N Lally, W Lin, D Mahmoudi, M Martin, W Payne, A Sheikh, T Shelton, E Sheppard, CW Strother, A Tarr, MW Wilson and JC Young. 2016. Revisiting critical GIS. Environment and Planning A 48(5), 815-824.

O’Sullivan D, T Evans, SM Manson, S Metcalf, A Ligmann-Zielinska and C Bone. 2016. Strategic directions for agent-based modeling: avoiding the YAAWN syndrome. Journal of Land Use Science 11(2), 172-187. [escholarship pre-publication version]

Pfeffer, K, J Martinez, D O’Sullivan and D Scott. 2015. Geo-Technologies for Spatial Knowledge: Challenges for Inclusive and Sustainable Urban Development. In Geographies of Urban Governance, eds. J Gupta, K Pfeffer, H Verrest, and M Ros-Tonen, (Cham: Springer International Publishing), pages 147-173.

O’Sullivan D and SM Manson. 2015 Do physicists have geography envy? And what can geographers learn from it? Annals of the Association of American Geographers 105(4), 704-722. [escholarship pre-publication version]

Cheung AK-L, D O’Sullivan and G Brierley. 2015. Graph-assisted landscape monitoring. International Journal of Geographical Information Science 29(4), 580-605. doi:10.1080/13658816.2014.989856

Etherington TR, EP Holland and D O’Sullivan. 2015. NLMpy: a python software package for the creation of neutral landscape models within a general numerical framework. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 6(2), 164-168.

Hong S-Y, D O’Sullivan and Y Sadahiro. 2014. Implementing Spatial Segregation Measures in R. PLoS ONE 9(11): e113767.

O’Sullivan D. 2014. Don’t Panic! The Need for Change and for Curricular Pluralism. Dialogues in Human Geography 4(1), 39-44.

O’Sullivan D. 2014. Spatial Network Analysis. In Handbook of Regional Science eds M. M. Fischer & P. Nijkamp (eds), 1253-1273. Springer Heidelberg New York Dordrecht London.

Millington JDA, D O’Sullivan and GLW Perry. 2012. Model histories: Narrative explanation in generative simulation modelling. Geoforum, 43(6), 1025-1034.

Mueller S, DJ Exeter, H Petousis-Harris, N Turner, D O’Sullivan and CD Buck. 2012. Measuring disparities in immunisation coverage among children in New Zealand. Health and Place, 18(6), 1217-1223.

Hong S-Y. and D O’Sullivan. 2012. Detecting ethnic residential clusters using an optimisation clustering method. International Journal of Geographical Information Science, 26(8), 1257-1277.

O’Sullivan D, JDA Millington, GLW Perry & J Wainwright. 2012. ‘Agent-Based Models—Because They’re Worth It?’ In Agent-Based Models of Geographical Systems eds AJ Heppenstall, AT Crooks, LM See & M Batty, 109-123. Springer Netherlands.

Mavoa S, K Witten, T McCreanor and D O’Sullivan. 2012. GIS based destination accessibility via public transit and walking in Auckland, New Zealand. Journal of Transport Geography, 20(1), 15-22.

Xue J, W Friesen and D O’Sullivan. 2012. Diversity in Chinese Auckland: Hypothesising Multiple Ethnoburbs. Population, Space and Place, 18, 579-595.

Earlier selected

Mateos P, PA Longley and D O’Sullivan. 2011. Ethnicity and Population Structure in Personal Naming Networks, PLoS ONE, 6(9) e22943.

O’Sullivan D 2009. Changing neighborhoods – neighborhoods changing: a framework for spatially explicit agent-based models of social systems. Sociological Methods and Research, 37(4), 498-530.

Reardon SF, SA Matthews, D O’Sullivan, BA Lee, G Firebaugh, CR Farrell and K Bischoff. 2008. The geographic scale of metropolitan segregation. Demography, 45(3), 489–514.

O’Sullivan D 2006. Geographical information science: critical GIS. Progress in Human Geography, 30(6), 783–91.

Reardon SF and D O’Sullivan. 2004. Measures of spatial segregation. Sociological Methodology, 34(1), 121–62.

O’Sullivan D. 2004. Complexity science and human geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 29(3), 282–95.

O’Sullivan D. 2002. Toward micro-scale spatial modelling of gentrification. Journal of Geographical Systems, 4(3), 251–74.

Haklay M, T Schelhorn, D O’Sullivan and M Thurstain-Goodwin. 2001. “So go down town”: Simulating pedestrian movement in town centres. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 28(3), 343–59.

O’Sullivan D and A Turner. 2001. Visibility graphs and landscape visibility analysis. International Journal of Geographical Information Science, 15(3), 221–37.

O’Sullivan D and M Haklay. 2000. Agent-based models and individualism: is the world agent-based? Environment and Planning A, 32(8), 1409–25.

O’Sullivan D, A Morrison and J Shearer. 2000. Using desktop GIS for the investigation of accessibility by public transport: an isochrone approach. International Journal of Geographical Information Science, 14(1), 85–104.

classes CURRENTLY taught

GEOG 80 Digital Worlds: An Introduction to Geospatial Technologies. Slides and syllabus are here.

GEOG 187 Geographic Information Analysis. Slides and syllabus from Spring 2016 are here. Coming next in Spring 2017.

In Fall 2016, I will offer a graduate seminar GEOG 254 Seeing Geographically about which you can find a some preliminary thoughts here and the beginnings of a syllabus here.

Websites of interest

This is my personal website, which has slides from recent research talks and lectures. Who knows, I may even blog there from time to time. Full CV available here and Google scholar details here


on twitter @geodosu

I am a user of the Texas A&M Geoservices geocoder, and happy to recommend it!