The Math of Cities

There are a lot of casual relationships within our cities that allow us the joy of endlessly unresolved conversations about any number of issues or trends.

But here’s a great little talk by physicist Geoffrey West at TED last year about some mathematical constants embedded within ourselves and city life.  Fascinating stuff and some great foundational rules you can carry around with you the next time to come upon a difficult urban debate.

5 thoughts on “The Math of Cities”


  1. If innovation needs to get faster on an exponential scale to reset the clock, then a city’s collapse is inevitable.

      1. The oldest city in the world would also be the largest, but that obviously isn’t the case. Then again, he talks about innovation as if it is always considered a good thing. Science and innovation are not always held in high regard. During these periods there would be a loss of knowledge, cities’ size and might, and a push for decentralization.

        1. I guess he does talk about them as if they were good, but his larger point is that it doesn’t matter whether we judge it good or bad, doubling the size of a city increases everything by 15%, innovation, crime, pollution. Our judgments of these qualities don’t matter.

          1. It is interesting that crime follows this path. So by his theory, no matter what you do, you can’t really significantly change the crime rate. How does that fly with the current trend that violent crime is down significantly over the last few decades, meanwhile we have been increasing the size of our cities? What about major changes in criminal law such as when we, hopefully, legalize drugs, and the crime rates drop off a cliff? Dr. West might label that as innovation, I guess.

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