Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Math of Cities

CORRECTION: the column states that Springfield, Missouri is the fastest walking city. That should read Springfield, Mass.

If you read my last post (immediately below this one), you'll recall that this was coming. It is my most recent* column for D magazine. I am quite proud of it, as in my estimation it is by leaps and bounds the best one I have written (and at least to yr. correspondent, the most fascinating subject material).

*I say most recent, because I have since submitted another and am working on the next two already (at least in a mental outline sort of way). Furthermore, as I noted in the previous blog posting, I report with both frustration and sense of accomplishment that Jonah Lehrer of the New York Times magazine wrote on the very same subject. Frustration because, GAH! that's what I just wrote and submitted my draft exactly seven days before the NYT published his article. Accomplishment in that we covered the same material and Lehrer is far more accomplished than I to date. Fitting perhaps that his publication would beat me to the punch. Jerk**.

**I mean that facetiously.

Ten years later, along came a theoretical physicist named Geoffrey West who’d taken to studying cities after he’d grown bored with things like quarks, dark matter, and string theory. Cities, having defied meaningful mathematical study, were a perfect subject for a left-brained, mathy guy like West. From previous work in biology, studying the size and metabolism of various creatures, he knew there is an economy of scale applied to organisms. Large animals use less energy per body mass than small ones. In his new field of study, he found that cities work on a similar economy of scale. Big cities use less resources and infrastructure—aka input—per capita than small ones. However, he also found that the larger cities get, the more wealth and opportunity—output—they produce per capita.

These natural advantages are why cities have endured for so long. But there is a flip side to the equation. The process of converting that input into output can be thought of as the metabolism of cities. Along with the inherent competitive advantages of cities, increased metabolism also produces more bad things such as pollution, crime, and disease. That’s why innovation is so critical. As West says, the larger a city grows, the faster it must innovate so that it can stave off the negative effects of growth.
Also, it should be noted that this is pretty weighty stuff and could really use more space than the 800-words that I'm allotted each month. So to flesh out the...rest of the story...as it were...140-chrctr TWITTER BLAST!!!!! (to be read from bottom to top)

patrick kennedy
Focusing on lowering inputs (infrastructure/energy) & increasing positive outputs (Econ dvlpmnt) should inform all decision making.
patrick kennedy
Sun Belt cities, organized around highways, perform poorly by both standards.
»
patrick kennedy
Cities on average require less input (85%) & produce greater output (115%). these efficiencies are very purpose of cities.

patrick kennedy
Keep eye out for February @ issue where I summarize these issues & Dallas's need to rapidly innovate to keep up w pop growth.
patrick kennedy
Suburbia a byproduct of this process & why sun belt performs poorly in both input/output efficiencies.
patrick kennedy
To address negative output of cities we effectively outlawed (thru zoning) cities, which meant outlawing it's benificial output as well.
patrick kennedy
We socio-economically homogenized due to both conventional zoning & mindless solution to the negative outputs of cities.
patrick kennedy
Crime also increases through homogeneity, aka clustering by income.
patrick kennedy
Texas is what? 48th of 50 in education.
patrick kennedy
Re: Crime) changes in urban form (or increased police presence-an offset) are short-term solutions. Education, necessary long-term.
patrick kennedy
And crime, there will always be crime but it can be better policed thru better urbanism & reduced thru increased opportunity (education).
patrick kennedy
Thinking of 3 output maladies, disease is managed thru sanitation & healthcare, waste/pollution by closing cradle->grave material flows...
patrick kennedy
Sun Belt cities due to their fragmented, disconnected car centric nature perform poorly by both input and output measures.
patrick kennedy
Cities also use 15% less inputs for every doubling in size (their efficiency).
patrick kennedy
Outputs both good w/ bad: wealth creation as well as crime, disease, pollution/waste.
patrick kennedy
Physicists ave shown every 2x of city growth, outputs increase 115% due to inherent efficiencies of cities (their very reason for being)
patrick kennedy
Retail follows rooftops RT @: ...now we need some higher end restaurants too. That's the challenge.
patrick kennedy
Pathological places being those which are inherently isolated from larger network (city)
patrick kennedy
"defensible space" is only necessary in "pathological" places.
patrick kennedy
Read a great line last night...
patrick kennedy
& whether they DO or DO NOT RT @: important part of placemaking isn't the place that is made, it's the people who occupy it.
patrick kennedy
RT @: the important part of placemaking isn't the place that is made, it's the people who occupy it.
patrick kennedy
Light rail a tough sell in sunbelt bc benefits aren't truly seen for decades it takes for city (body) to adapt to new (bones)
patrick kennedy
Attn @ RT @: Making the case for a light rail plan for Kansas City
patrick kennedy
I use Rem as a stand-in for larger critique.
patrick kennedy
However Rem is yet incapable of removing himself from design. Nature of beast, arch profession about branding.
patrick kennedy
Want to learn about cities, read EO Wilson, not Rem Koolhaas (although Rem understands complexity)
patrick kennedy
Another reason why 21st C. will be the biological century. And the natural sciences, as antithetical as sounds, will lead reurbanization