'Quantitative Urbanism' Reduces Cities to a Formula

Jerry Adler examines the emerging field of “quantitative urbanism,” which aims to use mathematical formulas to unveil and explain the universal properties shared by cities.
April 30, 2013, 7am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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"Cities are particular: You would never mistake a favela in Rio de Janeiro for downtown Los Angeles. They are shaped by their histories and accidents of geography and climate," says Adler. "But cities are also, at a deep level, universal: the products of social, economic and physical principles that transcend space and time. A new science—so new it doesn’t have its own journal, or even an agreed-upon name—is exploring these laws. We will call it 'quantitative urbanism.' It’s an effort to reduce to mathematical formulas the chaotic, exuberant, extravagant nature of one of humanity’s oldest and most important inventions, the city."

“Give me the size of a city in the United States and I can tell you how many police it has, how many patents, how many AIDS cases,” says [Geoffrey West, one of the leaders in the field], “just as you can calculate the life span of a mammal from its body mass.”

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Published on Monday, April 29, 2013 in Smithsonian
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