'Urban Physics' Compares Cities to Nature's Materials

Ruth Graham details the work of Franz-Josef Ulm, who is developing a theory of "urban physics" that compares the structure of cities to materials found in nature. Boston, for instance, is disorderly like water (and Los Angeles).

According to Graham, Ulm's work analyzes cities "the way you’d analyze a material, looking at factors such as the arrangement of buildings, each building’s center of mass, and how they’re ordered around each other." Some of Ulm's conclusions: "Boston’s structure, for example, looks a lot like an 'amorphous liquid.' Seattle is another liquid, and so is Los Angeles. Chicago, which was designed on a grid, looks like glass, he says; New York resembles a highly ordered crystal."

"If the analogy does hold up, Ulm hopes it will give planners a new tool to understand a city’s structure, its energy use, and possibly even its resilience to climate change."

Graham's article includes Ulm's work among the inroads made by researchers in the "science of cities" by quoting Michael Mehaffy, who wrote on that subject for Planetizen in June. Mehaffy's take on Ulm's work: although it's "fascinating and potentially very important," but that comparisons can be reductive of the unique structures of cities. 

Full Story: What ‘urban physics’ could tell us about how cities work

Comments

Book cover of the Guide to Graduate Planning Programs 4th Edition

Thinking about Grad School?

New! 4th Edition of the Planetizen Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs just released.
Starting at $24.95

Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $209

Stay thirsty, urbanists

These sturdy water bottles are eco-friendly and perfect for urbanists on the go.
$19.00
Wood necklace with city map

City Necklaces

These sweet pendants are engraved on a cedar charm with a mini map of selected cities. The perfect gift for friends and family or yourself!
$28.00