Planetizen - Urban Planning News, Jobs, and Education

What Can Brain Science Tell Us About Cities?

Cities are not unlike brains in their capacity to evolve along complex, self-organizing patterns. Studying what some researchers call the "urban connectome" may give us insight into how best to organize the places where we live.
December 15, 2019, 7am PST | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email Comments
Josh Williams

Urbanism and brain science are remarkably similar in some ways, Michael Mehaffy writes. "There is good reason to think that, as with brains, a lot of what happens in cities has more to do with the overall pattern of connections, and less to do with particular elements."

He goes on, "As Jane Jacobs pointed out over half a century ago, the city is a kind of 'intricate ballet' of people interacting, going about their plans, and shaping the life of the city, from the smallest scales to the largest." City folks thrive on knowledge spillovers, casual interactions with new people that give rise to novel enterprises and economic activity.

According to such a model, the health of cities depends on how effectively these kinds of "neural pathways" can form and reform. "In the case of cities, we have to ensure that we have well-connected, walkable cities, facilitating many cross-connections," Mehaffy writes. 

The digital infrastructure of so-called smart cities can enhance such a network, but physical interactions between city dwellers form its foundation. "A corollary is that in our automobile-connected suburbs, it seems we have been replicating this pattern of connections—but only with heavy and unsustainable inputs of resources," Mehaffy says.

To get the most out of an urban connectome model, he goes on, we need to examine "the most effective patterns from a range of cities around the world—and over centuries of evolution."

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, December 10, 2019 in CNU Public Square
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email