Physicist Tackles Urban Theory

Physicist Geoffrey West of the Santa Fe Institute applied his talents to unraveling urban issues like population growth in a similar vein that he did earlier with biology. He found answers that explain how all cities work if enough data is supplied.
December 20, 2010, 6am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Can urban interactions be quantified? West and his colleague went about gathering data to find answers - and he read too. One finding: "While Jane Jacobs could only speculate on the value of our urban interactions, West insists that he has found a way to "scientifically confirm" her conjectures." Interestingly, one critic of his work is Joel Kotkin, perhaps because West considered fast growing, suburban cities like Phoenix to be examples of unsustainable growth.

West's work shows that "modern cities are the real centers of sustainability. According to the data, people who live in densely populated places require less heat in the winter and need fewer miles of asphalt per capita." However, West goes on to note that "nobody moves to New York to save money on their gas bill" and explains the draw of cities.

"The only way to really understand the city, West says, is to understand its deep structure, its defining patterns, which will show us whether a metropolis will flourish or fall apart. We can't make our cities work better until we know how they work. And, West says, he knows how they work."

Thanks to Megan Fluke

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Published on Friday, December 17, 2010 in The New York Times - Magazine
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