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Do You Know How Big Your City Is?

Samuel Arbesman pens a fascinating piece in <em>The Atlantic Cities</em> analyzing our subjective concepts of scale and context in relation to our ideas about the importance and size of cities.
March 10, 2012, 11am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Using fairly simple graphic models, Arbesman prods at the misconceptions about the scale of cities and the relationship of population size to importance, using the example of his new home, Kansas City, Missouri.

Considered a fairly small city to most people, Arbesman's notes in a simple, yet compelling graphic that, "Kansas City would be the second-largest city in France. Similarly, many European cities that we think of being incredibly important and central to global affairs are not as large as they feature in our minds. Dublin, Amsterdam, and Brussels are all smaller than Cleveland, for example."

Going further, Arbesman makes some surprising comparisons: "Did you know, for instance, that the unoccupied section of Detroit is actually the size of the entire city of San Francisco. Or that the size of Greater Tokyo would take up a significant portion of England. Or even that the area of ancient Rome is fourteen times smaller than the area of the city of Rome, New York."

While relativity (historical, economic, cultural, etc.) sets the stage for our preconceptions about cities it also provides the basis for breaking down those preconceptions. "So don't be concerned if your city seems somewhat ordinary. Mediocrity is only mediocrity in comparison to those immediately around you."

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Published on Friday, March 9, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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