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Study: Ancient Cities Grew Much Like Modern Cities

Scientists from the Santa Fe Institute have discovered basic patterns underlying the way cities have always grown. The mechanics of "urban scaling" may have something fundamental to tell us about how large settlements evolve.
March 1, 2015, 9am PST | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Octavio Alonso Maya Castro

Building upon earlier research on the evolution of large-scale human settlements, a team from the Santa Fe Institute examined a range of archaeological data from ancient Mexican cities. Their findings, published here, hint at a broad theory of "urban scaling" that relates the output of a city to its size.

The article chronicles the scientists' excitement at these results, which point to a congruence between ancient and modern urban economics. This despite the fact that "ancient cities weren't profit-oriented, they didn't have capitalist investment like they do today and they were more likely to have rulers with a tight grip on the economy."

This work informs ongoing study of social networks and the city's role as an idea incubator. Of note are increasing returns: as both ancient and modern cities expand, the economic output of their citizens grows disproportionately to population. The theory of urban scaling "implies that some of the most robust patterns in modern urban systems derive from processes that have been part of human societies all along."

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Published on Sunday, February 22, 2015 in Christian Science Monitor
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