Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers find 'large is smart' when it comes to cities

17.04.2007
Cities are considered by many to be a blessing and a curse. Large cities generate considerable wealth, they are home to many high paying jobs and are seen as engines of innovation. But cities also generate pollution, crime and poor social structures that lead to the urban blight that plagues their very existence.

Now a team of researchers, including an economist from Arizona State University, have studied the growth of cities in different parts of the world and have come up with general equations that can foretell their consumption of resources and their contributions to society. The work has debunked the notion that cities act like biological organisms, that once they start they grow, and consume and contribute at predictable linear rates.

"It's true that large cities have more problems, they are more congested, they create more pollution and they have more crime," said Jose Lobo, and ASU economist in the School of Sustainability. "But also because of their size, cities are more innovative and create more wealth. Large cities are the source of their problems and they are the source of the solutions to their problems."

The researchers working with Lobo -- Luis Bettencourt of Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mex.; Dirk Helbing and Christian Kuhnert of Dresden University of Technology, Germany; and Geoffrey West of the Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, New Mex. -- detailed their findings in the article "Growth, innovation, scaling and the pace of life in cities," in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. An on-line version of the article was published on April 16, 2007 (www.pnas.org).

"Humanity has just crossed a major landmark in its history with the majority of people now living in cities," the researchers state. "The inexorable trend toward urbanization worldwide presents an urgent challenge for predictive, quantitative theory of urban organization and sustainable development."

This will require thinking about cities in new ways, they add.

The old way of thinking about cities is as if they are an organism, which consumes resources and grows in size. Oftentimes, cities are referred to as its own ecosystem and many use the metaphor of it acting like a biological organism, Lobo said. But the team found that this was a false metaphor.

"The one thing that we know about organisms whether it be elephants or sharks or frogs, is that as they get large, they slow down," Lobo said. "They use less energy, they don't move as fast. That is a very important point for biological scaling."

"In the case of cities, it is actually the opposite," he added. "As cities get larger they create more wealth and they are more innovative at a faster rate. There is no counterpart to that in biology."

In fact, Lobo said, the larger the city the greater return on investment.

The researchers base their findings on data on the growth of cities (large urban areas) in the U.S., Europe and China over the past 150 years. They measured cities consumption of resources, (such as water usage), requirements for infrastructure (roads, transportation, lengths of electrical cable) and then measured the creative output of these areas (patents issued, "super creative jobs" generated, R&D employment, total wages). The size of the cities were determined by population.

What they found were some general correlations of size and resource consumption that more or less fit the biological organism metaphor, meaning as the city grew in size it required less energy (resources) to sustain it in a proportion called sublinear scaling. What was surprising to the team was when they measured creative output (jobs, wealth generated, innovation) as cities grew, the scaling of this output was not sublinear, but superlinear, meaning as the city grew its creative output grew faster and faster.

"It isn't like if you double the size of a city you double its creative output," Lobo said. "The increase you get in wealth creation is greater than the increase in size of the city."

That ratio can range from 1.13:1 when measuring the gross domestic product in Germany, to 1.34:1 when measuring private R&D employment in the U.S.

"We are not saying that any large city is assured of prosperity forever, but if you look at the collection of cities, large cities have managed to out run their problems," Lobo added. "Large is smart."

All of this points to the need of rethinking large cities, both in how they are managed and what they contribute to the greater good. This is especially true today, as cities are on the brink explosive growth. Today a little more than half of the world's population live in large urban areas. By 2030, it is estimated to be two-thirds of the world's population will be living in urban areas.

"Cities are really one of the most important innovations in humans history," Lobo said. "We need to think of them as being very human entities and as engines of creation. We need a different perspective about cities, one that is away from thinking of large cities as a source of problems but as possible sources of solutions."

"The practical application of this work is that the problem is not large cities, the problem is the conditions in which some of the people live in large cities," Lobo added. "Policies should be directed to making large cities more livable not making them smaller."

Skip Derra | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.asu.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Upcycling 'fast fashion' to reduce waste and pollution
03.04.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>