Can There Be a Science to Cities - Abstracts
From Santa Fe Institute Events Wiki
Listed in speaking engagement order
Can There be a Science of Cities? Introduction and Overview
This talk will present a broad overview and background to the central question that inspired this workshop; namely, the fundamental challenge as to whether a generic quantitative, predictive theory of cities and urbanisation can conceivably be developed. The paradigmatic framework of such a theory will be reviewed and a series of questions posed. Cities and global urbanisation have emerged as the source of the greatest challenges the planet has faced since humans became social. Cities are simultaneously the hubs of innovation, the engines of wealth creation and centers of power, but are also the prime source of crime, pollution, disease, global warming and the consumption of energy and resources. Despite this dual role and the threat to global sustainability, there is no science-based framework encompassing an integrated, quantitative, predictive, mechanistic understanding of their dynamics, growth and organization. I will discuss some ideas for developing such a theory, inspired by a conceptual framework for quantitatively understanding various generic properties of biological organisms (including growth, metabolic rates, mortality, and ecosystem dynamics) based on the structure and dynamics of networks that sustain them. It is motivated by the observation that almost all measurable characteristics of cities and companies, such as wages, patents, assets, crime, police, disease, pollution, gas stations and roads, scale with size in a systematic, almost "universal", fashion much like biological organisms suggesting that underlying principles are at play that transcend their history, geography and cultural contexts.
Cities and Science: The Empirical View
After over a decade of studying how creativity and the flows of talented, skilled, creative people drive regional prosperity, what have we learned? From looking at and understanding regional performance from both a quantitative and qualitative, but always empirical, perspective, what do we know now? What are we certain of? What are we uncertain of? What is still contested and how strongly? What are the current open questions? Neither economics nor regional science, not sociology or history, less planning, public policy, or urban studies, yet somehow ‘all of the above’ – our understanding of cities and metropolitan regions derives from, contributes to, and differs from these fields. This presentation will focus on discussing the empirically derived research and its findings on the questions of cities and prosperity.
The Universal Nature of Cities: from Human Interactions to Economic Diversity and Open-Ended Innovation
The 4,000 Cities on the Planet as a Subject of Scientific Study
There are some 4,000 cities and metropolitan areas on the planet today with populations of 100,000 people or more. It took some time to identify them, but once we found their names and where they were, we could begin to study them together in a rigorous and comparative scientific framework. We could begin to say something precise about all of them. In my recent work with colleagues, I have focused on a global sample of 120 cities drawn from this universe as well as on this universe as a whole, generating a set of empirical results based on reducing key attributes of these cities to individual metrics that can then be compared both among cities and over time. These are important advances that can now put the field of urban studies on a new footing, possibly hailing an era of more rigorous scientific research into urban issues, research that can bring the burning policy questions now facing cities the world over down to earth, grounding them is perceived and measurable realities rather than allowing them to continue to float in a sea of fussy ideologies or dreams utopia and dystopia.
“Rethinking urbanization and sustainability: Lessons learned from satellite data”
Satellite data have revolutionized the way in which we monitor and map urban areas and urban growth. However, with few exceptions, most remote sensing studies examine one city or city-region at a time; few compare across urban areas. In this talk, I will highlight some challenges and opportunities for studying urban areas and urban growth with remote sensing data.
Social Evolution and Cities: the More the Merrier
One of the most salient features of “city-ness” is the agglomeration of people and the resulting myriad of interactions among them. Urban economists have long recognized that larger cities are more productive and recent work has underscored that they are also more inventive and innovative. The important role of agglomeration in the development of human societies and indeed in the social evolution of Homo Sapiens has attracted the attention of anthropologists, archaeologists, sociologists, cognitive scientists, psychologists and historians, and is now seen as unfolding over thousands of years. In my talk I will highlight some of the evidence and findings, from a variety of disciplinary and analytical perspectives, supporting the contention that in social evolution “more is different.” These insights put cities first for understanding macro-social change and are valuable inputs for the construction of a theory of cities.
The Growth of Cities: What Do We Know after One Hundred Years of Effort?
I will identify what I consider to be the crucial issues in developing a theory of cities: what is related to what and how regular and robust are the relationships that we have found? I will engage in a whistle stop tour of this domain and converge on a series of relations that link the size of cities, to their scale, density, morphology, shape, and the structure of their components – at the level of land uses and socio-economic activities. I will show my bias in encapsulating all these relationships as kinds of scaling but I will be at pains to links these notions to a general concern for explanation in complex systems. I will try to impart a sense of what this science looks like to date and make the argument that it is fragmented, idiosyncratic, and often ad hoc, with bits and pieces of economics, architecture, physics and so on loosely joined together. In this sense, the current terrain defines the challenges that we will address. To an extent, I see this talk as setting the scene and reminding us of the background for other talks at this symposium. I will also attempt to sketch the key open problems in terms of this perspective and I will conclude with some recent empirical work on the growth of large cities – my own city London – over the last two hundred years which emphasizes some of these scaling relationships.
Reference: M. Batty (2012) Building A Science of Cities, Cities, 29 (Supplement), S9-S16
Nicholas de Monchaux
Why and wherefore a “science of cities?” Some opportune histories and operational speculations.
The notion of a science of cities is marked less by its novelty than its historical frequency – especially at moments (as today) when the future of cities is particularly challenged by social, economic, and natural forces. And too-often in this history, inadequate or overly simplistic “scientific” visions of planning and urban design have led to profoundly destructive and disenfranchising effects on the urban systems they seek to serve. Arguing for a new urban science today, however, are at least two factors : the enormous recent shift in scale and quality of digital information available about urban systems, and the depth and urgency of the challenges cities currently face. But the implicit goal of such a framing – to connect science, systematically, to action – is probably futile: the pace of urban construction in the next decades, for example, all-but-ensures that any complete edifice of urban science will be built long after most of the world’s cities have built themselves again in size. Even so, operating as we are in urban science’s protohistory, our actions will likely be much more effective if we can imagine ways, already, that the emerging vision of complex urban science, combine with the information-based resources that make such science possible, can open novel—and crucial—frameworks for action. At their best, such frameworks will not so much resemble the simplistic speculations of urban science’s history, but rather the complex, multivalent and evolving urban body that is such a science’s, ceaselessly captivating, subject of study.