Thursday, January 13, 2011

Urban Physics

A Physicist Solves the City (New York Times Sunday Magazine, Dec. 19, 2010)

Today’s review article goes right to the heart of what makes a city sustainable pollution free and healthy. It describes the work of a physicist who turns his attention to describing urban characteristics with the same approach used in physics. As a meteorologist, I am frustrated by the lack of solution to many health and urban issues, after seeing my science successfully model the physics of the entire global atmosphere so well that one can deterministically predict with accuracy its future for at least 4-5 days down to a time and space scale of minutes and hundreds of metres. This is what the hero of this piece, Geoffrey West, attempts to do in a fascinating article which I recommend for all to read in detail.

Key Quotes:

“the urban jungle looked chaotic — all those taxi horns and traffic jams — but perhaps it might be found to obey a short list of universal rules..if they know the population of a metropolitan area in a given country, they can estimate, with approximately 85 percent accuracy, its average income and the dimensions of its sewer system”

“the real purpose of cities, and the reason cities keep on growing, is their ability to create massive economies of scale, just as big animals do.. the indicators of urban metabolism - like the number of gas stations or the total surface area of roads - showed that when a city doubles in size, it requires an increase in resources of only 85 percent.”

“the average Manhattanite emits 14,127 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide annually than someone living in the New York suburbs”

“whenever a city doubles in size, every measure of economic activity, from construction spending to the amount of bank deposits, increases by approximately 15 percent per capita. It doesn’t matter how big the city is; the law remains the same…it also experiences a 15 percent per capita increase in violent crimes, traffic and AIDS cases.. you can’t get the economic growth without a parallel growth in the spread of things we don’t want”

“the purpose of urban planning as finding a way to minimize our distress while maximizing our interactions.. the layout of her Manhattan neighborhood — the short blocks, the mixed-use zoning, the density of brownstones — made it easier to cope with the strain of the metropolis”

“the societal consumption driven by the process of urbanization — our collective desire for iPads, Frappuccinos and the latest fashions — more than outweighs the ecological benefits of local mass transit..urban equations predict a world of ever-increasing resource consumption, as the expansion of cities fuels the expansion of economies”

“Although urbanization has generated a seemingly impossible amount of economic growth, it has also inspired the innovations that allow the growth to continue”

“Think about how powerless a mayor is..They can’t tell people where to live or what to do or who to talk to. Cities can’t be managed, and that’s what keeps them so vibrant. They’re just these insane masses of people, bumping into each other and maybe sharing an idea or two. It’s the freedom of the city that keeps it alive.”

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1 comment:

  1. Appreciate your comment as the aim of my blog site is to inform the public on traffic-pollution-health issues