Can Cities Be Represented As Mathematical Objects?

Can Cities Be Represented As Mathematical Objects?

Physicist Geoffrey West claims to have devised a set of rules to explain any global city in terms of math equations.

Naresh Kumar
  • 6 january 2011

Could cities spread across the globe be so similar to each other that they can be explained in terms of mathematical equations? Physicist Geoffrey West thinks so, and after analyzing reams of data on some of the biggest cities of the world, has concluded that “every city is really the same” and that each city’s geographical and historical facts that differ it from others are just mere details and don’t really help to understand these places. West claims that by knowing just a few variables of a city, he can correctly predict most of the statistics pertaining to the urban life and infrastructure of that region.

From New York Times:

After two years of analysis, West and Bettencourt discovered that all of these urban variables could be described by a few exquisitely simple equations. For example, 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. These are the laws, they say, that automatically emerge whenever people “agglomerate,” cramming themselves into apartment buildings and subway cars. It doesn’t matter if the place is Manhattan or Manhattan, Kan.: the urban patterns remain the same.

West isn’t shy about describing the magnitude of this accomplishment. “What we found are the constants that describe every city,” he says. “I can take these laws and make precise predictions about the number of violent crimes and the surface area of roads in a city in Japan with 200,000 people. I don’t know anything about this city or even where it is or its history, but I can tell you all about it. And the reason I can do that is because every city is really the same.”

NY Times: “A Physicist Solves the City”


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