Jeffrey Stein (l) and Geoffrey West
President, Cosanti Foundation
Distinguished Professor, Santa Fe Institute
Read excerpts from the discussion below.
Stein: In nature, as an organism evolves, it increases in complexity, and also becomes a more compact system. Cities are seven to ten thousand years old, still in their infancy, and haven’t yet been designed so that they function properly for us and for the rest of the planet. A city should function as a living system, capable of demonstrating positive responses to the many problems of urban civilization: population, pollution, energy, resource depletion, food scarcity, and quality of life.
West: If you look at Portugal and Chile and Japan and the United States, cities scale in almost exactly the same way, whether you look at disease, productivity, or infrastructure. Despite all the organic growth, randomness, and planning, these cities have nevertheless ended up behaving the same way. The only thing that’s common across all of those cultures is people. Cities are the physical manifestation of what we do: interact with each other. Social networks and the clustering of those networks are manifested in cities. They’re manifestations of what we started to do when we learned economies of scale can produce innovation and wealth creation.