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Gibrat’s Law

Gibrat’s Law states that the proportionate growth of a city (or corporation or other social entity) is independent of its size. Here’s an example from Economy Professor:

If a company with sales of $10m doubles in size over a period of time, it is likely the same will happen for a company beginning with sales of only $1m.

This kind of growth can yield stable distributions, such as power laws. An article called Gibrat’s Law for (All) Cities, has more about this law as applied to cities, as might be expected by the title.

Rethinking the Legacy of Robert Moses

In a recent New Yorker Paul Goldberger writes an article entitled Eminent Dominion: Rethinking the Legacy of Robert Moses. In it, Goldberger argues that Robert Moses, while he often couldn’t care less about the effects of his projects (such as destruction of organically grown neighborhoods), did bring a number of positive things to New York City, such as the Triborough Bridge, for one. He also shows Moses as a product of his time-period, and that even with his embrace of the highway, “New York  probably comes closer to having a workable  balance between cars and mass transit than any other city in the country”.

Goldberger also recognizes that in today’s bureaucratically gridlocked environment, having a single person enforce their vision can have its benefits:

In an era when almost any project can be held up for years by public hearings and reviews by community boards, community groups, civic groups, and planning commissions, not to mention the courts, it is hard not to feel a certain nostalgic tug for Moses’s method of building by decree. It may not have been democratic, or even right. Still, somebody has to look at the big picture and make decisions for the greater good. Moses’s problem was that he couldn’t take his eye off the big picture. He was so in tune with New York’s vastness that he had no patience for anything small within it.

As Goldberger notes, a balance between Jane Jacobs’ embrace of the neighborhood and fine-grained approach to the city, and Robert Moses’s strong-man grandiose public works is something that has yet to be found.

1942 Time Magazine’s ‘Biology of Cities’

In 1942, Time Magazine had a brief piece entitled Biology of Cities, about the organic nature of cities. Cities, like organisms, can grow and die, and the architect Jose Luis Sert felt that the continuing life of a city is by no means a given. But he does not give up all hope:

But Mr. Sert and his colleagues do not propose to leave the city to its apparently inevitable fate. Instead of dispersing the city or making it smaller, they would quicken its blood stream by means of express highways; give it air to breathe by surrounding each business and industrial district with a green belt; make it self-contained by providing facilities for recreation and fuller living within the city itself.

The key to their plan is more intelligent use of a city’s third dimension—height. The Sert group propose to house the city’s people in skyscrapers, surrounded by wide open spaces, and by doing so to provide a single solution for a modern city’s two greatest dangers, congestion and bombing.

Looking at this article over sixty years in the future, it is interesting to see what it gets right and what it doesn’t. The inclusion of greater expressways and space for cars has not been the panacea for cities’ ills, and has often caused the loss of community in urban environments (see my previous post entitled New York and Lack of Urban Innovation). However, better transportation (generally public transportation) does help large cities to grow and function.

The design of cities to minimize damage from overhead bombing almost seems laughable nowadays. Nonetheless, cities do still have security in mind.

Lastly, people are also recognizing the need for vertical use of space and self-contained urban environments, since high-density cities are much more energy efficient.

Jose Luis Sert died in 1983. After this article, Sert went on to become the Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design and designed many buildings, including the Harvard Science Center. It would be nice to see what other kinds of predictions people have made about the future of cities. Please feel free to link to any you know of in the comments below.

Cities and Sports Teams

In honor of the upcoming Super Bowl, here is a collection of links about cities and sports teams:

Wondering which cities have teams from the four major American sports? Wonder no longer. And while we’re at it, here are the states (yes, entire states) that lack a major sports team.

Here is Paul Lukas’s take on America’s most livable cities, sports-wise.

And here is evidence that sports teams and economic boosts for their cities do not go hand-in-hand.

Enjoy the I-65 Super Bowl.

New York and Lack of Urban Innovation

Robert Sullivan, in his NYT op-ed piece entitled The City that Never Walks, discusses how New York City has lost its vanguard position in terms of urban innovation. Sullivan focuses on its pedestrian friendliness (or lack thereof), and shows how other cities have been eclipsing New York in their new ideas and approaches to urban life:

And if Boulder, Baltimore, Sacramento, San Diego, Denver, Houston, Dallas, Portland, Ore., and Bergen County in New Jersey can build light rails, then why can’t New York finally put one on 42nd Street? Times Square could be the Crossroads of People instead of the Crossroads of Car Congestion.

Some other cities he mentions are Grand Rapids, Chicago, and London. (via kottke)

U-Turns in Seoul

You can make U-turns in Seoul at any time from the middle lane; here’s a photograph that shows this quite clearly. And here’s a larger version, which shows it even more obviously. The Wikipedia article about U-turns contains some insight into the rules regulating these turns in some areas of the world.
Also, this photographer took a picture of the same place, but this time made it look like a postcard from the 1950’s. It’s a nice effect.

Visual Complexity: complex system visualizations

Visual Complexity is a collection and clearinghouse for hundreds of depictions of complex networks, from all over the Internet. Among the many categories, there is one devoted entirely to transportation networks. Here is the goal of the site, in their own words:

VisualComplexity.com intends to be a unified resource space for anyone interested in the visualization of complex networks. The project’s main goal is to leverage a critical understanding of different visualization methods, across a series of disciplines, as diverse as Biology, Social Networks or the World Wide Web. I truly hope this space can inspire, motivate and enlighten any person doing research on this field.

Not all projects shown here are genuine complex networks, in the sense that they aren’t necessarily at the edge of chaos, or show an irregular and systematic degree of connectivity. However, the projects that apparently skip this class were chosen for two important reasons. They either provide advancement in terms of visual depiction techniques/methods or show conceptual uniqueness and originality in the choice of a subject. Nevertheless, all projects have one trait in common: the whole is always more than the sum of its parts.

They clearly have an understanding of the scientific nature of complex networks, which is heartening (especially when social networks and such have become simple buzzwords). Enjoy browsing the site; there is a lot of beautiful information here.