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Fractal Cities

Fractal Cities Fractals are often used as a type of mind candy, in the sense that they are cool to look at and think about, but are usually not discussed in a rigorous way. In Fractal Cities: A Geometry of Form and Function, they are certainly used properly and are discussed in a highly quantitative manner. Unfortunately, since fractals are physical shapes, the book ends up mainly looking at the physical form of cities and does not delve into other factors related to cities (an aspect that the authors, Michael Batty and Paul Langley, acknowledge). While I must admit that I haven’t looked at the book in great detail, it certainly seems that it can provide lots of thought-provoking ideas and examples: mind candy of the healthiest kind.

Also, Michael Batty has written a more recent book called Cities and Complexity: Understanding Cities with Cellular Automata, Agent-Based Models, and Fractals, which also has a website that can be found here.

The Ecumenopolis

Nope, an ecumenopolis is not a religious city, like the Vatican, but rather a ‘world city’, from the Greek which means ‘world city’. The ecumenopolis is the term given to a planet-spanning urban center, and while there are pretty clearly none on Earth (since you would otherwise know about it), ecumenopoli are often featured in science fiction.

But does the idea of an ecumenopolis even make sense? From a metabolic viewpoint, unless there were off-planet raw materials and foodstuffs being created, this kind of city does not seem viable. In general, cities are not self-sufficient, so unless we become a multi-planet species, or drastically modify the nature of the city to include mechanisms for agriculture, mining, and so forth, this will remain an impossibility.

And this is aside from the political aspects. Most likely, even though it will be an urban environment spanning an entire planet, this will not be a unified one, with a single municipal government. An ecumenopolis is just too large for that to work (at least as I can envision it, early-21st century observer that I am).

Steven Johnson Interview

Steven Johnson is interviewed on Powell’s.com about The Ghost Map, among other things. The Ghost Map is Johnson’s newest book and deals with a whole slew of interdisciplinary issues about cities, biology, disease, information, &c. He’s also a SimCity superfan. Check out the interview (and also his blog for that matter); it’s a good read.