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Jane Jacobs Radio Interview

Jane Jacobs, activist, thinker, and author of, among many books, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, passed away a little more than half a year ago. Here is an interview with Jacobs from New York Public Radio, from 2000. In it, she discusses the ‘organic’ nature of cities, among other things. You can also hear it below.

City of the Future Contest

The History Channel recently ran a contest entitled The City of the Future: A Design and Engineering Challenge, where architecture firms were challenged to present their views of what New York, Chicago and Los Angeles should look like in 2106. Polis has more about the contest here (with a discussion of which entries took into account water issues). Here are also some pictures of the New York entry, which was created by ARO. (via kottke)

Global City

The Global City Wikipedia article discusses the world’s most important cities (no doubt a contentious issue). An interesting read, especially the part that lists those cities with ‘evidence of world city formation’.

Social Science and Online Games

In a recent Nature news article, Social sciences: Life’s a game, the possibilities of using massively multiplayer online games as laboratories for computational social science is discussed. The article provides a very interesting overview of this concept, and highlights some work by Ed Castronova. Castronova, one of the pioneers in this field, has both conducted a study into how markets arise where they do, and is also working on a game of his own to conduct computational social science experiments. This world called Arden is expected to be up by March, and hopefully should yield some very interesting findings. Here is part of the discussion of Castronova’s findings about market-location:

This cloning of worlds gave Castronova his first chance to do computational social science. Using a survey of EverQuest players (E. Castronova Games and Culture 1, 163–186; 2006), he showed that on each server just one region has become established as a market. Crucially, that region differs between servers, although mountain ranges and cities have identical locations in all the worlds. So there does not seem to be a single prime location for the market; instead, some chance event seeds its creation, and coordination effects then lock it into place. “With no small amount of trepidation,” Castronova writes in a footnote to the paper, “I would venture to claim that this is the first time in human history that a distinct macro-social phenomenon has actually been verified experimentally.”

Possibly some ramifications in these studies for understanding the shaping of downtowns in urban areas (such as the location of financial districts).


Gardens-in-a-Petri are fractal-shaped bacterial growths in petri dishes. More can be found here. Not that city-shaped, but they could provide some insight into how cities grow and form (or how they don’t, based on the differences in physical structure between these and cities).

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).