The Soul of the City

Walking Pace and the Soul of the CityDid you know that you can use the walking pace of an average city dweller [number of footsteps per unit of time] to determine how many libraries that specific city has?

How about the amount of crime?

The average wage?

The number of colleges?

The population?

Yep.

Well, at least with a reasonable degree of error.  How reasonable?  Quite!

Jad Abumrad RadiolabIn a recent podcast from New York public radio’s Radiolab, co-hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich aim the powers of science towards that perennial question: what gives cities their unique feel?  Many of us have had the experience of being in a city and sensing a distinct identity or personality from the city itself.  Is the personality of a city something which we imagine or, to use a science term, are there specific elements in an urban environment which create a unique city DNA?

Surprisingly, even though science is not incredibly well equipped to examine things like culture, history, ethnology, social mores and customs, there are data-based judgments that scientists can make about a city from something simple and quantitative like walking speed, that speaks novels about the city in question.

Needless to say, footsteps per unit of time and other telling data all ride shotgun to one, most important, type of data and… it’s so simple it’s almost criminal: population.  No, not population density or population demographics but… just population.   These “specificities, [like] the local history, are in large part insignificant… they are completely overwhelmed by these generic laws of urban scaling”.

I am tempted to say more but, really, this should be listened to.

So, strap yourself in and enjoy an hour of science and the city that can only be explained as fun and full of holy wonder.

Listen to the Cities episode here at Radiolab.org

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About urbancongress

The Congress on Urban Ministry is a biennial conference that explores faith, social justice, and urban ministry as we seek a spirituality and a way of life that actively creates peace. Students, pastors, and community organizers engaged in and passionate about peace, social justice, and transformational urban ministry who attend often find this event to be the single most inclusive gathering of resources for ministry in the city and beyond. View all posts by urbancongress

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