How about the amount of crime?
The average wage?
The number of colleges?
Well, at least with a reasonable degree of error. How reasonable? Quite!
In 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