Monday, December 20, 2010

Math, Systems Theory and Cities: West in NY Times

It's worth going over again, this time in text, the mathematical theories of physicist Geoffrey West regarding cities and social metabolism. The NY Times article does a remarkably good job of laying out the theories and findings in a few pages. One thing that the article discusses that was not mentioned in the videos is how much West's theory supports the findings of social urbanist Jane Jacobs:

"It’s when West switches the conversation from infrastructure to people that he brings up the work of Jane Jacobs, the urban activist and author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” Jacobs was a fierce advocate for the preservation of small-scale neighborhoods, like Greenwich Village and the North End in Boston. The value of such urban areas, she said, is that they facilitate the free flow of information between city dwellers. To illustrate her point, Jacobs described her local stretch of Hudson Street in the Village. She compared the crowded sidewalk to a spontaneous “ballet,” filled with people from different walks of life. School kids on the stoops, gossiping homemakers, “business lunchers” on their way back to the office. While urban planners had long derided such neighborhoods for their inefficiencies — that’s why Robert Moses, the “master builder” of New York, wanted to build an eight-lane elevated highway through SoHo and the Village — Jacobs insisted that these casual exchanges were essential. She saw the city not as a mass of buildings but rather as a vessel of empty spaces, in which people interacted with other people. The city wasn’t a skyline — it was a dance."

I've begun a study of Manuel Castells book "The City and the Grassroots." Along with Jane Jacobs, David Harvey, Richard Florida, and now Geoffrey West, I consider Manuel Castells, the Barcelonian sociologist, to be one of the greatest urban sociologists. Indeed, he is considered THE foremost urban sociologist in the field today.

1 comment:

  1. That's an interesting list of urban theorists. I'd add:

    1) Mike Davis (for Planet of Slums which adds a developing world perspective) and

    2) Saskia Sassen (for the concept of world city and the integration of empirical detail onto the Castells framework).

    Any other suggestions?