WSJ: For Creative Cities, the Sky Has Its Limit


It’s not enough to build tall if people aren’t thrown together to interact—just look at Shanghai vs. New York.

Ours is the century of the city. For the first time in history, more than half of the people in the world, 3.3 billion of us, live in cities. By 2050, according to the best projections, urbanites will account for as much as 70% of the global population.

Over the next 50 years we will spend trillions of dollars on city building. The question is: How should we build? For many economists, urbanists and developers, the answer is simple: We should build up. But the answer is more complex than that.

Researchers at the Santa Fe Institute have been able to demonstrate that bigger, denser cities literally speed up the metabolism of daily life. Larger beasts may have slower metabolisms in the animal kingdom, but the opposite occurs in cities, which get faster as they grow. Doubling a city’s population, the Santa Fe researchers found, more than doubles its creative and economic output, a phenomenon known as “superlinear scaling.”

Still, density is only part of the solution. In the hyper-crowded skyscraper districts of Shanghai, densities can approach 125,000 people per square mile. Giant buildings often function as vertical suburbs, muting the spontaneous encounters that provide cities with so much of their social, intellectual and commercial energy. People live their lives indoors in such places, wearing paths between their offices and the food courts, always seeing the same people. READ MORE.

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