Geoffrey West is a theoretical physicist at the Santa Fe Institute who has researched and studied the dynamics of large cities; how and why they grow, and the patterns that emerge. His findings are surprising.
New York Times Magazine has a great article about West’s research. West found that he can predict with 85% accuracy the average income of a city’s inhabitants or the size of their sewage system. Basically, larger cities — in spite of their unique culture — are predictably the same in almost every other measurement.
And largely, cities are more efficient and sustainable than suburban towns. The efficiencies of scale at work.
Why do people live in cities?
This excerpt from the NYT article really stuck out:
Cities are valuable because they facilitate human interactions, as people crammed into a few square miles exchange ideas and start collaborations. “If you ask people why they move to the city, they always give the same reasons,” West says. “They’ve come to get a job or follow their friends or to be at the center of a scene. That’s why we pay the high rent. Cities are all about the people, not the infrastructure.”
This reminded me very much of what I like to say about knowledge management (KM): that KM is all about connecting people, and not about the “tool” (infrastructure). This is precisely why enterprises that drive their KM actvities as an Information Technology (IT) initiative almost always fail miserably.
Sharing knowledge is an exchange between two (or more) people. Technology can either assist or get out of the way.