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7/24/12

Plumbing as a Predictor of Cities

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The problems with New York City lie in the plumbing, according to theoretical physicist Geoffrey West.

By that he means its infrastructure, and he holds that plumbing powers growth or dysfunction in almost any city. Not only that, but the plumbing -- or infrastructure -- can be assessed with mathematical equations. In particular, one number, population, can predict many details about a city, from crime rate to economic activity.

There are simple laws governing cities, he says, and these laws control complex systems from organisms to Chicago or London.

In 2006 he was named one of Time magazine's"100 Most Influential People in the World."


"Geoffrey West doesn’t eat lunch. His doctor says he has a mild allergy to food; meals make him sleepy and nauseated. When West is working — when he’s staring at some scribbled equations on scratch paper or gazing out his office window at the high desert in New Mexico — he subsists on black tea and nuts. . . .

For West, the world is always most compelling at its most abstract. As a theoretical physicist in search of fundamental laws, he likes to compare his work to that of Kepler, Galileo and Newton. 'I’ve always wanted to find the rules that govern everything,' he says. 'It’s amazing that such rules exist. It’s even more amazing that we can find them.' . . .

While [Jane] Jacobs [author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities] could only speculate on the value of our urban interactions, West insists that he has found a way to 'scientifically confirm' her conjectures. 'One of my favorite compliments is when people come up to me and say, "You have done what Jane Jacobs would have done, if only she could do mathematics," ' West says." More

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