[ExI] Are Cities Dead? (was Re: moving bits, not butts)
anders at aleph.se
Wed Mar 2 10:54:12 UTC 2011
Kelly Anderson wrote:
> If telepresence becomes good enough, and convincing enough, does that
> obviate the need for large cities? Are there other justifications for
> large cities?
I doubt it. There are economies of scale to cities that are pretty
amazing. Geoffrey West's papers show that not only are they efficient in
terms of infrastructure (you need less infrastructure per person if they
live close together), but their economic productivity and patents
increases per capita as they get bigger.
Cities are also memes. Venice has been completely pointless
politically/economically since Napoleon defeated it, yet everybody are
spending lots of money to maintain and save it, while tourists come to
see it in its decadent glory. Cluster effects make companies of a
business sector to group together, creating Silicon Valley, Hollywood or
City of London - there is no strong reason for them to be concentrated
just there, it is just a historical accident, but now it shapes business
decisions. Oxford started as a cluster of monasteries doing a bit of
education on the side and then turned into an education cluster and
eventually a self-supporting system (going to Oxford is good for your
career, so a lot of bright and/or rich students apply, really good
teachers and researchers want to come, and this results in plenty of
good and rich alumni supporting the system).
More importantly, cities allow people to meet. This is the key point of
Richard Florida's explanation of why some cities like Austin and SF are
creative and booming. They attract the right kind of people who mingle,
find unexpected new ideas or collaborations, and this is productive. One
reason I live in Oxford these days is that I bump into interesting,
smart and useful people all day, while in my native Stockholm the kind
of people I would like to meet are very diluted.
In my RPG book "Cities of the Edge" I actually use these arguments to
argue against the main setting claim that telepresence will dissolve
cities into small towns. If it actually were to happen it would be bad
news environmentally (think sprawl is bad now? plus, low efficiency) and
perhaps socially (you would just meet people like you all day).
Telecommuting is not going to threaten cities since it is more likely to
improve them. Reducing needless commuting makes traffic better, allowing
people to use the cities on their spare time.
Future of Humanity Institute
James Martin 21st Century School
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