Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Cities like brains: the scaling laws issue

Concept city tower in Shangai. Internet download.
Concept towers in Shangai. Internet download.
There is a publication, in Science Daily, dated September 19, 2009, regarding a new study by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: cities are organized like brains, and the evolution of cities mirrors the evolution of human and animal brains.
“Just as advanced mammalian brains require a robust neural network to achieve richer and more complex thought, large cities require advanced highways and transportation systems to allow larger and more productive populations” …
It means that as brains grow more complex, in the chain of species, and with the human brain on top, they modify their structure and organization in order to achieve the right level of interconnectedness.
Mark Changizi explained “As with brains, interconnectedness is also a critical component of the overall function of cities”. “One couldn’t put together three copies of Seattle (surface area of 83.9 sq. miles) and expect the result to have the same interconnectedness and efficiency as Chicago (surface area of 227.1 sq. miles). There would be too many highways with too few exits and lanes that are too narrow”.
In his research, Changizi found evidence linking the size of a city or a brain to the number and size of its supporting infrastructure, which would scale up as the surface area of brains and cities increase. And he mentions a number of mathematical exponents that would reflect the scaling rule.
I understand his conclusions could apply to some important cities in U.S.A. But I cannot avoid remembering that some “freeways” (well, they are not “free” ways, a payment has to be done) built by the Junta Militar in Buenos Aires, simply cut the city in slices and without extensions or infrastructure to support them. They are just “freeways”, ending somewhere in the South.
I would make an exception if we go up North, as the Autopista del Sol was built outside Buenos Aires downtown, in open areas, and further constructions including public and private buildings, routes and avenues supported it, the further, the less support, just the minimum needed for the rural neighborhoods.
And it comes to my mind another situation. The scaling laws mentioned here are related to fractality. And for mathematical models, the theory usually applies to extended cities, as the examples mentioned above. My question is, what happens if the city is extended high, let’s say, in one point, with a huge tower (for example the futuristic projects for Shangai) where the tower has fractal Dimension D=0 (seen far from the sky), but it still has all the properties of an extended city, only that concentrated. I am wondering how Changizi’s formula would apply here, also supposing the tower could be completely isolated. If the tower is a city in itself, and depending on its design, it could probably not comply with fixed scaling laws. I think there could be findings of partial scaling laws. Let us remember a city can be studied as a living biological organism, but it does not work as a real one, every situation has to be particularly analyzed before releasing universal rules.

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