What Does Nature Teach Us About Cities?

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode The Future of Cities.

About Geoffrey West's Talk

Physicist Geoffrey West believes that complex systems from organisms to cities are in many ways governed by simple laws that can be discovered and analyzed. He proposes that one simple number — population — can predict a stunning array of details about any city, from crime rate to economic activity. It's all about the plumbing, he says, the infrastructure that powers growth or dysfunction.

In this Talk from TEDGlobal, he shows how this works.

Watch this Talk on TED.com.

More From This Episode

"We form cities in order to enhance interaction, to facilitate growth, wealth creation, ideas, innovation, but in so doing, we create, from a physicist's viewpoint, entropy..." — Geoffrey West i i

"We form cities in order to enhance interaction, to facilitate growth, wealth creation, ideas, innovation, but in so doing, we create, from a physicist's viewpoint, entropy..." — Geoffrey West James Duncan Davidson/TED hide caption

itoggle caption James Duncan Davidson/TED
"We form cities in order to enhance interaction, to facilitate growth, wealth creation, ideas, innovation, but in so doing, we create, from a physicist's viewpoint, entropy..." — Geoffrey West

"We form cities in order to enhance interaction, to facilitate growth, wealth creation, ideas, innovation, but in so doing, we create, from a physicist's viewpoint, entropy..." — Geoffrey West

James Duncan Davidson/TED

About Geoffrey West

Trained as a theoretical physicist, Geoffrey West has turned his analytical mind toward the inner workings of more concrete things, like animals. In a paper for Science in 1997, he and his team uncovered what he sees as a surprisingly universal law of biology: the way in which heart rate, size and energy consumption are related, consistently, across most living animals.

After decades working in high-energy physics at Los Alamos and Stanford, and serving as the president of the multidisciplinary Santa Fe Institute, West has recently focused on the behavior and development of cities. "Focusing on the differences [between cities] misses the point," he says. "Sure, there are differences, but different from what? We've found the 'what.' "

His next target for study: corporations.

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