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View Full Version : Cities are organisms, we are viruses

tangent4ronpaul
12-20-2010, 08:49 PM
This is a pretty abstract thread, so try thinking different and chime in!

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/magazine/19Urban_West-t.html

A Physicist Solves the City (Article is 6 pages long! - following is highlights)

After two years of analysis, West and Bettencourt discovered that all of these urban variables could be described by a few exquisitely simple equations. For example, if they know the population of a metropolitan area in a given country, they can estimate, with approximately 85 percent accuracy, its average income and the dimensions of its sewer system. These are the laws, they say, that automatically emerge whenever people “agglomerate,” (…) : the urban patterns remain the same. West isn’t shy about describing the magnitude of this accomplishment. “What we found are the constants that describe every city,” he says. “I can take these laws and make precise predictions about the number of violent crimes and the surface area of roads in a city in Japan with 200,000 people. I don’t know anything about this city or even where it is or its history, but I can tell you all about it. And the reason I can do that is because every city is really the same.”

The article I'm quoting from is talking about mathematical constants of cities and how they do and don't mimic biology. There are things we can learn from it to apply to campaigning.

85% of the population lives in cities, they tend to be liberal. 15% of the population lives in the country, they tend to be conservative. Cities are a very difficult environment for us to work in effectively. They literally absorb expendable supplies. Tactics might be repeat view materials, like a sign in or on a bus. For flyers, best to not hand them out, but rather only give one if someone comes up and asks. Chokepoints where people pass in mass are good places to be. The larger the city, the more dismissive the population and the less likely they will be to know/talk to their neighbors.

In the calculus of campaigns, you always have a shortage of supplies and people to distribute them, so you need to make them go as far as possible. That generally means targeted distribution, or things that will get many views.

The correspondence was obvious to West: he saw the metropolis as a sprawling organism, similarly defined by its infrastructure. (The boulevard was like a blood vessel, the back alley a capillary.) This implied that the real purpose of cities, and the reason cities keep on growing, is their ability to create massive economies of scale, just as big animals do. After analyzing the first sets of city data — the physicists began with infrastructure and consumption statistics — they concluded that cities looked a lot like elephants. In city after city, the indicators of urban “metabolism,” like the number of gas stations or the total surface area of roads, showed that when a city doubles in size, it requires an increase in resources of only 85 percent.

We get more bang for the buck the larger a city is.
Choke points: malls, grocery stores, gas stations, bus stops, entrances to fairs, Colosseums, etc.

This straightforward observation has some surprising implications. It suggests, for instance, that modern cities are the real centers of sustainability. According to the data, people who live in densely populated places require less heat in the winter and need fewer miles of asphalt per capita.

Small communities might look green, but they consume a disproportionate amount of everything. As a result, West argues, creating a more sustainable society will require our big cities to get even bigger. We need more megalopolises.

“In retrospect, I was quite stupid,” West says. He was so excited by the parallels between cities and living things that he “didn’t pay enough attention to the ways in which urban areas and organisms are completely different.”

What Bettencourt and West failed to appreciate, at least at first, was that the value of modern cities has little to do with energy efficiency. (...) In essence, they arrive at the sensible conclusion that cities are valuable because they facilitate human interactions, as people crammed into a few square miles exchange ideas and start collaborations

What follows is really important! It basically says that where someone lives will effect their interaction and communication – in our case, secondary message spread

Cities are all about the people, not the infrastructure.”

It’s when West switches the conversation from infrastructure to people that he brings up the work of Jane Jacobs, the urban activist and author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” Jacobs was a fierce advocate for the preservation of small-scale neighborhoods, like Greenwich Village and the North End in Boston. The value of such urban areas, she said, is that they facilitate the free flow of information between city dwellers. To illustrate her point, Jacobs described her local stretch of Hudson Street in the Village. She compared the crowded sidewalk to a spontaneous “ballet,” filled with people from different walks of life. School kids on the stoops, gossiping homemakers, “business lunchers” on their way back to the office. While urban planners had long derided such neighborhoods for their inefficiencies (...) Jacobs insisted that these casual exchanges were essential. She saw the city not as a mass of buildings but rather as a vessel of empty spaces, in which people interacted with other people. The city wasn’t a skyline — it was a dance.

This ^^^^^^ is the kind of place we want to knock on some doors! But the right doors, and not too many of them. They probably know and talk to a lot of their neighbors. Their stoop is their back yard, so they get to know people around them. Who is the “right” person? Look for a bumper sticker that might indicate they are receptive, look in votervault, donation lists, mailing lists. Land someone that likes our message, leave them a yard sign for their window and a limited amount of literature. If we can find someone like that, then knocking on every door is a waste of time and literature – they will do the message spread for you! Row houses, and apartment complexes fall into this category. Houses in a dead end traffic circle, the same way. They most likely know everyone else on their street. They will also drag the conversation into work, giving random coverage in the heart of the city with co-workers. If you can figure our who the neighborhood gadfly is, look that person up – and there is always one.

European style apartments are also ideal. These share a common kitchen and bathroom.

whenever a city doubles in size, every measure of economic activity, from construction spending to the amount of bank deposits, increases by approximately 15 percent per capita. It doesn’t matter how big the city is; the law remains the same. (...) you can take the same person, and if you just move them to a city that’s twice as big, then all of a sudden they’ll do 15 percent more of everything that we can measure.” (...) “What the data clearly shows, and what she was clever enough to anticipate, is that when people come together, they become much more productive.”

West illustrates the same concept by describing the Santa Fe Institute, an interdisciplinary research organization, where he and Bettencourt work. The institute itself is a sprawl of common areas, old couches and tiny offices; the coffee room is always the most crowded place. “S.F.I. is all about the chance encounters,” West says. “There are few planned meetings, just lots of unplanned conversations. It’s like a little city that way.” (...) Of course, these interpersonal collisions — the human friction of a crowded space — can also feel unpleasant. We don’t always want to talk with strangers on the subway or jostle with people on the sidewalk. West admits that all successful cities are a little uncomfortable. He describes the purpose of urban planning as finding a way to minimize our distress while maximizing our interactions. The residents of Hudson Street, after all, didn’t seem to mind mingling with one another on the sidewalk. As Jacobs pointed out, the layout of her Manhattan neighborhood — the short blocks, the mixed-use zoning, the density of brownstones — made it easier to cope with the strain of the metropolis. It’s fitting that it’s called the Village.

SFI puts out awesome books!, the design of their office space is also used by inovative companies like Google and Facebook. We would do well to mimic that, even if only virtually in our organizing activities.

About the unpleasant aspects – traditional apartment buildings are horrible. Occupants most likely only know a few of their neighbors and lacking a community center, probably don't interact with that many. They are isolated, standoffish and and distant outside of their own interests, work and clicks.

In recent decades, though, many of the fastest-growing cities in America, like Phoenix and Riverside, Calif., have given us a very different urban model. These places have traded away public spaces for affordable single-family homes, attracting working-class families (...) cheap suburban comforts are associated with poor performance on a variety of urban metrics. Phoenix, for instance, has been characterized by below-average levels of income and innovation (as measured by the production of patents) for the last 40 years. “When you look at some of these fast-growing cities, they look like tumors on the landscape,”

Much like inner-city apartments. People generally don't know that many of their neighbors.

When Bettencourt and West analyzed the negative variables of urban life, like crime and disease, they discovered that the exact same mathematical equation applied. (...) “When you double the population, everything that’s related to the social network goes up by the same percentage.” (...) “When we started living in cities, we did something that had never happened before in the history of life,” West says. “We broke away from the equations of biology, all of which are sublinear. Every other creature gets slower as it gets bigger.

Facebook is a city on steroids!

Instead, the urban equations predict a world of ever-increasing resource consumption, as the expansion of cities fuels the expansion of economies.

“ resource consumption” think precious, expendable supplies.

The historian Lewis Mumford described the rise of the megalopolis as “the last stage in the classical cycle of civilization,” which would end with “complete disruption and downfall.” In his more pessimistic moods, West seems to agree: he knows that nothing can trend upward forever. In fact, West sees human history as defined by this constant tension between expansion and scarcity, between the relentless growth made possible by cities and the limited resources that hold our growth back. “The only thing that stops the superlinear equations is when we run out of something we need,” West says. “And so the growth slows down. If nothing else changes, the system will eventually start to collapse.”

How do we avoid this bleak fate? Constant innovation. After a resource is exhausted, we are forced to exploit a new resource, if only to sustain our superlinear growth. (…) But the escape is only temporary, as every innovation eventually leads to new shortages. We clear-cut forests, and so we turn to oil; once we exhaust our fossil-fuel reserves, we’ll start driving electric cars, at least until we run out of lithium.

Innovation is what really drove the grassroots last time. What made the campaign interesting.

There is a serious complication to this triumphant narrative of cliff edges and creativity, however. Because our lifestyle has become so expensive to maintain, every new resource now becomes exhausted at a faster rate. This means that the cycle of innovations has to constantly accelerate, with each breakthrough providing a shorter reprieve. The end result is that cities aren’t just increasing the pace of life; they are also increasing the pace at which life changes. “It’s like being on a treadmill that keeps on getting faster,” West says. “We used to get a big revolution every few thousand years. And then it took us a century to go from the steam engine to the internal-*combustion engine. Now we’re down to about 15 years between big innovations. What this means is that, for the first time ever, people are living through multiple revolutions. And this all comes from cities. Once we started to urbanize, we put ourselves on this treadmill. We traded away stability for growth. And growth requires change.”

This very much applies to the Internet and technologies we use. We are in a period of hyper change and keeping up is a problem. There is, for instance a shortage of programmers in the movement, especially flash programmers. Just keeping up with these shortages will be a challenge.

began exploring yet another subject: the corporation. At first glance, cities and companies look very similar. They’re both large agglomerations of people, interacting in a well-defined physical space. They contain infrastructure and human capital; the mayor is like a C.E.O.
But it turns out that cities and companies differ in a very fundamental regard: cities almost never die, while companies are extremely ephemeral. As West notes, Hurricane Katrina couldn’t wipe out New Orleans, and a nuclear bomb did not erase Hiroshima from the map. In contrast, where are Pan Am and Enron today? The modern corporation has an average life span of 40 to 50 years.
This raises the obvious question: Why are corporations so fleeting? After buying data on more than 23,000 publicly traded companies, Bettencourt and West discovered that corporate productivity, unlike urban productivity, was entirely sublinear. As the number of employees grows, the amount of profit per employee shrinks. West gets giddy when he shows me the linear regression charts. “Look at this bloody plot,” he says. “It’s ridiculous how well the points line up.” The graph reflects the bleak reality of corporate growth, in which efficiencies of scale are almost always outweighed by the burdens of bureaucracy. “When a company starts out, it’s all about the new idea,” West says. “And then, if the company gets lucky, the idea takes off. Everybody is happy and rich. But then management starts worrying about the bottom line, and so all these people are hired to keep track of the paper clips. This is the beginning of the end.”
The danger, West says, is that the inevitable decline in profit per employee makes large companies increasingly vulnerable to market volatility. Since the company now has to support an expensive staff — overhead costs increase with size — even a minor disturbance can lead to significant losses. As West puts it, “Companies are killed by their need to keep on getting bigger.”
For West, the impermanence of the corporation illuminates the real strength of the metropolis. Unlike companies, which are managed in a top-down fashion by a team of highly paid executives, cities are unruly places, largely immune to the desires of politicians and planners. “Think about how powerless a mayor is,” West says. “They can’t tell people where to live or what to do or who to talk to. Cities can’t be managed, and that’s what keeps them so vibrant. They’re just these insane masses of people, bumping into each other and maybe sharing an idea or two. It’s the freedom of the city that keeps it alive.”

Think about our and the Tea Party's distributed, bottom up structure.

Think about the US Government and even C4L.

There are good lessons here!

-t

tangent4ronpaul
12-21-2010, 09:01 PM
anybody, anybody?

Icymudpuppy
12-21-2010, 11:02 PM
I see cities as more like cancerous tumors. They will kill their host, the agricultural resource areas eventually, and with no more food/blood supply, the cancer too will die.

talkingpointes
12-21-2010, 11:08 PM
Joe Rogan has theorized this albeit in a less systematic way, and discussed it on radio show a few years back when talking about his experiences with DMT. There is a tube out there ...

Ekrub
12-22-2010, 09:34 AM
Joe Rogan has theorized this albeit in a less systematic way, and discussed it on radio show a few years back when talking about his experiences with DMT. There is a tube out there ...

Really funny interview, made me want to try DMT.

driller80545
12-22-2010, 09:53 AM
I heard a medicine man describe cities as giant puss sores one time. I didn't argue.

tangent4ronpaul
12-22-2010, 02:25 PM
OK, interesting, but how can we work in cities to win elections?

-t

sailingaway
12-22-2010, 02:31 PM
Sorry, but this is all I have to offer on the topic...