The Science of Why Some Cities Succeed

It seems Jane Jacobs had it right way back in 1960. What makes a city successful? What makes a city a center of innovation, economic wealth, productivity, and culture? This article “5 Key Themes Emerging from the “New Science of Cities”, by Michael Mehaffy and City Lab identifies why some cities out-perform others.  Read the article, but here is a brief, synopsis.

1.)  Cities that provide casual, social interactions between people are more successful. 

2.) Cities with higher density and good transportation options are economically and environmentally more sustainable and “green”.

3.) Human scale connectivity in the public realm is extremely important. “… to the extent that the city’s urban fabric is fragmented, car-dependent or otherwise restrictive of casual encounters and spillovers, that city will under-perform—or require an unsustainable injection of resources to compensate.”

4.) Cities are People, and those that adapt to/with human psychology are the most successful. 

5.) Cities are a form of Organized Complexity, and cannot be thought of as planned, stagnant, “works of art”. They need to be organic in their growth.

As GSSD has said before, every planner, architect engineer, designer, and politician involved in the building of city needs to make it their number one priority to maximize casual, incidental social interaction between people. Doing this requires Land Use policies that focuses on good density, Transportation Policies that prioritize getting people out of cars, Urban Design policies that create a human-scaled, vibrant public realm, and Economic Policies that focus on people, instead of large corporations.

Quite frankly, San Diego is under-performing to the extent it fails to do these things.

Walter Chambers

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