Comment 53362

By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted December 20, 2010 at 22:46:44

Really facinating article, probably needs its own topic, if not university course.

On one hand one must be careful of this kind of mathematical reductionism, because physics is really the only place laws this absolute apply and even in physics they don't really. Those "special cases" always go on to a whole set of new laws we had barely been able to imagine before. Newtonian physics are very good at describing what we can see and experience, but learning about the "bigger issues" (what are matter, energy and space, anyway?) always involves that small minority of cases - speeds we can't achieve (relativity), scales so small we can't see (quantum mechanics), and energy levels we could never before have dreamed of (supercolliders). Laws and statistics only show a glimpse - and while this doesn't mean that they're useless, it doesn't show that they're infallible either. Then again, a digital photograph is also "just a collection of data" - so take either with a grain of salt.

This being said, there are too many cases where such numbers "line up" even if taken from very different data, to write these analyses off. In terms of settlement size, this kind of math is already very prevalent. An urban geographer would talk about things like the size of cities in most countries/regions, the xth largest city will be roughly 1/xth of the size of the largest. An anthropologist might talk about different kinds of societies, and how the number of such levels often relate fairly well to how governance in such societies - tribes, chiefdoms and states etc. And all of these observations would come with huge caveats.

In terms of West's analysis, we always have to be careful how we define resources used in an urban and rural context. Cities require heavy importation of resources to be possible at all, and larger cities tend to import more (at a rate I'm sure West could find an equation for). This goes a long way toward explaining why measures like trade-based economic indicators and local rates of emmissions tend to show benefits for larger cities.

To relate it to this topic, the trend I would refer to is the way very rich areas tend correlate very closely - Canada's richest (West Van) and poorest (The Lower East Side) neighbourhoods almost face each other, each being a short trip from each side of the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver. Much like how Hamilton and Oakville face each other across the Skyway, or even Durand and Beasley. The lesson here being that concentrating either any income group is likely to relate strongly to other concentrating income groups nearby, and that either policies of integration or exclusion tend to be fairly self-reinforcing. This is where ideas like LRT come in, which provide a host of benefits for many different groups, as well as driving a larger regional integration in a very efficient way.

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