The Urban Village

Metropolises like London and New York, with their multicultural populations, multinational corporations, and multitude of talented individuals, are appealing largely because of their complex, bustling nature. But is urban life actually governed by a few fundamental laws?

CAMBRIDGE – “I want to be a part of it – New York, New York,” Frank Sinatra sang of the city that has attracted so many of the world’s most ambitious people, from artists and performers to businesspeople and bankers. In a sense, this is not a difficult phenomenon to explain; metropolises like New York City, with their multicultural populations, multinational corporations, and multitude of talented individuals, are rife with opportunities. But the impact of large cities runs deeper than economic or even cultural power; cities can fundamentally change people’s lives – and even the people themselves.

In 2010, Geoffrey West, together with a team of researchers, discovered that several socioeconomic measures – both positive and negative – increase with the size of the local population. In other words, the larger the city, the higher the average wage, productivity level, number of patents per person, crime rate, prevalence of anxiety, and incidence of HIV.

In fact, when a city doubles in size, every measure of economic activity increases by about 15% per capita. That is why people move to the big city; indeed, it is why cities thrive.

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