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Luis BARRUETO is a journalist from Guatemala, currently working in trade policy at the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration (SIECA). Studied business and finance journalism at Aarhus University in Denmark and City University London.
Cities don't grow in a linear fashion. They are, as physicist Geoffrey West writes in Nautilus, "complex adaptive systems and, as such, are significantly more than just the simple linear sum of their individual components and constituents, whether buildings, roads, people, or money". But our current metrics to assess a city's resilience don't always allow us to appreciate the emergent quality of those things that make a city great: How do we know New York city is only an "average" city?
Think like an ecologist
Rather than focus on the standard metrics — per capita increases in productivity, wages, GDP, or patent production as proxy of innovation, for example — we might be better off to think of cities as ecosystems.
We could ask how many different types of businesses there are in a city, for example. Or examine the specific component types of establishments there exist: "How many lawyers, doctors, restaurants, or contractors are there in each city, and how many of these are corporate lawyers, orthopedic surgeons, Indonesian restaurants, or plumbing contractors?", West explains. Telling the story of how this wildlife came into being is tantamount to the unique fingerprint and history of a city.
Emergence and urbanismThe article is one of many interesting pieces in Nautilus Magazine's new issue on Emergence, the idea that at each new level of complexity in nature and society, there is a completely new set of properties and behaviors that appear. And as with urbanism, it goes on to show why we need to work on new tools to understand emergence in science, health, and other areas of life. It's well worth your time.