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Urban scaling - effect in ancient cities = modern cities

  1. Feb 21, 2015 #1

    jim mcnamara

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    Settlement scaling and increasing returns in an ancient society
    Scott G. Ortman, Andrew H. F. Cabaniss, Jennie O. Sturm, Luís M. A. Bettencourt
    Science Advances 01 Feb 2015:
    Vol. 1 no. 1 e1400066
    DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1400066

    The basic concept here is that the same rules for humans developing cities have not changed. This is because what cities provide requires changes in living styles, specialization in trades, and proximity to other people to provide these benefits.

    The sciencemag.org article is a good read but I also included the primary resource.

    For example:
    They compared data from ancient Mexican cites against modern counterparts. As a city's population doubles it expands to cover an additional 83% more space. True past and present. Demographics (status and wealth or resource control) reflected by size of domicile reflect the same underlying data in both modern and ancient cities.
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  3. Feb 22, 2015 #2


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    Fingers crossed this stands up to professional scrutiny --- I've been hunting, digging, reading tripe, wading through nonsense for about twenty years looking for this.
  4. Feb 24, 2015 #3


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    AFAIK, there has never existed such a thing as a great suburban civilization.
  5. Mar 16, 2015 #4
  6. May 19, 2015 #5
  7. May 19, 2015 #6


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    But from what I have read in your link, this is a city that contains suburbs, not "pure sprawl", and there is a city center. I was referring to coreless
    cities, where "there is no there there"., like maybe Los Angeles today.
  8. May 19, 2015 #7
    Well, LA has a downtown and always had one. It's true that with annexations, downtown LA was for a time massively dwarfed by its suburbs, but today I think most people would say there is a there there. Mayan "downtowns" were mostly ceremonial centers where human sacrifices were performed. I'm not sure anyone actually lived there except perhaps the priests who took their fellow Mayans' hearts away. Of course, by definition suburbs need "urbs". But I'm not sure the Mayan downtown was the kind of downtown that Petula Clark was referring to in her 1960's song.
  9. May 19, 2015 #8


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    Still, I don't mean to be argumentative, but, isn't this more an exception than anything else? Have there been, say, 20 notable civilizations without major core centers for their populations? Even the root of the terms "civilization", "civilized" come from the term city, tho that is not really a strong argument. I just believe that a living arrangement with a baseline density is much more conducive to the flow of ideas and meeting of people than sparsely-populated settings. And even today with the web, this is still the case. A nice book on this and related is Kaplan's "The Revenge of Geography" , a counter to Friedman's " The World is Flat" .
  10. May 19, 2015 #9
    Yes, but your claim was that a "suburban" civilization never existed. True, nearly all ancient cities were densely populated hives of activity surrounded by walls. Based on this article and other descriptions I've read, the ceremonial centers of Mayan cities were not densely populated "hives of activity" or surrounded by walls. The population lived in simple dwellings made of material from the rain forest on lots that were large enough to keep some animals and have a garden. They were scattered over a fairly large area relative to the center. If any civilization could be called a "suburban" civilization, it would be the Maya. Whether it was a "great" civilization is a matter of opinion. They had monumental stone architecture, a sophisticated writing system, a superb calendar that reflected considerable intellectual development, and a well developed social structure.
  11. May 20, 2015 #10


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    I stand corrected, and I change my claim to saying it is much more likely for an urban culture than a suburban one.
  12. May 20, 2015 #11
    People who study cities don't seem to distinguish much between urban and suburban. It's all a matter of population density. The typical ancient cities that developed in the Old World outside the deep topics were walled. This forced a certain level of density which most might agree would be an urban environment. There might be a temple complex or a palace complex within the city, but the complex was not the city. The ancient city included the area where people lived, worked, shopped and socialized within a confined space. Unwalled ancient cities seem to have been more likely in the in deep tropics like the Maya cities and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Here temple compexes were surrounded by populations that were much more spread out. They're still called cities, but clearly they have a suburban character. This article discusses how sprawl might have doomed Angkor Wat.

    Last edited: May 20, 2015
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