Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

The complexity bias (8) – Urbanization (2)

Each summer, there is one particular day on which hundreds of ants leave their nest near my house. Birds try to eat these flying ants but their swarm formation increases the likelihood of their survival, similar to birds and fish. These ants will start a new colony, probably within the vicinity of their existing one (ESA Journal-1996).

Their reason for flying out is the maximum population size of ant colonies. ABC Science-2012: “Colonies of ants can only get so big before the cost of transporting resources gets too high, say researchers, adding this could help understand the growth of cities.” Human children also “fly out” but individually rather than collectively. Their reason for flying out (eg, study, work) will determine the distance to their parents.

Guardian-2010: “The world’s mega-cities are merging to form vast “mega-regions” which may stretch hundreds of kilometres across countries and be home to more than 100 million people, according to a major new UN report. The phenomenon of the so-called “endless city” could be one of the most significant developments – and problems – in the way people live and economies grow in the next 50 years, says UN-Habitat []”.

Unlike ant colonies, there seems to be no limit to the size of human urbanization. Perhaps because “the cost of transporting resources” never gets too high. Moreover, part 5 of my blog on the complexity bias indicates that there is a positive correlation between intelligence and urbanization. 

There is, however, a negative link between urbanization and human mental health: “Urbanization affects mental health through the influence of increased stressors and factors such as overcrowded and polluted environment, high levels of violence, and reduced social support.” (NCBI-2009). Also see: my 2016 blog, my 2017 blog, NCBI-2008, PT-2016.

Clearly, the correlation between urbanization and more intelligence, better health and better/more food is more like a Gaussian function and curve: first up then down.

Hence, the “liveability” of cities has increasingly become a topic because of climate, crime, culture, pollution, and – more recently – also tourism. For many years, the Economist publishes its annual global liveability ranking (eg, 2017 report, Wiki).

The ant studies may “help understand limits to the growth of a city” (ABC Science-2012) but they also support my thesis that complexity is the direction and simplicity is its means.

Big City (1978) by Tol Hansse

artist, lyrics, video, Wiki (NL), Wiki (UK)

Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise


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