Cities and Civilization, and other classic reviews


This year is the 50th Anniversary of Regional Studies, the journal. Peter Hall was the first editor and my early years as a lecturer coincided with his stewardship of the journal and his role as Head of Department of Geography in the University of Reading where we were given an insight into how you start a journal, review the papers submitted and immerse yourself in the insights that this new field and journal generated back then. I cannot take you back to those heady times but to get some sense of the excitement of those years, Ugo Fratesi has selected a set of books which he and the reviewers he has chosen consider as classic books in Regional Studies. He explains why in his editorial which you can download here. where he introduces the 50th Anniversary Book Review Collection. I have a short review there on Peter Hall’s classic Cities in Civilisation and I have reproduced the piece here that you can download.

About the collections of reviews, I can do not better than quote from Ugo’s editorial:

“Selecting classic books is not an easy task. Furthermore, Regional Studies is an interdisciplinary journal that covers theoretical, empirical and policy research in the field of regional studies. As such, it brings together articles from economics, geography, planning and political science, whose scope is regional and local. One selection process would be a systematic survey among scholars, but this would produce an index of popularity more than of the real innovative nature of the book. The pattern followed here has been less systematic and more customized. The author of this editorial started with a list of 60 possible influential books, basically selected from among those which he feels the need to have on his own shelves.

The list only included books that were either at least 30 years old or, if more recent, written by authors no longer alive. These parameters were motivated by the fact that, in assessing the long-run impact of books, some separation in time is necessary. The list and the personal preferences of the Book Reviews Editor were discussed at an editors’ meeting, after which the list was shortened to 15 books, selected to represent the various topics that stratify in a multidisciplinary journal such as Regional Studies. The final cut was determined by need and opportunity; established and important scholars within their field were required to write these essays, so the reviews published will be of those books for which it was possible to find a suitable reviewer who agreed to write the essay within the short-time frame provided.

The list of those who accepted this proposal includes a number of well-known scholars who will review some of the most important classics in various disciplines related to regional studies. The final list includes Michael Batty on Peter Hall’s Cities in Civilization (1998), Henry Yeung on Albert O. Hirschman’s The Strategy of Economic Development (1958), Gilles Duranton on Jane Jacobs’s The Economy of Cities (1969) and The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Steven Brakman and Harry Garretsen on Nicholas Kaldor’s Economics without Equilibrium (1985), Peter Sunley on Marshall’s Principles of Economics (1890), Mick Dunford on Doreen Massey’s Spatial Divisions of Labour (1995), Eric Sheppard on Gunnar Myrdal’s Economic Theory and Underdeveloped Regions (1957), Philip McCann on Harry W. Richardson’s Regional Growth Theory (1973), and Michael Fritsch on Joseph A. Schumpeter’s The Theory of Economic Development (1943). “

You can read my essay on Cities and Civilization here and get access to the entire collection by clicking on this link.

City Analytics


City Analytics: An invited special collection of articles for Royal Society Open Science entitled ‘City Analytics’ compiled and edited by Desmond J. Higham, Michael Batty, Luís M. A. Bettencourt, Danica Vukadinovic Greetham and Peter Grindrod. Click here or on the image above for the papers.

The growing human urban population presents unique opportunities and challenges for a range of stakeholders. As is presented in this special collection, using a range of mathematical, computational and statistical tools, it is possible to extract and analyse data on urban environments from myriad sources of information.

In the City Analytics special collection, interdisciplinary work exploring, for instance, social media usage patterns, transport networks and urban resilience to natural disasters, such as flooding, provide researchers and policymakers with detailed insights. Click here for the editorial and the papers and for the contents which are open access.

The Prevalence, Scaling and Variance of Urban Phenomena



This coming month (January 2017) sees the launch of another of Nature’s flagship journals Nature Human Behaviour. In it, Andres Gomez-Lievano, Oscar Patterson-Lomba, and Ricardo Hausmann explore an integrated model which explains the prevalence, scaling and variance of urban phenomena in which they suggest a new theory of city size that embodies ideas from economic complexity and cultural evolution. This provides a rich basis for speculating on the economic structure of cities suggesting hints as to how old cities might regenerate their past prosperity and new ones generate more success. They do not dwell on applications for they are most careful to ground their argument in caveats – largely due to the fact that they make many plausible but non-testable assumptions to generate their model. In fact, this is little different from most work in the urban systems (and indeed in economic science) where bold assumptions are always necessary to cut through the richness and noise that plagues our understanding and descriptions of human behaviour.

I have written and News and Views comment on this and you can find it here. In fact, the article that this is a response too, is also available for gratis – Nature’s first issue is essentially downloadable for free –  you can get their article by clicking here. What they essentially do in the paper is demonstrate how scaling arises due to the economic complexity of any city. They ground their work in the key result that as cities get bigger, they get more than proportionately more wealthy, implying a scaling law that is consistent with old ideas about urban agglomeration but which was demonstrated nearly 10 years ago for US cities by Bettencourt; but a law with much more ambiguity when it comes to measuring the wealth of older and more polycentric city systems such as those in the UK. To this end, and I quote from my review: “ … they introduce a simple but enticing model which extends these scaling laws to embrace the prevalence of how different activities scale with city size. First, activities will become less prevalent across all cities as they get bigger. Second, they will become relatively more concentrated in bigger cities, on the average. And third, the deviations from this average will widen. Their theory and the model that comes from this suggests that as an activity requires more and more inputs of both a general and specialized nature, it will become less prevalent as a city gets bigger. But as cities get bigger, only then can they access more inputs; so the theory predicts that the prevalence of more complex and specialized activities will also become more concentrated. To an extent, this increase in the numbers of factors or inputs with city size is consistent with their related ideas on economic complexity. A consequence of the way they structure the model is that the variation in the degree of prevalence for a city will increase as the activities get more complex while the total prevalence of the activity gets less.”

There is a lot more than they say in their article and you should read it as it takes a different view of economic systems, technological progress and cultural affinities than anything that has come before. But it is consistent with a good deal of more general thinking about the nature of cities such as that contained in the writings of Jane Jacobs for example. Exciting times for cities and city planners.