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5 Key Themes Emerging From the 'New Science of Cities'

In the most innovative incubators of urban research, the lessons of Jane Jacobs are more vital than ever.
Jane Jacobs saw making robust cities as a complex problem of interacting factors “interrelated into an organic whole." The future of cities rests on returning to her ideas.
Jane Jacobs saw making robust cities as a complex problem of interacting factors “interrelated into an organic whole." The future of cities rests on returning to her ideas.Mark Byrnes

In the past few years, a remarkable body of scientific research has begun to shed new light on the dynamic behavior of cities, carrying important implications for city-makers. Researchers at cutting-edge hubs of urban theory like the University College London and the Santa Fe Institute have been homing in on some key properties of urban systems—and contradicting much of today's orthodoxy. Their findings have begun to feed into recent and upcoming gatherings on the future of cities—including lead-in events for the U.N.'s big 2016 Habitat III conference on sustainable development—and arming leaders in the field with new ammunition in the global battle against sprawl.

In one sense, these lessons are not so new. Legendary urbanist Jane Jacobs was famous for her prescient insights about the emerging sciences of “organized complexity” and what they offered for a more effective approach to urban planning—insights she published all the way back in 1961.  (In fact, physicist Geoffrey West of the Santa Fe Institute likes to say they are just doing “Jacobs with the math.”)