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Transportation

Ants Are Incredibly Cost-Efficient Urban Planners

Their minimalist transport networks could teach ours a thing or two.
Australian meat ants feast on a tree.
Australian meat ants feast on a tree.Ellen van Wilgenburg

Whether you’ve beaten SimCity or merely earned an urban planning doctorate, connecting a metro area with its primary resources requires some tough decisions. At the heart of the challenge is how to balance cost, efficiency, and resilience.

Take a new remote suburban development. If you have all the highway money in the world, you might connect it directly to all the metro area’s existing services and major centers, and build extra wide roads in case the initial lanes fill up with traffic or need a repair. That’s a very efficient and robust network, but it’s not a very cost-effective one. And if your money runs out someday—say, because the gas tax hasn’t been raised in decades—you might find that system too expensive to maintain, let alone to expand.