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Articles by Michael Anft

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Photo: Steve JurvetsonThis story is excerpted form a longer piece in Urbanite.

Imagine if someone concocted a method for turning cities inside out, so we could view their inner workings — their strengths and shortcomings, how they grow and thrive and die — at an almost cellular level. By analyzing a vast sweep of data, everything from how much money the city’s residents make to the numbers of miles in its sewer lines, this system could tell us just how successful a city has been, where it falls flat, and how it stacks up to other cities of its size. Would we, armed with this killer urban-wonk app, be able to pull off a feat that has eluded generations of urban planners, politicians, and sundry city boosters: turn a troubled municipality back from the brink?

Geoffrey West, a theoretical physicist who has taken to studying, in exquisitely rich detail, how metro areas work, thinks so. Along with a team of researchers at the Santa Fe Institute, where he serves as “distinguished professor,” West has quantified what we’ve long suspected about cities: Buzzing beehives of human activity churn up a honey of creativity and wealth. The bigg... Read more