See Inside September 2011

Bigger Cities Do More with Less

New science reveals why cities become more productive and efficient as they grow

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For centuries, people have painted cities as unnatural human conglomerations, blighted by pathologies such as public health crises, aggression and exorbitant costs of living. Why, then, do people throughout the world keep leaving the countryside for the town? Recent research that is forming a multidisciplinary science of cities is beginning to reveal the answer: cities concentrate, accelerate, and diversify social and economic activity.

The numbers show that urban dwellers produce more inventions and create more opportunities for economic growth. Often large cities are also the greenest places on the planet because people living in denser habitats typically have smaller energy footprints, require less infrastructure and consume less of the world’s resources per capita. Compared with suburban or rural areas, cities do more with less. And the bigger cities get, the more productive and efficient they tend to become.

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