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Transportist: The City Atomic
We have long used the Gravity Model to understand spatial interaction. But that was developed before the understanding of modern physics. Gravity doesn’t really work the same at small levels. So we can steal other ideas from Physics, maybe they will bring insights (or maybe this is just folly). Let’s examine urban structure through the lens of the basic atomic model.
A City as an Atom
A city, much like an atom, can be understood as a system of multiple interconnected components, each functioning to maintain the overall stability and dynamism of the whole. In this analogy, a city represents an atom, and its internal constituents mimic subatomic particles.
Central Business District (CBD) as the Nucleus
At the heart of an atom lies the nucleus, a dense core with protons and neutrons. In the context of a city, Central Business Districts (CBDs) perform a similar role. It is the epicenter of economic activity, a vibrant and bustling hub where businesses, finance, retail, and services converge. Just as the nucleus determines the identity of an atom, the primary (and usually historically first) CBD shapes the city's economic, cultural, and social identity.
Residents as Electrons
Electrons orbit the nucleus in atomic structure, just as residents go about their lives around the city center, the CBD. These residents, or 'electrons', bring energy and life to the city. Their movement around the CBD mirrors the orbital paths of electrons around the nucleus, defining the structure and function of the 'urban atom'. Both electrons and residents are positively attracted to the nucleus and negatively attracted to each other. Residents prefer space (are repelled by density), but for the benefits of density.
Jobs as Protons
The city's jobs represent the protons within this urban atom. Protons give the atom its positive charge and balance the negative charge of the electrons. Similarly, jobs offer balance in a city, counteracting the residents' need for employment and livelihood. Protons determine an atom's identity, just as the nature and number of jobs largely shape a city's character and economic status.
Infrastructure, Amenities, and Third Spaces as Neutrons1
Neutrons in an atom have no charge and act as a buffer, providing stability by preventing the repulsion of like-charged protons. In our urban analogy, the 'neutrons' of a city can be understood as the infrastructure and amenities - the roads, parks, schools, hospitals, cafes, and utilities - that complement the economic activity and residential life, enhancing the overall urban experience. Just as neutrons contribute to the stability of an atom, these components contribute to the smooth functioning and stability of a city.
Economies of Agglomeration as the Strong Force
The strong force in atomic physics is a powerful interaction that holds the nucleus - the protons and neutrons - together. In our urban-atomic analogy, this force is represented by the economies of agglomeration. Agglomeration economies are the benefits that companies gain by being located near each other. This closeness facilitates information spillover, fostering innovation and growth, while reducing costs associated with transportation and logistics. This 'strong force' is what binds businesses together in the CBD and other activity centres, maintaining the structural integrity of the city.
Public Policies as the Weak Force2
The weak nuclear force in atomic physics is responsible for radioactive decay, changing the very identity of an atom. This transformative power can be likened to the role of public policies in a city. Municipal policies guide the transformation of urban spaces, affecting the identity of the city. Just as the weak force can change one type of particle into another, public policies can stimulate the transition of a city's character, encouraging growth, sustainability, innovation, and social equality.
Social Interactions as Electromagnetic Force
The electromagnetic force binds electrons to the atomic nucleus, creating atoms, and subsequently, everything in our world. In our urban analogy, the electromagnetic force is akin to the social interactions within a city. The bonds between individuals, communities, and cultures create the diverse social fabric of a city, just as electromagnetic forces hold atoms together to create matter. This interplay of attractions and repulsions among the city's residents defines the dynamics of urban life, contributing to the city's unique identity.
Gravitational Force as City's Global Influence
Lastly, the gravitational force, though the weakest at the atomic level, dominates on the larger scale of planets, stars, and galaxies. This can be compared to a city's influence on a global scale. Cities often exert a 'gravitational pull', attracting people, businesses, and resources from all over the world. Cities like New York, London, or Tokyo, have a significant impact on global economics, politics, and culture, akin to a gravitational force on the macro scale.
I dunno. Metaphors are good if they give us insights. I don’t really have the insights into cities from this. If you do get insights, share them in the chat.
Written with some input from ChatGPT4
Or maybe Neutrons are just parking spaces.
This is admittedly a bit of a stretch.