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Randomness, cities, and urban order

  • Biology


b3801ed 2..4 Randomness, cities, and urban order To those who have not thought much about it, the idea that cities and societies might be random in some way is almost an anathema. Yet not quite. In financial markets we have grown accustomed to thinking of the prices of stocks and shares as being random from day to day, notwithstanding long cycles and short collapses, but even here there is continued debate. Taleb's (2004) book Fooled by Randomness says it all. When it comes to cities, there is a sense that the same degree of order perceived in physical and some biological systems does not exist, while some consider cities to be quite disordered. Witness the many quotes particularly from the late 19th century when the industrial city was in the ascendancy, such as William Morris's (1890) railing against London in his many references to the `` miseries of the Great Wen'', and `` the wretched suburbs''. This notion of cities lying somewhere between highly ordered and highly disordered states lets in the notion of randomness without actually defining a city as being random in any sense. Moreover, the distinction between order and chaos which is somewhat different in tone from the order ^ disorder spectrum also relates to randomness. The concepts are clearly confusing and this editorial is an early attempt at clarification. The easiest way to ground the idea of randomness is in terms of order and chaos. The archetypal example of a chaotic system is a gas whose particles move randomly, thus exhibiting no spatial or temporal structure. This is the situation that is often regarded as the ultimate expression of disorder in that it is the state where all energy in a system is useless energy , the state of maximum entropy where all usable energy has dissipated and the only way to inject more order into the system is to import energy from the outside. In this context, order occurs in such systems when there is usable energy to maintain that order. To continue to exist, we need heat and food which are con

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