NYC and Coral Reefs

There’s a lot going on in NYC, never a shortage of something to do, listen to, see or eat. Here’s a clever explanation for NYC. I’ve been reading Steven Johnson’s book      “Where Good Ideas Come From.” He thinks that proportionally, many more good ideas originate in big cities like NYC than come out of smaller ones. “As cities get bigger they generate ideas at a faster clip.”

The book begins with insights from natural systems. For example, even though only .001% of the earth’s surface is covered by coral reef,  about 25% of known sea life lives on or around coral reefs. They’re concentrated, fertile areas.

Next the book points out how, usually, animal life spans increase and metabolism slows as species get bigger. A thousandfold  size increase, say from a hamster to a horse, results in a heart rate 5.5 times slower and a 5.5 times longer life for the horse. It seems most animals get about the same number of heart beats in a lifetime and the bigger an animal is, the longer it takes to use up its allocated beats. As animals become larger they become more efficient at distributing resources.

“If an elephant is just a scaled up mouse, then, from an energy perspective, a city is just a scaled up elephant… Did the “metabolism” of urban life slowdown as cities grew in size?” Looking at ideas and innovation as nutrients and metabolism, research shows a city that’s ten times larger than a town is seventeen times more innovative; and, “A metropolis fifty times bigger than a town is 130 times as innovative.” On average, a citizen of a city with  5 million people is three times more creative than his counterpart in a town of 100 thousand.

Standing back and observing fertile environments shows that “openness and connectivity may, in the end be more valuable than purely competitive mechanisms… we’re often served better by connecting ideas than protecting them.” Because good ideas “want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.” What better place to have ideas bump into each other than in a big city.

Innovation flourishes in cities. The book is about the series of shared properties and patterns showing up in very fertile places like coral reefs and NYC.