Professor Geoffrey West at NewCities Summit

This post is part of our Re-imagining Cities discussion series, following the third edition of the NewCities Summit in Dallas in June 2014.

In his provocative keynote, Professor Geoffrey West made the bold declaration that “there will be no such thing as a single autonomous city.

What happens in one will affect everything else. Essentially, the economic fate of the planet equals the fate of our cities.” West urged the audience to ponder such large questions as to whether any of the current growth shown by most cities is actually sustainable. He then offered the frightening notion that a new city the size of New York is “urbanized” roughly once every 14 days. Or, put another way, “A Dallas is created every five to six weeks,” West calculated.

The economic fate of the planet equals the fate of our cities.

The twin products of that almost spasmodic creation of a city is the birth of stunning innovations – along with income, wealth, colleges and creative people – and more infrastructure needs, which ultimately creates chaos. “Cities give us all so much buzz and activity,” said West. “They create an immediate sense of excitement where lots of good things happen. So many cultural goodies come from cities. Yet eventually it all can lead to a kind of socio-economic entropy where disorder and chaos is inevitable. Cities then become the problem and cities are the solution.”

As for finding that solution, for most cities looking to reinvent themselves, what used to take 50 years to accomplish “may only take five years.” West also reminded us of the importance of making cities more human, turning to Shakespeare to make his point clear: “What is the city but the people.”

Keynote: Geoffrey West – © NewCities


Geoffrey West, Distinguished Professor and Past President, Santa Fe Institute – @sfiscience