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Land-use geek alert: Pick up the September Scientific American

As the land use committee chair, what could make me happier than the cover of the latest Scientific American? “Better, greener, smarter” – said the cover text – “CITIES: We have seen the future and it is urban.” The issue covers a lot of ground over several articles with a recurring theme: urban density is happening and it will be good (for many of us). Creative connections, competition for innovators, the momentum cities seem to enjoy when innovation takes hold, improved health outcomes, unregulated street economies, favela living, retrofit v. build anew, the pressure on water and food systems – if you like this stuff, you need this issue of SA.

I didn’t know that the brains of city-dwellers are different. We have more active amygdalas, portions of the brain that are associated with memory and emotional intelligence. No one is sure why, yet, but it might be because we have to interact with and remember more people.

A new line of research made possible by massive amounts of quantitative data coming online from urban areas shows that cities concentrate, accelerate, and diversify social and economic activity. As a city grows, it gets more efficient. We do more with less. That’s a good thing, especially if, as the U.N. predicts, by 2050 70 percent of the world’s population lives in cities. The challenges of income disparity and natural resource depletion persist, though. I haven’t finished all the articles. Maybe more answers are on the next page.

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