PerspectiveSociology

A Theory of City Size

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Science  21 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6139, pp. 1418-1419
DOI: 10.1126/science.1239870

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Summary

As cities get bigger, they generate economies and diseconomies of scale, referred to by Marshall more than a century ago as the effects of agglomeration (1). Simple theories assume that cities exist due to a trade-off between these positive and negative forces of agglomeration and that the benefits continue to outweigh the costs of cities as they grow ever larger (2). But precisely what happens as cities grow? On page 1438 of this issue, Bettencourt (3) shows that the ways in which people interact with one another in cities lead to power laws—or allometric laws—that relate population, area, and attributes of the population to scale.

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