In this talk I will provide a new emerging picture of theoretical and empirical advances in understanding cities scientifically and its implications for global sustainable development.
First, I will show evidence for the disproportionate concentration of creative economic and cultural activities in larger cities in developed nations. Next, I will provide very different evidence in developing cities, showing how improvements in urban infrastructure, services and civic inclusion can promote innovation and development. I will also provide examples where such dynamics has not been successful.
I will then offer a more theoretical perspective on the general mechanisms involved in urban form and function. I will show that a new conceptualization of cities as vast social networks with specific quantitative characteristics helps explain the statistics of creativity in cities and sheds new light on processes of economic diversity and productivity. I will then use these insights to discuss the supportive but not prescriptive role of planning and policy in urban development and the need for a more detailed understanding of the interplay between services and social life in cities, including neighborhood effects.
In closing I will offer my perspective on the massive urbanization underway in developing nations, its current challenges and its opportunities. I will show that, like never before in human history, we are starting to wrap our arms empirically around issues of human development globally and have now a clear and present opportunity for a new interdisciplinary scientific approach to promoting sustainable (urban) development.