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The non-linear health consequences of living in larger cities

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      Abstract

      Urbanization promotes economy, mobility, access and availability of resources, but on the other hand, generates higher levels of pollution, violence, crime, and mental distress. The health consequences of the agglomeration of people living close together are not fully understood. Particularly, it remains unclear how variations in the population size across cities impact the health of the population. We analyze the deviations from linearity of the scaling of several health-related quantities, such as the incidence and mortality of diseases, external causes of death, wellbeing, and health-care availability, in respect to the population size of cities in Brazil, Sweden and the USA. We find that deaths by non-communicable diseases tend to be relatively less common in larger cities, whereas the per-capita incidence of infectious diseases is relatively larger for increasing population size. Healthier life style and availability of medical support are disproportionally higher in larger cities. The results are connected with the optimization of human and physical resources, and with the non-linear effects of social networks in larger populations. An urban advantage in terms of health is not evident and using rates as indicators to compare cities with different population sizes may be insufficient.

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      Growth, innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities.

      Humanity has just crossed a major landmark in its history with the majority of people now living in cities. Cities have long been known to be society's predominant engine of innovation and wealth creation, yet they are also its main source of crime, pollution, and disease. The inexorable trend toward urbanization worldwide presents an urgent challenge for developing a predictive, quantitative theory of urban organization and sustainable development. Here we present empirical evidence indicating that the processes relating urbanization to economic development and knowledge creation are very general, being shared by all cities belonging to the same urban system and sustained across different nations and times. Many diverse properties of cities from patent production and personal income to electrical cable length are shown to be power law functions of population size with scaling exponents, beta, that fall into distinct universality classes. Quantities reflecting wealth creation and innovation have beta approximately 1.2 >1 (increasing returns), whereas those accounting for infrastructure display beta approximately 0.8 <1 (economies of scale). We predict that the pace of social life in the city increases with population size, in quantitative agreement with data, and we discuss how cities are similar to, and differ from, biological organisms, for which beta<1. Finally, we explore possible consequences of these scaling relations by deriving growth equations, which quantify the dramatic difference between growth fueled by innovation versus that driven by economies of scale. This difference suggests that, as population grows, major innovation cycles must be generated at a continually accelerating rate to sustain growth and avoid stagnation or collapse.
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        A General Model for the Origin of Allometric Scaling Laws in Biology

         G. B. West (1997)
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          Shaping cities for health: complexity and the planning of urban environments in the 21st century.

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            Author and article information

            Journal
            1506.02735

            General physics, Applications

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