The correct response to these dynamic, decentralized, emergent problems is to create dynamic, decentralized, emergent authorities: chains of local officials, state agencies, national governments and international bodies that are as flexible as the problem itself.Decentralization can lead to robustness, but it also has costs. Geoff West has studied the relationship between city size and innovation, and the problem with decentralization is this:
Regardless of the indicator, the larger the city, the more innovative the "social capital" it produces. For example, if the size of a city doubles, then, on average, wages, wealth, the number of patents, and the number of educational and research institutions all increase by approximately the same degree, about 15 percent. We refer to this systematic phenomenon as "superlinear scaling": The bigger the city, the more the average citizen owns, produces, and consumes, whether it's goods, resources, or ideas.I'm cheating a little bit by ignoring the distinction between centralized control as described by Brooks vs. centralized urbanism as described by West. But the overall theme is still important -- do we have to choose between big cities that are innovative but vulnerable vs. decentralized suburbs that are robust but inefficient? Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Steven Johnson wrote about a more decentralized approach to urban design:
The towns in the medieval system were as full and economically diverse as today's urban cores - they simply had a limit on their overall growth, usually defined by the walls that outlined the town limits. Tomorrow's city could be built along similar lines: The density of traditional metropolitan space is distributed among nodes limited to 50,000 to 100,000 people each, separated by expanses of low-density development like parks, sports facilities, and even vineyards. Such a model would reverse the Olmsted vision of urban greenery: Rather than carve out a park in the middle of an immense city, the new model makes space for nature on the edges. Peripheral Park, instead of Central.Johnson hopes to preserve the benefits of high-density urban centers (better quality of life, more efficient resource usage, faster innovation) while also creating greater robustness (safety) through decentralization.