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The Belly of the Beast

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Cities, like bodies, grow and evolve. In the case of New York City, that growth never would have occurred if not for a Homeric engineering feat that occurred mostly underground. Jad digs into the history of the city's water tunnels with Diane Galusha and Nik Sokol. And Sandhogs Ritchie Fitzsimmons and John "Chick" Donohue give firsthand accounts of what it takes to blast a city's arteries into being.

Geoff West discovered a trick biology plays to allow organisms to grow--a scaling law that makes bigger animals more efficient. And then he and Luis Bettencourt realized that cities work in kind of the same way--the bigger the city, the more efficient its tubes and pipes and cables. But in the case of cities, there's a twist--a twist that raises some big questions about appetite and consumption.


Luis Bettencourt, John "Chick" Donohue, Richard Fitzsimmons, Diane Galusha, Nik Sokol and Geoffrey West

Comments [7]

j.daniel kim from new york 11364 bayside

New york city is like a Eukaryotic cell because it feeds off of other cells. The water is the protein because the protein is the resource NYC needs. The sandhogs are ribosomes because they helps get the water. The tunnels are the cell wall because it is the temporary storage for water. The pipes to transport water is like a golgi apparatus because it gives the NYC citizens water. The lysosome pumps out the wastes.

Nov. 01 2014 08:37 PM

It bothers me that most listeners will now give Geoff West full credit for discovering the relationship between size and metabolic rate. In fact, biologists have known this for at least 80 years, ever since Max Kleiber's work. Kleiber's law forms the basis for Geoff West's theoretical work in ecology, and which he has recently applied to cities. I don't understand how you can neglect to mention this fact. Give credit where credit's due.

Nov. 24 2012 09:54 PM

Good stuff!! Although I agree with Autumn, it would've been nice to explore the whole consuming aspect of cities a bit more and maybe even go into the effects of urbanization. I would have loved that!
The whole time I had to think of a great excerpt of Robert M. Pirsigs book "Lila".
Here the slightly old-school copy out of the book:
Page1 and page2

Nov. 30 2011 11:37 PM
the_elan' from Los Angeles

For you comic book nerds, I have only one thing to say-- "Jack Hawskmoor"

Dec. 14 2010 12:47 AM
Autumn Bernstein from Sacramento, CA

Great show, super interesting. But I think you didn't do justice to the question about cities and consumption. While its true that most of Americans live in cities, and that Americans are big consumers, a key factor is what KIND of cities we live in, since not all cities are created equal. The majority of Americans live in relatively suburban, auto-dependent and resource-intensive "cities." Brookings did a great report comparing the carbon footprint of US cities a few years ago, but even this study doesn't distinguish between central cities (which tend to be more "green" and their surrounding suburban areas). Check it out here:

Nov. 14 2010 08:52 AM
Marcus gausepohl from Houston

Really great. Thank you for such enjoyable ideas. Plus a really great mix of audio levels and voice clarity.

Nov. 09 2010 01:54 PM
mark from hull

i really enjoyed this, especially the back of the envelope sum, thank you

Nov. 02 2010 09:24 AM

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