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The Buzz of Cities

Dan Hoornweg's picture

BeeFor bees, bigger hives are better. 

Last week researchers at the University of Arizona published their findings: bees of bigger hives have more information and forage better. With improved communications, bees from the bigger hives sent new foragers to known resources up to four hours earlier than bees from smaller hives.1

This better communications also seems to work in bigger cities. Geoffrey West and the Santé Fe Institute provide impressive modeling on the scaling of cities. Double the size of a city and you get 1.15 times the growth of economy, patents and innovation. And as long as you can keep congestion and pollution in check, you can get this economic growth at only 0.85 times the cost of additional infrastructure. In other words, larger cities have a disproportionate impact on a country’s communications, and therefore a bigger impact on economy and culture.

The global drive to larger cities that we see everywhere, but especially in Asia, and soon-to-be Africa, can put fear in the hearts of city planners: just how do you manage a city of ten-plus million people? True, the ‘care and feeding’ of large cities is particularly challenging, but the enormous potential and promise of large cities can outweigh those risks and externalities, or ‘demons of density’. The benefits of big cities are great, and greatly needed.

Marcus Aurelius was right when he said, “That which is not good for the bee-hive cannot be good for the bees.” This obviously goes for cities too. Treat the city well and the residents benefit. And now we also know that bigger hives, and bigger cities, are often better.


1Donaldson-Matasci, Matina C.; Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman; Anna Dornhaus. “Bigger is better: honeybee colonies as distributed information-gathering systems”. Animal Behaviour, Volume 85, Issue 3, March 2013, Pages 585–592.

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