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June 30, 2009

How the city hurts your brain

See: how the city hurts from brain.

Given the myriad mental problems that are exacerbated by city life, from an inability to pay attention to a lack of self-control, the question remains: Why do cities continue to grow? And why, even in the electronic age, do they endure as wellsprings of intellectual life?

Recent research by scientists at the Santa Fe Institute used a set of complex mathematical algorithms to demonstrate that the very same urban features that trigger lapses in attention and memory -- the crowded streets, the crushing density of people -- also correlate with measures of innovation, as strangers interact with one another in unpredictable ways. It is the "concentration of social interactions" that is largely responsible for urban creativity, according to the scientists. The density of 18th-century London may have triggered outbreaks of disease, but it also led to intellectual breakthroughs, just as the density of Cambridge -- one of the densest cities in America -- contributes to its success as a creative center. One corollary of this research is that less dense urban areas, like Phoenix, may, over time, generate less innovation.

Beijing Subway vs. Tokyo Subway

I did a comparison of Beijing subway system and Tokyo Subway system.

As the capital of arguably the most fast-developing country, Beijing has been exerting all its effort in developing public transit system to cope with the challenges of increasing urban population. As of 2007, Beijing only had four subway lines in use; in 2015, however, Beijing is expected to own 28+ subway lines with 561 km in total network length (the longest in the world), where subway/LRT users will account for 23% of total travelers. (source: wiki-beijing-subway)

Here is Beijing's subway plan for 2015.

In comparison, here is the map of current Tokyo subway system (with 14 lines and 328 km in total length):

I visited Tokyo in 2005 for a students' cultural exchange conference, and I was really impressed by the service of the subway system there. Moreover, the subway system was not just a subway system; it was also an integrated area of shops, restaurants, malls, theaters, and other entertainment facilities.

By just looking at the topologies of the two systems, we can find that BJ subway is more grid-like, yet Tokyo subway network seems to have more junctions (I don't know if this fact can lead to shorter travel time, I guess it will).

Here is some demographic information. While Tokyo has about 12.8 million people, Beijing is home to 14.93 million (not considering immigrant workers from the inland area). The population density per km2 in Tokyo is about 5847, and in Beijing is 760. China still has a large rural area to be urbanized. Yet Japan has been trying its best to make full use of underground space due to its limited territory, which is a remarkable effort.

June 18, 2009

Climate Change - China in Action

A short documentary made in 2008 fall aiming to show the effort of Chinese government in addressing the climate change:

China in Action

Also, in 2008 the Chinese government published a white paper on China's policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change.

I am glad to see that the Chinese government begins to take responsibility in protecting the environment worldwide. As a fast-developing country on her way toward industrialization, China has been facing a challenge in tackling the overwhelming environmental pollution in almost all aspects (air, water, soil, noise).

I hope that China will continue to open her doors to the world and embrace critiques and suggestions from different corners of the world with an even more open mind and with greater rationality. Environmental issues and climate change are huge challenges facing the international community, and only when all the nations become interdependent and are willing to work together that it is possible to make this world greener, cleaner, and more livable.

June 2, 2009

Treasure or Trash? That's the question

The other day my professor gave me a cart of old books and journals which were apparently of no use to him. He claimed that "they were a gift for you". Although I suspected that his real motive was to find a free laborer to dump his trash, I accepted the books in a slim hope that any interesting books/journals might among them.


The books are now in my office; the majority of them are urban planning journals and TRB journals ranging from 1992 until 2003, plus a bag of coffee which expired a few days ago. Nowadays almost all these articles can be found online easily. So here is the question, what is the value of hard-copy journals when most of the articles are on-line, considering our increasingly limited physical storage space? While knowledge is treasure, the physical old journals--when the words in them can be easily carried on in our computers, cell phones, and PDAs with no effort--are de facto of very limited value. E-journals also save the printing cost and are environmentally-friendly. The exceptions are, but not limited to, the handbooks that you may want to reference frequently.

So computer does have changed the world and the way people live. I remember when I was young, a remarkable sign of being a scholar is having a lot of books in his/her study or office. But now the sign may have changed.

Of course, another topic is whether the academic articles should be accessed for free. This has been a debate in academia and publishing houses, concerning the distribution of interests and the conflicts between the for-profit goals and non-profit ones. I am not in a good position to cover this topic, but it is definitely an interesting one worth pursuing.