Common Tragedies

Thoughts on Environmental Economics

Attention urban planners: my alley is full of latent research

Posted by Evan Herrnstadt on January 13, 2009

From ScienceDaily:

If you leave it up to the rats, New York City beats New Orleans any day.  This surprising finding comes from new research by Tel Aviv University zoologists and geographers, who are working together to invent a novel way to test urban designers’ city plans. Instead of using humans as guinea pigs, the scientists went to their nearby zoo and enlisted lab rats to determine the functionality of theoretical and existing plans…

“Using our model of rat behavior, it takes just a few minutes for city planners to test whether a new plan will work. It’s a way to avoid disasters and massive expense.” He expects that the choices the rats make will eventually be optimized and plugged into a computer tool.

…“We put rats in relatively large areas with objects and routes resembling those in Manhattan,” explains Prof. Eilam. The rats, he found, do the same things humans do: They establish a grid system to orient themselves. Using the grid, the rats covered a vast amount of territory, “seeing the sights” quickly.  In contrast, rats in an irregular plan resembling New Orleans’ failed to move far from where they started and didn’t cover much territory, despite travelling the same distances as the “Manhattan rats.”

Cool stuff, though I’m not sure why it is surprising that people and rats more easily navigate a grid than a system of “unstructured and winding streets.”  At any rate, in the interest of science, I should probably rearrange my pizza boxes to better simulate potential development around WMATA’s planned Silver Line.

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