In a blog article about SFI's cities work, Forbes contributor Helen Coster talks with SFI Distinguished Professor Geoffrey West about the special role slums play in the socioeconomic fabrics of today's cities. 

“Slums could be thought of as the development of a special organ, or they could be thought of as a tumor that’s grown, and in some ways is unhealthy and could ultimately lead to the city’s destruction," says West. "My own feeling is that slums are probably a bit of both. One of the remarkable things about slums is that they do develop their own social organization and economy and even culture that is, on some level, functional and in some cases, remarkably resilient. This is kind of amazing.”

Read the article (April 11, 2011)

The article is the second recent Forbes post about West's work -- part of the magazine's Megacities Project in which journalists, entrepreneurs, scholars, and activists are tackling the question of whether slums are places of hope or despair, stagnation or opportunity.

On March 23, Forbes senior editor Daniel Fisher, writing from Sao Paulo, mused on the contradictions of large cities and discusses West's work to explain cities mathematically: "Physicist Geoffrey West with the Santa Fe Institute has even devised a mathematical law to explain the attraction of megacities. After combing through reams of statistics he determined that as a city doubles in size, measures of the good stuff -- income, total wealth, college slots, the number of patents issued, increase 15% per capita. That increase isn’t uniform across the entire population, West says, but it’s close and it applies to Nairobi as much as it does Seattle. The bad stuff increases at the same rate, West has found, including murders, HIV cases, and the like. 'But even though the disadvantages come along at the same degree, people are totally swayed by the advantages,' [West] says. 'People are quite willing to take the bad, the ugly in order to get the good.' What [West] found was that the mere fact that people get closer to each other stimulates all sorts of productive behavior, behavior which produces tangible results that grow at an exponential rate."

Read the Fisher article (March 23, 2011)