(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 399: Ancient Cities and Energized Crowding

September 7, 2022

This week we’re joined by Michael E. Smith, Professor of Anthropology and Archeologist at Arizona State’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change.  We talk with Michael about his article in Aeon Magazine entitled Energized Crowding about life in early cities and neighborhoods.

To listen to this episode, you can find the show at Streetsblog USA or at our hosting site on Libsyn.

Jeff Wood (1m 23s):
Michael Smith. Welcome to the Talking Headways podcast.

Michael E. Smith (1m 48s):
Oh, it’s good to be here.

Jeff Wood (1m 49s):
Well, thanks for being on the show before we get started. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Michael E. Smith (1m 53s):
I am an Archeologist. I teach at Arizona state And I have many years of experience directing excavations in Mexico at Aztec sites. And for a long time, I’ve been interested in comparative urbanism, starting out with early cities, and then more recently getting into urbanism in general and how early cities compared to contemporary cities. And that’s what I’m working on right now.

Jeff Wood (2m 17s):
How did you get into archeology? Like what was the first introduction to it for you? Was it when you were a kid or was it when you got a little bit older?

Michael E. Smith (2m 23s):
Well, when I was undergraduate, I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. I was a math major and music major and a biology major, but then I read a book about archeology and it was sort of a screwy book. And I was embarrassed admit this for many years that this got me interested. It was about the lost civilization of Atlantis that was supposedly an advanced civilization that sank into the sea and the people set out in boats and they came over to Mexico and they became the Omex and the Maya and the Aztecs. And I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. So I started reading up on the Omex and the Maya and the Aztecs, And I soon found that they were fascinating cultures and there was a professor. I was at Brandeis. He was a professor here at George coil who worked on the Mexican city of Toon.

Michael E. Smith (3m 7s):
So I started working for him as an undergraduate research assistant and went on graduate study And I I’ve been working in the Mexican archeology ever

Jeff Wood (3m 16s):
Since. That’s awesome. You know, it’s interesting archeology and pop culture is, is a really interesting kind of connection, especially when you’re thinking about, you know, some things that are somewhat fairytales, but also Indiana Jones and all that other stuff as well. Are, are there any connections for you between archeology and pop culture that kind of stand out in positive ways or maybe even negative ways you, you mentioned, you know, you’re thinking about Atlantis and that’s an interesting connection as well for, I guess, a historic pop culture for that matter.

Michael E. Smith (3m 41s):
Well, a feature like Indiana Jones is sort of controversial in archeology. Some Archeologist say, well, it’s ridiculous. He loot sites, he’s doing unethical things. It’s not archeology all. And other people say, well, he gets people interested in archeology, so that’s a good thing. And then we can teach in arch classes what he does wrong and what he does. Right. And, and use that.

Jeff Wood (3m 58s):
So you’re interested in comparative urbanism, maybe give us a little bit of a definition of what that means and how it, it impacts your work.

Michael E. Smith (4m 5s):
Well, when I first got going on this, you know, I was involved in excavating Aztec cities in, in Mexico, and it was to compare AEC cities or other Ancient meso American cities with cities in Egypt or Mesopotamia or Greece and Rome, and sort of early cities around the world, making comparisons to learn something about urbanism in general, I got started, I don’t know, a while ago thinking about, well, how do Ancient Ancient cities relate to contemporary cities? And can they be compared in some ways they’re radically different in some ways they’re quite similar. And so that’s sort of a more complicated kind of comparison to make.

Jeff Wood (4m 48s):
It’s really interesting. I mean, this is kind of the Cru of your article, which discusses Energized Crowding as kind of an idea that I find really fascinating. I’m curious where you came up with the general term or the idea of Energized Crowding and how does that fit into the comparative urbanism discussion overall?

Michael E. Smith (5m 4s):
Well, the term originated with spiral Costa, who was a architectural historian at Berkeley. I wrote a number of books on early cities and architecture, and he used Energized Crowding just for the situation that cities have. Lots of people, dense populations, people interact, and that process of social interact, you know, has effects and creates a lot of what’s distinctive about cities. I got involved in some of the work on urban scaling that I talk about in that article. It was based at the Santa Fe Institute. And that work is sort of based on the similar idea that the size and density of population influences the social interactions and social interactions then generate outcomes.

Michael E. Smith (5m 54s):
So Energized Crowding is just a way of talking about, you know, the social situation in cities and why it’s important.

Jeff Wood (6m 1s):
It sounds a lot like what economists call the glomeration effect or glomeration economies. I’m curious what the connections are between the two.

Michael E. Smith (6m 8s):
Yeah. I mean, it’s similar kind of thing of glomeration economies is usually, you know, where to firms locate and where do people locate, but the basic idea that the concentration of people and, and firms and activities has effect beyond the immediate reaction. Yeah. It’s basically the same idea.

Jeff Wood (6m 27s):
It’s really interesting too, like how you can extrapolate that to Ancient cities versus contemporary ones. And it seems like a similar metric and you have a similar ability to look back and see that things that we might see that is different are actually very similar today. And you can actually, you know, based on the research that the Santa Fe Institute has done, you can look at that kind of mathematically and see how cities grew and how they interacted with each other. And then you take that back in time and it’s kind of a similar way. And I mean, that was the most, the fascinating thing to me was that you can connect the two, which like you said, it was not something people thought that could be connected ultimately.

Michael E. Smith (7m 0s):
Well, yeah. And you know, if, if you sort of look at how do cities today differ from those in the Ancient world and how are they similar? They’re similar in this area of it’s where people live. It’s where people interact, social interactions have effects and, and that’s, you know, sort of the basic facts of urban life. There are different in terms of communication technology and things like that.

Jeff Wood (7m 22s):
So what do you get from looking at these Ancient neighborhoods, looking at neighborhoods instead of maybe cigarettes or, or pyramids, or the kind of more famous archeological icons of historic development? Well,

Michael E. Smith (7m 34s):
There’s different kinds of archeology. And, And I sometimes talk about monumental archeology versus social archeology. And the monumental archeology is yeah. To eat the pyramids and looking for the Royal tombs and the big buildings and, you know, and that gives us information that’s important more, but social archeology is about figuring out the nature of life in the past and how is society organized? So in that sense, I’d rather, you know, excavated neighborhood than a pyramid.

Jeff Wood (8m 2s):
And what do you find when you excavate neighborhoods?

Michael E. Smith (8m 4s):
Well, it turns out neighborhoods are hard to excavate just because it’s fairly resource intensive to excavate a house, right? Just excavate one house, you know, the size, how deep it is. And so on operation and the neighborhood is many houses and issues of sampling come in. You can’t all the houses in a neighborhood, so you can only some of them, can you sample them adequately? Well, maybe there’s a modern city on top, but the Aztec cities I’ve worked on are basically underneath modern cities. So sampling is a big problem. So it’s hard to, you know, get a handle on a whole neighborhood.

Jeff Wood (8m 39s):
And how does that work out? I mean, like when you do figure out a whole neighborhood, like what does that tell you specifically about the culture that lived there? What was the normal way that people live life?

Michael E. Smith (8m 48s):
Well, one of the things that Archeologist have found is that there was a lot of variation, I think, oh, there was a general assumption for a while that, oh, we’re gonna find, you know, the wealthy neighborhood of the poor neighborhood. But it turns out that most cases where we have that kind of information, you had a variety of levels of welfare status. And so there’s a lot of variation and also variation in the extent to which, you know, sometimes neighborhoods were specialized in terms of craft production, activities, or trade or something. And other cases, they seem to be more generalized. So there, aren’t sort of easy patterns from this.

Jeff Wood (9m 22s):
Another thing you discussed in the article is kind of like governance structures, which I found interesting. I’m curious if you can talk a little bit about those and maybe what people felt like most government structures were like and what you actually believe. They were like,

Michael E. Smith (9m 34s):
Well, there was a story for a long time that all Ancient societies had Des rulers, you know, autocratic regimes, people were enslaved, you know, slaves built the pyramids and oh, and then the Greeks invented democracy. Oh yeah. Great. But you know, several lines of research in the last 10, 15 years have shown that that’s really not the case. There were democratic. Some people say, well, you shouldn’t use that term or more collectively organized in the past before the Greeks. And it’s not as simple matter of all Ancient states were autocratic. And then they became democratic. There was a lot of variation that difficulty for Archeologist is how do you tell this archeologically and we’re developing methods and, and some measures.

Michael E. Smith (10m 24s):
So just, if you look at say Mesoamerica, Mexico, and Guatemala, and so on where I work some early states seem to have been quite collective in their organization and others see more autocratic. So there’s research to try to document those and analyze that.

Jeff Wood (10m 40s):
What are some of the signs that you can tell about whether a place is more social or more autocratic, the different types of governance structures? Yeah. How do you kind of tell?

Michael E. Smith (10m 49s):
Well, a nice contrast is tattoo Aeon in central Mexico and the classic Maya cities in Southern meso America and the classic Maya cities. The first thing you saw walking into the main Plaza was a bunch of sculptures showing the king in all his regalia, being powerful and a hieroglyphic text saying how great and powerful he was. And we know the names of those Kings we’ve reconstructive dynasties, Aeon. We don’t know who the Kings were. There’s no obvious depiction of a king on sculpture or painting at the myy. The Kings had big fancy, Royal palaces Aeon. Well, we’re not even positive what the Royal palace was.

Michael E. Smith (11m 30s):
And that’s sort of unusual for an Ancient site. I mean, I worked on Aztec sites and, you know, we know what the palace was. We scratch our heads go. Was there a real palace here? If there’s a palace that was preserved, we know it’s obvious at T Aeon. You know, there’s one structure that we think, well, maybe it was, but it’s not quite so different from all the others. So there’s definitely comparing Aeon and the Maya, the Maya had more emphasis on individual rulers, the size of their palaces compared to tattoo Aeon.

Jeff Wood (11m 58s):
It’s interesting. Cuz if you read back on some of, you know, the historic literature on cities or at least, you know, up until the sixties and seventies with people like Lewis Mumford, or he talks about the kind of evolution of from going from tribes to the elder governance structures, where you have a circle of people who decide things, and then you go into the, the strong man and the hoarders. So there’s like kind of a linear discussion about that governance structure. And I find that really fascinating, especially what you were talking about related to the differences. And I’m wondering how you’ve seen that maybe they evolved into those structures. Like, did you see that ATT Wacon something different happened than say in the Mayan structures that actually led to this? Or is it something that’s hard to kind of decipher?

Michael E. Smith (12m 40s):
I’ll just say it’s hard to decipher how, you know, I mean, that’s an excellent question and we just don’t know.

Jeff Wood (12m 46s):
What’s your favorite part about the structures down there in Mexico? Like in terms of the city structure, the differences between the Mayan and maybe the Aztec cultures?

Michael E. Smith (12m 54s):
Well, one thing that I vision is the nature of urban planning now, to what extent were the downtown areas planned out? Were the residences planned out how strong was sort of central planning of cities and how people Colin was very centrally planned. There’s a single orthogonal grid covering the whole city with thousands of buildings at the Maya sites, Aztec sites too. The residents were not lined up. They’re not orthogonal all over the place. Obviously no one was by how residential areas should be laid out. Neighborhoods, you know, had their own dynamic that was separate from the political power. And so I, I find it interesting, the sort of differences in the sort of top down versus bottom up forces that shaped cities.

Michael E. Smith (13m 40s):
I have a paper about Aeon And I call it the Aeon anomaly because it was so bizarre the fact that it was all planned and after two Aeon fell, the cities that came immediately went back to the older plan to have pyramids around plazas as opposed to a central avenue and our Conal planning. And it’s like, they were saying, we don’t want more of this tattoo Aeon stuff. We’re gonna go back to the Ancient thing. So something Aeon was very different and then it was rejected by later cities.

Jeff Wood (14m 9s):
How long did that last? What Tecan,

Michael E. Smith (14m 12s):
Well, I’ll say 500 years or so.

Jeff Wood (14m 15s):
Huh. That’s interesting. It also gets into the kinda your discussion about the size of settlements and, and neighborhoods and what the, that means for when people start to kind of get restless. That was another interesting part as well in the story you’re talking about how, like when you get past, I guess, 10,000 people, or if there’s a, there’s like a limit to civilization where, you know, if you don’t have structures in place, then you know, things start to fall apart. Maybe if you get past a certain like population,

Michael E. Smith (14m 39s):
Oh, well there’s the burning man data, which I don’t know if I put, is that in the article

Jeff Wood (14m 44s):
Or maybe no, I don’t think the burning man data, but I’d love to hear about it.

Michael E. Smith (14m 48s):
It’s in a paper I wrote critical of the book, the Dawn of everything by Gray Andro. And the thing that happened with burning man is, is, you know, it started off as a bunch of people on a beach with a big fire. And then it developed into this major gathering thousands of people it’s very anarchic principles, right? I’m sure you know, about Bernie Mela and very explicitly self-consciously sort of anarchic anti hierarchical and so on. And it was sort of anything goes, but they were on federal land. And in 1996, the population reached, I think it was eight thousand eight thousand six hundred or so. And people were shooting off guns and drive getting drunk and driving cars into campsite.

Michael E. Smith (15m 28s):
And it was really sort of chaotic. And the government said, we’re not gonna let you do this. If you don’t put some, you know, get some order here and overnight, they had planning the whole circular thing you see on from burning man that started in one year, it’s like, all right, we’re doing this now. It’s all gonna be completely planned. And there’s, you know, the divert man department of planning and there’s regulations and they have neighborhoods. If you wanna party all night, you go over to this area. If you have kids, they want them to sleep. You, you will go to that area. But it shows that, you know, did fine with sort of, without central planning with sort of, you know, anarchic kinds of principles, but where they reached a certain point, they needed to Institute planning and organization.

Jeff Wood (16m 6s):
Yeah. And the idea that you have neighborhoods to kind of compartmentalize the largeness of a place or create order is really fascinating to me too.

Michael E. Smith (16m 14s):
Well, people don’t wanna live their lives on the scale of thousands and thousands of people. And also, you know, a lot of things in the economy and society work better on. And so the interesting things about neighborhoods, you know, looking across culturally is that sometimes they’re imposed, they’re built from the start, you know, today that whole plan development is a neighborhood. It’s, you know, that’s how city in Phoenix here as Phoenix expands, it doesn’t expand, you know, street by street. It expands neighborhood by neighborhood. They construct the whole thing. And in the Ancient past the same kind of thing, a lot of, you know, Roman sites tattoo, Aeon neighborhoods were built in from the start. In other cases they weren’t built in and, you know, people were allowed to build their houses, do what they wanted.

Michael E. Smith (16m 56s):
Well, they developed generatively. They developed, you know, on their own from the way people lived their lives and did their basic activities. So neighborhoods can either be top down from the start or they can be developed, you know, by people themselves.

Jeff Wood (17m 10s):
I think that’s part of your theory as well in terms, was the discussion about Energized Crowding overall, is that kind of top down versus bottom up theory, I’m curious which one creates in your mind, you know, what kind of outcomes do each one kind of create? Are they different or are they similar in the end? Do they come to the same space? You know, after two different ways of getting there,

Michael E. Smith (17m 29s):
They often end up looking very different. So for an Archeologist, you know, we’re dealing with the actual, you know, the layout, the, the physical plan that we can see and they look very different. A lot of people in planning think that generative neighborhoods have, are more livable and a more satisfactory form of life. Now, I don’t know whether that’s the case, that’s sort of what the new urbanists think. And going back to Christopher Alexander, people like that, drawing on vernacular architecture produce a better way of life through traditional methods that are not involved central planning. Is that really the case? Well, I don’t know. I mean, I, I don’t, you know, I don’t have data to say this, not the case. Yeah. It certainly makes sense.

Michael E. Smith (18m 9s):
Oh, that’s a nice story. And you know, maybe there’s research on it. I, I just dunno.

Jeff Wood (18m 14s):
Well, we just had Nolan Gray on to talk about his book, arbitrary lines, which talks about zoning and, and his kind of stances that, you know, we should abolish zoning and have some other sort of like nuisance organization that makes a better case for how we allow cities to be more organic rather than, than top down. And it’s kind of an interesting look, if you think about that from history. Another book that, that I mentioned to him last week was this book called zoned out by professor Jonathan Levine at the university of Michigan. And his kind of theory is that, you know, there’s a lot of places around the world that have this generative property, places like Greece that actually, you know, when somebody builds a house and then they have kids and they need a place for the kids to be, so they build a second story and that’s okay.

Jeff Wood (18m 55s):
Maybe they go through and build a third story and a fourth. And, and then this whole complex develops versus Silicon valley, for example, where they just, you know, cut down the fruit trees and single family homes forever. And that’s it. And so you don’t have any really chance to be organic. And so I find that fascinating as well in thinking about those two properties, the top down and the bottom up of planning and, and what that means for societies in general, and whether that means more glomeration effects, more Energized Crowding, or we’re actually physically spacing people apart from each other. That’s kind of, you know, depressing that energy that actually is trying to bubble up from the bottom.

Michael E. Smith (19m 30s):
Well, I think that’s what the new urbanist would say. And, you know, the, the sterility of, of suburbia and the nature of lifestyles and all in many places in the Ancient world and around the world today and developing countries, you know, you don’t have that level of zoning. And so if you wanna open a little shop in your house, you can do that. You know, I can’t do that. I opened up a store in my house and get me far exactly. But it’s sort of, you know, that allows work and residents to be, you know, in the same place. And that’s pretty common, I think in the Ancient world.

Jeff Wood (20m 5s):
What about transportation? You mentioned kind of the grid network and how things were laid out, but I’m curious in transportation networks, in the Ancient world and, and what they look like, there was a, a discussion in article about how there were some places that were very, you know, central and or dense, and then others that had kind of satellite neighborhoods to a certain extent. I’m curious like how the transportation, you know, fit into that, you know, urbanization trend.

Michael E. Smith (20m 27s):
Well, I mean, I work in men America. And so the only transportation was people walking and carrying things on their back. And that obviously sets limits on the size of cities because how far you can bring food and, you know, has all kinds of, of constraints on urbanism in the old world where you, at least where you have wheel transport carts. And so on, Rome had a million people. Why because ship grain across the Mediterranean, but yeah, transport costs really, you know, limit the size of nature of cities in many areas.

Jeff Wood (20m 60s):
How has the discussion changed over the last? You mentioned the last 10, 15 years for certain topics, but like the last 15, 20, even 30 years in terms of thinking about Ancient cities,

Michael E. Smith (21m 10s):
I think there’s a lot more appreciation of, of variability. You know, there’s just not a single form of city. I mean, one of the standard books was Silver’s the pretrial city, which is basically, there is one form of three industrial city and it’s different from industrial cities. I read it as an undergrad And I thought, wow, this is great. I wanna work on this. And I realized, well, the pre-industrial cities I was studying archeologically were quite different from what he described. So we now recognize, I mean, low density, urbanism, that’s a sort of a hot topic in archeology, the Maya and other places where people are really spread out, you know, cities had political and religious functions, even if their population densities lower than, you know, most sort of say old, old cities.

Michael E. Smith (21m 52s):
So that variation is one of the main differences. Also people are starting to appreciate the nature of generative and bottom up forces. I mean, this old view that, you know, all Ancient Ancient states were, were despotic. I mean, that, I mean, that’s the way we thought about things. When I got into archeology, you know, it was all these rulers exploiting people and promoting their own power and the notion that people acting independently could account for anything. You know, we just didn’t talk about that. That didn’t seem to be anything that happened. And from my point of view, that has sort of come into archeology from other branches of urban studies, from planning and sociology and economics.

Jeff Wood (22m 36s):
It’s really interesting, especially in light of, you know, like you mentioned previously, people who are, you know, kind of despotic or Kings or whatever, they leave marks for themselves, but otherwise you wouldn’t know, unless there was some sort of a, something that told the story of a place that was more small de democratic or, you know, social, you know, collective in their governance structure, which is, I think is really interesting to me. It’s like history is written by the victors. Well, yeah, unfortunately, yeah. You know, another thing that was interesting to me was I always like to think about Louis worth and his 1938 piece urbanism as a way of life. We read it out in full, the university of Chicago was kind enough to allow us to do that for our 200th episode. Oh, really?

Jeff Wood (23m 15s):
Yeah. And so I’m, I’m kind of interested in how, how that influences you as well. You know, that his discussion of cities and the way he thinks about, you know, as you get larger, the heterogeneity of everything that diversity of cities allows people to specialize allows people to be organized in groups, but they don’t really have to be, you know, connected to the group. They can kind of be loosely affiliated. It’s interesting how that actually impacts cities and neighborhoods. And I’m wondering if that kind of holds true for the Ancient world as well as you know today.

Michael E. Smith (23m 43s):
Well, Worth’s definition of urbanism has been very influential in archeology. And one of my first publications, I argue strongly for his definition and later papers of mine I’ve argued against it. And because, you know, it’s, it’s a permanent settlement with large population, high population density and social heterogeneity. This is that’s what a city is. And that works for cities today that would apply to tat Aeon. And some of the Aztec cities I’ve worked up, but it would not apply to the Ancient, Ancient Maya, those weren’t cities just because they don’t fit Worth’s definition. Weren’t big enough. They weren’t dense enough. And so sort of an alternate functional definition came in based on economic geography in central place theory that if it place fulfills regional functions, political, economic, religious, you can call it a city.

Michael E. Smith (24m 31s):
Doesn’t matter how many people live there. And so, you know, there’s been an argument, well, the Maya fit the functional definition of cities, but they don’t fit worth definition. Oh, we argue about these things

Jeff Wood (24m 45s):
Sounds like fun actually, to have these arguments about history. So you’re writing a book about the topic that we’re discussing Energized Crowding. I’m curious what the ideas behind it, and you know, when it’s coming out, I’m actually really looking forward to reading it.

Michael E. Smith (24m 60s):
Well, I’ve done the I’ve checked copy editing, and on the proofs are supposed to be here in two weeks. So 2023 Cambridge press is called urban life in the distant past the prehistory of Energized Crowding. And it synthesizes a lot of what I’ve done on urbanism and comparative urbanism over the last 15 years, there’s a chapter on the size of cities and why that’s important and what the variation is. There’s chapters on cities and political organization in the past, this whole business of autocratic, collective states. And so on. There’s a chapter on economic organization and kinds of economies and economic growth. And there’s chapters on sort of top down and bottom up forces on urban life.

Michael E. Smith (25m 45s):
It sort of synthesizes this article from Aeon is sort of a, you know, a rough summary of, of a lot of the book. It’s a teaser get people.

Jeff Wood (25m 55s):
Yeah, it got well, got me. I’m also fascinated, you know, how you measure economics in, in the Ancient Ancient world, you measure by the size of houses. How does that actually tell you anything about what the wealth of a society is?

Michael E. Smith (26m 8s):
There’s actually quite a bit of comparative evidence from history and ethnography that shows in not necessarily in modern industrialized nations, it’s more complicated, but in sort of pre-industrial settings, historical settings, the size of a house is often a very good measure of wealth. It’s not absolute, you know, determinant relationship, but it’s a very strong statistical relationship. The size of a house comparatively is, is a good measure of, of the level of wealth within a given context. Of course,

Jeff Wood (26m 39s):
It’s also interesting what you find in some of these Ancient, Ancient, Ancient, Ancient societies. And I think you before, but you know, you find that they’re actually wealthier than people maybe have thought before and they have more goods and other things that you find, which is another fascinating kind of change. And I think what most people think about historic societies,

Michael E. Smith (26m 56s):
Well, you know, I don’t wanna say everything was rosy in the past and wonderful, you know, there were problems, there was poverty, you know, there was not the level of medicine and, and, and science and health was also great. But on the other hand, you know, this old view that all Ancient rulers were autocratic goes along with the idea that people were downtrod and, and, and had no freedoms and had no wealth. And, you know, basically were not much better than, than slaves when a lot of cases people were doing fairly well economically. And that’s the kind of thing that we’re starting to be able to monitor. Archeologically

Jeff Wood (27m 30s):
What’s your next project besides the book? What’s the, what’s the next big thing that you’re working on?

Michael E. Smith (27m 34s):
Well, just submit a proposal, the national science foundation for a comparative urban project, which looks at urban persistence settlement persistence. How long did cities last in the Ancient world? We don’t know how long cities are gonna last today. You know, up until 20 years ago, cities are, you know, will last forever. Oh, but now with rising sea levels and shrink cities, land areas, you know, maybe cities won’t last forever. Well, the archeological record is full of like thousands of Ancient cities and settlements. Some of which lasted for three years, some of which lasted for 3000 years. So the basic idea is to take some of this evidence from archeology and history and see what we can learn about it.

Michael E. Smith (28m 17s):
Why did some settlements last longer than others? Why did cities in one region last longer than cities in another region and sort of to use spatial methods to these analyses and try to do analyses and, And I, the thought behind it is that if we could figure out for the Ancient world, what factors contribute to longer lasting cities, maybe that applies today. Now, maybe it doesn’t. I mean, this remains to be seen. It depends on the, the kinds of variables we were able to identify and, and whether they’re comparable or not. It also depends on people who pay attention to modern cities think that it all, which a lot of people work on.

Michael E. Smith (29m 0s):
Well, Ancient Ancient are interesting, but they’re completely irrelevant. Technology’s so different, you know, and communication, transport at all, that what you do in the past has no relevance at all. So, alright, well then how are you gonna figure out how cities are gonna last into the future? What’s your empirical basis for that? Well, it’s things we think might help. Well, we have some empirical data on one set of cities. Let’s see if they can be applicable or not.

Jeff Wood (29m 25s):
I mean, I always think that people that say that what happened in the past doesn’t matter is really frustrating statement always to me, just, I imagine that the folks that do research in, in scientists and things like that don’t necessarily say that, but I’ve seen people say that actually out in the world and it’s it’s well, it’s frustrating.

Michael E. Smith (29m 40s):
Well, I’m saying that a lot of these scientists, they, they won’t actually say it, but on the other hand, well, okay. Are you looking at some of these, do you wanna, you know, you, are you interested in actually using some of these data and so, well, we don’t use those data. Why not? Well, maybe because they’re not in a form they can use, or maybe because they don’t want to, I don’t know. This is something where sort of trying to make some headway on.

Jeff Wood (30m 2s):
Yeah. Well, you and Santa Fe Institute have started thinking about data, you know, collection, you know, at least putting together some, some data for, you know, Ancient cities that kind of correlates to the modern cities. So I think that that is really good format for kind of connecting the two

Michael E. Smith (30m 16s):
That’s what we’re trying to do. Yeah.

Jeff Wood (30m 17s):
Where can folks find you if they wanna find your work and your research?

Michael E. Smith (30m 21s):
Well, Arizona state university, and I’m on Twitter at Michael E Smith and put out most of my things on, you know, through Twitter, academia, EDU has most of my publications. Well, if they can find me at Arizona state university and there’s links to, to other things there.

Jeff Wood (30m 37s):
Awesome. And then your book comes out in 2023, is that correct?

Michael E. Smith (30m 41s):
Early 20, 23. Yeah.

Jeff Wood (30m 43s):
We’ll be watching for that. Well, Michael, thanks for joining us. We really appreciate your time.

Michael E. Smith (30m 46s):
Thank you. It’s been an interesting conversation

Listen to the Talking Headways Podcast


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