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Simple Mathematical Law Predicts Movement In Cities Around the World

Wednesday September 15, 2021. 05:30 AM , from Slashdot
Simple Mathematical Law Predicts Movement In Cities Around the World
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: The people who happen to be in a city center at any given moment may seem like a random collection of individuals. But new research featuring a simple mathematical law shows that urban travel patterns worldwide are, in fact, remarkably predictable regardless of location -- an insight that could enhance models of disease spread and help to optimize city planning. Studying anonymized cell-phone data, researchers discovered what is known as an inverse square relation between the number of people in a given urban location and the distance they traveled to get there, as well as how frequently they made the trip. It may seem intuitive that people visit nearby locations frequently and distant ones less so, but the newly discovered relation puts the concept into specific numerical terms. It accurately predicts, for instance, that the number of people coming from two kilometers away five times per week will be the same as the number coming from five kilometers twice a week. The researchers' new visitation law, and a versatile model of individuals' movements within cities based on it, was reported in Nature.

The researchers analyzed data from about eight million people between 2006 and 2013 in six urban locations: Boston, Singapore, Lisbon and Porto in Portugal, Dakar in Senegal, and Abidjan in Ivory Coast. Previous analyses have used cell-phone data to study individuals' travel paths; this study focused instead on locations and examined how many people were visiting, from how far and how frequently. The researchers found that all the unique choices people makeâ'from dropping kids at school to shopping or commuting -- obey this inverse square law when considered in aggregate. One explanation for this strong statistical pattern is that traveling requires time and energy, and people have limited resources for it.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.
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