M.I.T research led by Wei Pan concluded that productivity and innovation in urban areas grow at roughly the same rate as population, largely because the greater density of people living in a city increases the opportunities for personal interactions and exposure to different ideas. Put simply, living in a city makes us more innovative.
The idea that Archimedes yelling “Eureka” as he ran naked through the streets of Syracuse is a nice visual for the concept of discovery, albeit unlikely given the story first appeared in a book two centuries after the Greek scholar had died. The story does however feed the fantasy of discovery as a solitary and sudden experience.
Wei Pan, analyzed all kinds of factors to tabulate the “social-tie density” of different cities–that’s the average number of people each resident will interact with personally.
They looked at everything from the number of call partners with whom a cellphone user will end up sharing a cell tower to the number of people connecting through location-based social networks like Foursquare to the contagion rates of diseases spread only through personal contact. And they found that the higher a city’s social-tie density, the higher its levels of productivity and patents awarded.