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How modern cities could suffer the same fate as ancient Angkor

We talked a lot about cascading network behavior in class and how adopting one small thing can result in a cascading effect that spreads throughout the entire network. There have been many examples relating to cascades in friend groups and information cascades with modern technology and social media. However, this article brings up, on a much larger scale, a very relevant and concerning example of another application of the cascading effect: the downfall of an entire city.

The article discusses the unfortunate destruction of the ancient city Angkor. It was at one point the largest city on Earth and fast growing, but that same huge growth proved to be its downfall. As the population increased, the city had to grow bigger too and the urban infrastructure grew more and more complex which provided some weaknesses that were hard to identify. However, recent research suggests that it was this rapid growth and reckless additions to the city’s infrastructure that ultimately led to its demise. After a period of long droughts and variable rainfall/flooding, Angkor’s water distribution network was compromised and the city was abandoned.┬áThe large floods went into major pathways, resulting in very damaging erosion. This would result in other pathways having even less water, resulting in sediment build up.

This brings up a very important issue for our modern urban infrastructure. The fate of Angkor serves as an important lesson for us today. Modern cities and populations are growing at a rapid rate as technology improves. This huge growth is hard to sustain and our current infrastructure will be difficult to maintain, but our water and electricity networks are so vital to our way of life that it’s important to make sure that variable factors (like weather) would not be able to have that same cascading effect that crippled the city of Angkor.


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