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Marchetti's constant illustration: chart showing how Berlin increased in size with new means of travelling faster through walking, electric trams, and subways, to cars

Marchetti’s constant

Marchetti's constant is the idea that people across history budget, on average, about an hour a day for travelling. Originally observed by Yacov Zahavi, it came from the observation that even as our means of transport sped up, instead of travelling less each day, we would just travel further. As in the sketch, this leads to a conclusion that the size of our cities increases partly according to how efficiently we can travel in and out—they generally increase to a size that maintains about an hour round-trip journey.

Cesare Marchetti observed that Greek villages and ancient walking cities, for example, as marked by ancient city walls, tend to share a radius of about 2.5km. Walking at a typical 5km/hr makes a one-hour round-trip journey. He also pointed out that: “Even people in prison for a life sentence, having nothing to do and nowhere to go, walk around for one hour a day, in the open.”

Unfortunately, if you live in London, the average round-trip seems to be an exception of 1h30.

This is also known as the constant travel time budget hypothesis.

Also see isochrones. It might be interesting to look at these according to transport method…

Image adapted from: Marchetti, C., 1994: Anthropological Invariants in Travel Behavior, Technological Forecasting and Social Change , 47 :75–88, Internal Publication, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

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