The rapid urbanization makes the understanding of the evolution of urban environments of utmost importance to steer societies towards better futures. Many studies have focused on the emerging properties of cities, leading to the discovery of scaling laws mirroring the dependence of socio-economic indicators on city sizes. However, few efforts have been devoted to the modelling of the dynamical evolution of cities, as reflected through the mutual influence of socio-economic variables. Here, we fill this gap by presenting a maximum entropy generative model for cities written in terms of a few macro-economic variables, whose parameters (the effective Hamiltonian, in a statistical-physical analogy) are inferred from real data through a maximum-likelihood approach. This approach allows for establishing a few results. First, nonlinear dependencies among indicators are needed for an accurate statistical description of the complexity of empirical correlations. Second, the inferred coupling parameters turn out to be quite robust along different years. Third, the quasi time-invariance of the effective Hamiltonian allows guessing the future state of a city based on a previous state.
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