Learning to model social systems can foster critical thinking about the applications of mathematical methods to social issues and also lead to professional opportunities. I introduce an intriguing simple model proposed by Thomas Schelling to understand urban segregation. It shows that even when individual agents seek mixed neighborhoods, they can collectively create a segregated city that makes everyone unhappy. The model can be presented as a simple role-playing game or by a computer program. At a more advanced level, the methods of statistical physics provide a way to calculate equilibrium states corresponding to segregated configurations. I also discuss why physics inspired models have difficulties in understanding the complex dynamics of real social systems.

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Supplementary Material

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