Emergent Urbanism

Rediscovering Urban Complexity


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That's quite an ambiguous post. I tend to agree with your definitions of good and bad urbanism. However, I don't see how the Netherlands would fit into the category of bad urbanism. Quite the contrary, I would say. By restricting the size of the city, it forces population density to remain high in those cities, thus making the cities vital and vibrant with cafés and tramways. If urban sprawl had been consented, Dutch cities might have ended up being more like Dallas/Fort-worth, that is, suburban instead of urban., without much street life (and cafés), with less bikes and trams and more cars (and thus less sustainable). New neighbourhoods in the Netherlands are usually dense and often follow the traditional urban shape (with canals and everything) instead of copying the American model of unsustainable sprawl (as it is common in Belgium).
Maybe it is the restriction upon the size of Dutch cities which is making them as vibrant as they are and saving them from the terrible effects of urban sprawl...

If what I understood is correct, the fractal has to be perfectly designed while urbanizing so that the growth of the city is symmetric and orderly. when A crystal is manufactured, a seed of perfect crystal lattice is required. outlookemailsetup.com

I would have to say if we are restricted and told to create buildings or homes in a certain way, how will our century be defined?

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The settlement on either side of the rail rod is a clear sign of the approaching calamity that soon there will be a lot of increase in population than the resources can allow for! The government should make plans keeping in mind this impending problem! microneedle skin dermal roller

Its a nice post. At first I want to say thank you for sharing with us this kind of tremendous posting. Its my personal opinion that, Buying is much more effective than rent because then we have the freedom to do anything for next. invites you to read Psychotherapie

Thanks for the site full of inspirational toughts and articles.

the best urbanism, will permit the greatest density of relationships (not density of people)

I couldn't agree more on this point. I believe that density of people is reasonably good proxy for the density of relationships when the later is harder to measure empirically. Denser urban areas (shorter distances between people and places) as well as better urban accessibility (less travel time also in the case of greater physical distances) make it easier and more propable to create relationships, but what else contributes to the creation of relationships? Is it possible to have really dense and busy streets that are actually poor in relationships?

My interest is to think (and eventually do) how for example the connectivity or density of relationships could be observed empirically in different scales in the data rich world where we live in.

To generate exuberant diversity in a city’s streets and districts […] There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there.

― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Jacobs made a strong argument that a lively neighbourhood needs to have more than one primary and secondary usage so that there is a sufficiently dense concentration of people at all times of the day. The office blocks or sleeping suburbs can not support lively action, because people move and use the places all for the same purposes and at the same time. This causes traffic congestion and other types of infrastructure overuse at peak hours, but still can not guarantee steady flow of customers to support different services. For example a restaurant succeeds better in a place where there are both working places (lunchtime customers) and residential buildings (evening customers).

What data should be analyzed: Analysing the location data of mobile devices in city level has been used already to determine better public transport networks (see the video below ) based on the real movements of masses of people . The mobile data could be used also to measure the real time-varying concentration of people in different areas or neighborhoods (metrics for the Jane Jacobs idea) and the interconnectivity of the neighbourhoods (a person that moves from one place to another creates a connection between those places - more connections between two places the more interconnected those places are)

Insights in Motion: Improving Public Transit in Istanbul (IBM + Vodafone)

Outstanding site! I agree with much of what you wrote. I've been considering putting up a few more blogs to discuss "emergent order" (I like using the term "emergent order" because it's a "stickier" meme than "emergence" which implies nothing about the term, sounds like another term, and is more easily forgotten by laymen than "emergent order." For this reason, I also like Hayek's "spontaneous order," even though "emergent order" need not be "spontaneous" per se.) that go beyond political importance. Thanks for also mentioning/writing about Hayek! I don't have a lot of time to read now, but I assume that you're also familiar with http://www.kk.org and Kevin Kelly's "Out of Control." Great stuff all around. Thanks for being part of the future. One final thought: when AGI ("Artificial General Intelligence" at human plus levels) is finally created in a self-goal-directing way, it will be able to spend an almost infinite amount of its resources "getting to the bottom of" biology. Until every molecular interaction is modeled, and the emergent patterns of nature are understood (and exploited), life will not really be "optimized."

Interesting observations, and in general I agree. However, I would add that another powerful part of this film is the dystopian idea that in a "dis-aggregated" world of suburban limbo, violent death is inevitable, and often emerges out of sheer boredom. One woman claims she fled the city to escape violence, but we are shown clearly how the only way for the young boy and his comrades to feel something in the anesthetized landscape of suburban sprawl is to commit increasingly dangerous, violent acts. Climbing a cell phone tower to spy on neighbors, war games, execution as a form of entertainment, and finally the killing the young boy's sister with "dad's gun". This is the same thesis running underneath Richard Linklater's film "Slacker". The pervasive fear of violent death that emerges from false community. I love this movie. It's a mockumentary version of the fictional TV show "Durham County". A clever work of speculative fiction that is undeniably true enough to stimulate real shivers.

Thank you Mathieu.. I find myself lucky to come across your articles recently when i really needed knowledge about theory of emerging cities..
Its my master's project and I was going through few references when I came across this particularly..
My topic is "Application of genetic algorithm in emergence of cities"
In above article, you have mentioned about cellular automata.. Can you elaborate it a little??
I would also like to know more about emergence of cities and how one can exactly apply GA to that..
I would also like to ask you few queries regarding my project.
Can I contact you on your Email Id.. Please share it if possible..
I will be grateful to receive your reply..
Thank you..

Haven't read it, but it's going on my list.

I've been keeping your blog as a personal reference in the last two years and I'd like to congratulate and to thank you. It seems we have close interests... I was wondering if you know "The Self-Organizing Universe" by Eric Jantsch. I was able to find just a pdf version of it 'cause it is a really expensive book. Thanks again, I will go through your posts again.

I don't see such a need. We need only observe ourselves to arrive at this conclusion. We are not studying animals, but our experience of space.

Citations are not necessary, if in fact we can construct a model that is emergent and reproduces the behavior we observe in history, then it becomes almost inevitable that this will happen somewhere.

Of course, in the complexity of the world, we can never know with certainty the cause of any particular phenomenon. An emergent model does not provide certainty, but it provides an explanation. What to do with this explanation is another matter entirely.

Vivid and well written text, Mathieu. I am writing from a city which should be appointed as a "huge non-place treasure", Brasília. But it is not so easy: the city works, in a way. Your approach to urban design (as a "carver" ou a "reformer") must be based in (very) clear and strong assumptions about social behavior. You not assert those foundations and it would clarify those big problems with the "non-place" concept - as a starting poit to any sound design. Non-place emerges as an undeniable construct since Marc Augé coined it. There is something authoritarian in the way that theoretical construct denounces authority and its maladies. Environment-behavior studies should be called to make non-place discussions more substantive and refutable. Do you agree?

I appreciate the content on complexity, but I think many of the initial presumptions are unfounded, assumed, or contended. For example, when shall we assume that cities became "a normal, ordinary aspect of civilized living"? If it was say, after the Roman Empire, we can point to Roman forts as the core grid upon which many cities sprang. If we say before the Roman Empire, we would need some substantial evidence that suggests early monarchs did not employ the equivalent of architects or urban planners, in some respects. However, the example provided by many large scale ruins provides evidence to the contrary.

Also, to say that cities emerge "spontaneously and without conscious effort" ignores the plain fact that many cities emerge at the crossroads of trade, or for defensive purposes, or both. Geography plays a large role in that, and someone decides that the geography is suitable for some purpose. However, even if there was no role for agency in the placement of cities, to go from that to "the efficacy of urban design in doubt" contains a serious is/ought problem. If this is true, you have not made a convincing argument to that effect.

Hayek's claim that "spontaneous order arises when multiple actors spontaneously adopt a set of actions that provides them with a competitive advantage" is dubious. Is 'competitive advantage' a necessary condition? Do not some endeavors fail despite competitive advantage, and vice-versa? Do we not do things expediently for immediate concerns, only to find a resilient structure emerged? Do the actions have to be coordinated, or can they merely be complimentary?

Finally, the notion that the "scientific suggestions of Jacobs have been ignored" itself seems to ignore the universe in which urban planning takes place, rife with competing interests, values, powers, and resources. Is it possible that planners have tried to take Jacobs' advice, only to be thwarted by powerful and monied interests?

In short, I am not convinced urban development was necessarily spontaneous before modernism, nor do I think urban panning has had a threshold effect on the development of modern cities, for better or for worse.

I am open to all of these assertions, I just think some cited evidence is in order.

we might say that a sense of place comes from connection, finding something to identify in.
Traces of life and dynamic use are the most obvious results of the time equation - wear patterns, repairs, repainting.
The idea of a sense of place relies heavily on the subjective experience of each participant in a space.

I find the article very inspiring. I specially become fond of this part "The city cannot have a designer. It cannot be built according to a description fine-tuned to perfection. This has become obvious to practically everyone, although urbanism in the english-speaking world is still tied down by the title "urban planner" in the face of all the evidence that planning makes no difference whatsoever. Still the practice of large scale zoning and site planning continues"...sounds very intriguing to me. More power to you

There are two reasons I have faith in humanity and our country. #1 Mothers It is a constant that through the ages has saved most of us from catching pneumonia and breaking our necks. #2. People like you. Instead of bashing the same 5 ideas together over and over you take a couple of steps back and look toward the resources all around.
Pioneers each and every one. What beautiful minds.

Martin: I believe that an important reason why large developments are so common and profitable is because small-scale development has been made so difficult in so many places. The regulatory barriers are high enough that it is cost-prohibitive for most small developers to jump them.

I don't know what position you hold, but it seems to me that this problem is illustrated nicely by the fact that you have a say in whether your neighbors can build an addition to their house.

Do you have an RSS feed for this website? If so, I'd follow it. Great site.

Yeah, agreed although I'm not so sure that you cast aside all of the interesting complexity.
And yes, definitely a lot of it isn't useful in design and planning. A lot is simply interesting for it's own sake.

However, some is useful. For example, as density increases, so does the productivity. This would lend itself to planning in thinking about creating places that promote interaction, rather than separating things out (single home dwellings etc of urban sprawl). Also while these types of analytical equations can't explain why certain cities are different, it can identify which ones persistently perform better or worse than others, which can lead to insights into their differences on a planning level.

I personally just see it as interesting, and it certainly can't hurt in viewing things from many different perspectives (even if it isn't used directly in any way.)

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