Emergent Urbanism

Rediscovering Urban Complexity


Still tweaking the new spam filters, sorry for any inconvenience.

I think Emergent urbanism is not the same as letting slums happen. Great cities in history have emerged in the same way, and I believe that cities should grow in an organic way to be compatible with natural, economic, social and cultural environment, The natural balance that is missed in today's urban areas.

It was Sir Christopher Wren, not 'Robert' , and it is probable that his draughtsman, later an architect in his own right, Nicholas Hawksmoor, designed the western towers. The cathedral itself is part of a larget complexity, the other 52 City of Londonchurches built or rebuilt after the Great Fire, their steeple designs rising above the streetscape and interacting with one another spatially.

Hi Mathieu,

I am currently doing my architectural thesis on 'chaos and conformity' in the city and I just stumbled upon your website. I am VERY excited by the work you are doing here and am so pleased there are others interested in understanding the underlying isomorphism inherent in nature and cities. I am currently writing my research proposal and am trying to figure out my research strategy - its a hard one! There are very few examples of people who have gone out trying to trace and map how chaos works and I think it may need to be a mathematical strategy. Anyway, just wanted to let you know I am so excited by your post and am now going to go through everything!

Are you serious? Simply sit back on your kiester and "let a slum happen?" That's one of the more moronic ideas I've heard in a long time.

Mathieu! Where have you gone?

Demolishing areas where few live seems stupid to me. It only costs the city money to mow the grass... but if that's too much, why not give plots to land to those who live in the city already, and let them farm it? You'd instantly help many people who are economically struggling and lower costs for the city to keep mowing grass on un-used plots.
Over the years, the city would become known for urban farming, independent /community brands would emerge - branding the food with clever brand identities that would play on the cities tough reputation and history, AND would eventually change some of what Detroit is known for (ghettos/cars/freeways)... into a not-so-tough place that's truly diverse in lifestyles (city/burbs/rural all mixed).

In London, they have a 'green-belt' of protected land around Greater London. This means the city's sprawl is limited, which forces people to move into areas that might not be their first choice, then make it better.

For many US cities, these methods would not go over well with the public, although they should... But for Detroit, farm land is better than forests.
Forests have crime and policing issues... and some maintance issues that all cost the local government money - forever. But giving the land to people that will use it to better their lives is another thing all together!

Just my thoughts!

I think the contemporary thought of Urbanism in this blog refereed was alright but we are facing the little bit different experience of Urbanism after post conflict situation in Nepal. Due to having various types of social interests and values; which may called as “sub-culture”.

the reviewers quibble about global population (is it 6.6bn or 6.7bn) does it matter when it's probably too many for sustainability by a factor of 10. And of course reviewer - we would need to cover the entire planet with solar panels and the seas with wind turbines. Im sure the reviewer would prefer little solar lights lighting up their garden than solar power panels doing something useful - ie. reducing oil, coal, nuclear demand. And let me get this straight... the reviewer argues that releasing methane (a greenhouse gas 24x worse than CO2) we should 'let happen' because we don't know if it's consequences would be good / or would be bad? So basically we can't trust scientists that say it's a tipping point and would send global temperatures up by degrees instead of fractions of a degree?

There is a very good summary of Jane Jacobs's economic ideas here:

I just finished a Spanish translation of that document; hopefully Mark Rosenfelder will put it up soon in that site.

Thanks for this entry. I too think there's a great deal more to be talked about in Jane Jacobs' books than the scholarly world has done so far. But I also think most people don't realise how serious she actually was. Reading about her now, it seems she's often portrayed as a character, feisty older woman. And as such, she seems to speak to various urban actiontakers. But it really isn't just about neighbourhood rallies and painting flowers in asphalt.

I have actually yet to read her final (and as you said, darkest) book, which I'm certainly going to do next.

I think the contemporary thought of Urbanism in this blog refereed was alright but we are facing the little bit different experience of Urbanism after post situation in Nepal. Due to having various types of social interests and values; which may called as "sub-culture".

I enjoy this, the houses on the South Kensington Street

But I hAVE A QUESTION /Which is the name of the street?

Recently in Milan we had an unconference about co-produce (co-design) public services.
I did my presentation about "Co-production in planning for the intercultural city" (the link is: http://www.paolapierri.info/2010/11/16/co-production-in-planning-for-the...).
I think many times the intercultural dimension is completly forgot, thinking about public service, urban planning and co-production and participation. Though diversity management is something that works at local level. Cities are the ground for integration, conflicts' resolution, cohabitation and social innovation.
Immigrants have new needs and new ways to conceive and live a city, its spaces and its services.
What do you think about it? Have you more information or sources to be explored on this issue.
Thank you

Excellent criticism!!! I watched the film with some friends, all of us industrial ecologists, and we all had the same reaction as you "watch Home, be inspired by it, but do yourself a favor and turn the sound off". You nail it in the best way in your article.

I propose this clip from George Carlin. I think it is the best way to put it, in the most non-scientific, simple, and straight-forward way.


from the photos, it appears that the structure held up well to the fire- possibly a very good design?

I did a slow read through Death and Life over the past couple of months. Three weeks of that was while on a 12,000km road trip around Canada and the US, including numerous cities. I have been an active proponent and student of complexity theory for some years but I was totally shocked to see such strong implied alignment with Jacobs and complexity. I had to keep reminding myself as I read that she published the book in 1961, well before the current formality and level of interest around complexity theory arose (as you point out above).

I have yet to track down the Warren Weaver document she references on page 429 but I'm looking forward to digging through that as well. My complexity theory work has focussed on how we might improve organizational adaptability and what adaptive leadership looks like. Though I had organizations and institutions in mind for this kind of work, it's spot on for cities as collections of these types of things. The fractal nature of human organization also means there are aptitudes that are important at all scales with specific applications being infinitely variable depending on context.

Social network theory has some interesting things to say about city vitality and is really a nuanced aspect of complexity science turned toward the nature of our human relational networks, social capital, and how it grows and changes over time. I'm currently working down this line as a way of understanding things like persistent urban poverty.

As a fellow Canadian (Hamilton), are there places where these ideas are being embraced and explored here in Canada? I visited 401 Richmond Street West (http://www.401richmond.net/) in Toronto recently and there is a strong Jane Jacobs imprint there - and a large portrait in the main stairwell.

I'll subscribe so I can stay more up-to-date on what you are writing.


Man. The Earth is dying or rather the systems that sustain life and all you care about is pretty pictures!

What do you mean turn the sound off! Are you crazy! They have a totally valid message to deliver. Uncontrolled growth is what got us in this mess in the first place. Yes I do believe in their argument. We need sustainable systems. So according to you we should ignore what is happening because you did not provide any alternative solutions, and just grow ourselves into oblivion. That is what the Chinese are doing. God help us if China becomes the new America.

Dear François,
You are very passionate about these issues, but you are not taking in the whole picture. What is the the global warming pact if not the creation of a global USSR? What is the cause of Haiti's deforestation, if not a political disaster starting with the American invasion and occupation in the early 20th century?

In fact, I do know better than all scientists brought together, in some things. That is the fundamental problem of tacit knowledge in complexity science - you can't know everything everywhere. Only by connecting people through systems of individual action do you bring their total knowledge into one system. Appealing to authority is what creates disasters.

Funny argument really! And calling this propaganda is surprising too. All day long you are surrounded by commercials on the streets, on radio, on tv, on the internet and even hidden in movies that try to brainwash you to consume more. And that seems ok with you? Then you see ONE movie citing scientific realities and you say it is propaganda? My intuition is that you have been brainwashed long ago and refuse to face reality by admitting that your lifestyle isn't sustainable.

You refer to social disasters caused by fighting global warming? Well I'd love some examples of those! I don't have to give you social disasters of problems caused by over exploiting nature as the movies is packed with examples. If you want others, look up the Aral sea disaster, Haiti, all the major rivers running dry,...

And I don't understand why you focus only on global warming since this is only one problem the movie pinpoints. What about deforestation, water pollution, air pollution, excessive water exploitation,... Should we just continue doing that too?

Lastly you say: "Green politics fails not because it relies on facts that are incorrect, but because it relies on facts that are inherently unknowable". So what do you know about the situation if we would just continue business as usual? Do you know better than all scientists brought together?

I've been trying for years to get a trained economist -- just one -- to walk with me through the pages of Cities and the Wealth of Nations and either to acknowledge that Jacobs is probably right or to point out exactly where she's wrong and why. To this day, none has ever been willing to give this book the time of day, even to debunk it.

I still don't understand how you propose to accommodate complex natural and service infrastructure systems in such an emergent system - will they also be sequentially aggregated and thus revolve around local generation of power and treatment of waste. Can such a process be accommodated at eh speed necessary to accommodate the rapid urbanization currently being experienced in many parts of the world?

Further comment

Please send your comments by email at mthl@mthl.info, or find me on Twitter @mathieuhelie. The commenting system is closed at the moment as no measures can hold back blog spamming bots.

Subscribe to Conversation