Emergent Urbanism

Rediscovering Urban Complexity


Thank you for your comment, but you are making the same mistake Le Corbusier did, although he had the excuse of living in a time where such a mistake seemed obviously true. The biology of life is NOT machinelike. A machine is a very narrowly-defined type of simple linear system, one of four classes discovered by Stephen Wolfram in A New Kind of Science. Life is a network of cells which transform themselves in a non-linear pattern in order to form tissues over time. That is unlike any machine ever built by man, but it is exactly the kind of system a city is.

We can forgive Le Corbusier for his errors, but we cannot forgive that the errors are still being made now that we have the science available to understand them. I believe Le Corbusier, with his endless optimism in progress and technology, would embrace this science.

Like the human body, a city is an organism. An organism with parts that utilyze funtion and fuel. Each part in the human body serves a purpose (with the exception of the appendix and the gall bladder. the gall blader can be removed and the patient will never show signs of, shit...anything, it is utterly useless).
A city operates the same way. Each individual provides either the fuel or functionary mechanism to perpetuate its survival.

Evolutionary inquiry: Without natural parsites and bacteria routinly processed through internal MECHANISMS, why would humans need a liver? Without natural parasites and bacteria intrinsically woven into all forms of life, nothing would exist. No blue cheese, no milk, no beer, no vodka, no pizza, no pasta, no fruits or vegetables would grow, fallen trees would not decompose, deceased humans would remain unaffected. Like a human and our ecology...I assume since you are an expert on ecology and have 'transformations' creating complexities suited to humans changing needs and desires down pat, that "deep ecologists" agree with your assensment. They do not. The Earth is an organism not unlike ourselves. The biology of life is machinelike. A city is a machine and needs to be in the charge of an individual, much like Plato's philosopher king. Just as Octavious manipulated Rome and siezed power, leading the greatest Empire the world has ever known, so to must modern cities be governed by an individual. Parlimentary process is haphazard at best, futile at its worst.
Finally, your articles hint at following certain processes in order to obtain desired results. Who's results are we trying to attain? Are they Jane Jacob's? Overpopulation in this country will dictate living in communities not afforded the little old lady who keeps her eyes on the street. Making money and supporting your loved ones will render bustling streets and mixed use public places useless, there simply will not be any time to enjoy them. Cities do not emerge or morph over time. There is no recipe. There is only a destination, or a picture as you describe it, to reach for. Once again there is no recipe. If there was it would have been used and just like the bacteria responsible for fermenting blue cheese, i would not be here typing this riduculously long e-mail to try and get to a mind so clouded with supposed knowledge that it would apply emergence theory and mutational concepts to a problem that they do not apply to. No matter how you may try and relate the two, cities are not math. Cities are alive, they are machines, there is no recipe. If i'm wrong and you have the recipe for life or cities, i am sorry, and can you forward them to me. I wrote this because your articles denounced anothers ideas as incorrect. Le Corbusier's ideas were not demonic, they were misapplied by politicians. The industrial advancements you write about and the ensuing need to utilyze them sound remarkably similar to Le Corbusier's rational with steel framework. Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers in his remarks to the Harvard Graduate School of Design had this to say, "I think we're living in a magic bullet moment right now. And it's inevitable that in a few years we'll be hearing how all these wonderful new builings we're seeing now didn't live up to expectations, didn't deliver the tourists and the investment that they should have, cost more money than expected, are difficult to maintain." These words could have been written in 1962 as the Robert Taylor homes in Chicago were being torn down before they were finished being built. The were not however, they were written in 2005. Never say never, the mathematics of a city or theories of emergence sound like Corbusiers Golden Ratio, I truly hope you at least know what that means, you should, after all Corbusiers demonic. You would not call a person names without fully understanding his ideals and principle beliefs would you?

The main work of urbanism, embodied in building and zoning codes, is essentially algorithmic, made up of if-statements. If something, do this or that. So in that sense any good urbanism is just researching and developing protocols for how a city will grow around the chaotic "program" (in the architectural sense) of the city as a whole.

great insights, thank you for publishing this. i agree with many of your points and am excited to see the future of urbanism given ideas of emergence, especially as it is reinforced by the movement of landscape urbanism.
given your background in computer science, are you interested in finding algorithms that start to express the combinatory logics that manifest the city?
i am a graduate student in architecture and interested in how ideas of landscape ecology and an expanded notion of density [namely topologic and network, besides physical] can begin to redefine how our cities are generated.

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