Urban complexity implies multiple dimensions of interactions over a vast range of phenomena governed for example by economic, physical, ecological and environmental aspects and political, health and educational systems. And of social aspects, cognitive and ethical intelligence like social economic status, equality, demographics, psychological and cognitive factors such as ideology, sexual identity. Ethical intelligence defined as the structural logic to survive, earn value, add value, acquire and manage knowledge and deal with the nature of reality. Revealing these full range of interactions between sets of these variables is difficult. Complex systems, at least theoretically could be a better way of showing such multi-layered interactions. The difficulty is that the way key factors are nested into a depiction or model of a complex system is often reductive or very restrictive, being for the most part much less than dynamic. This is so of autonomous agent systems as well. Network analysis, a common method for analysing complex systems, is also reductive, missing these factors as well even though much light is thrown on how the complex system connectivity influences it. In a nut shell, complex system need to include temporal or heterochronic relationships (chronocomlexity) between multiple social variables nested nodes and edges.
Urban complexity and resilience, begins with two radical premises. The first is that humans and nature are strongly coupled and co-evolving, and should therefore be conceived of as one ‘social-ecological’ system. The second is that the long-held assumption that systems respond to change in a linear, predictable fashion is simply wrong. According to resilience thinking, systems are in constant flux; they are highly unpredictable and self-organizing, with feedbacks across time and space. In the jargon of theorists, they are complex adaptive systems, exhibiting the hallmarks of complexity. A key feature of complex adaptive systems is that they can settle into a number of different equilibria. The concept of resilience upends old ideas about sustainability: instead of embracing stasis, resilience emphasizes volatility, flexibility, and de-centralization.
Change, from a resilience perspective, has the potential to create opportunity for development, novelty, and innovation. Resilience is not a condition nor a passive state, it is a truly dynamic and societal process, progressive and in flux all the time. So, resilience is neither the mere fact of persistence; nor does the latter reliably imply the former. Resilience is a quality: a capacity to negotiate change through creative responses, including the prospect of transformation to a radically different form when conditions demand. In their current form, cities inherently lack resilience. They depend on throughputs of matter and energy that are utterly unsustainable, and consequently endure only because they externalize the consequent social and ecological damage: in other words by systematically undermining resilience elsewhere. Their primary function—reflecting the main, unstated, policy goal—is to ensure that wealth and power accrue disproportionately to those who already have both in excess, at everyone else’s expense. An inevitable consequence of increasing inequity is to intensify resource flows to even less sustainable levels, further undermining resilience in the city itself, its constituent subsystems, and connected systems elsewhere. Centralized initiatives on ‘resilience’ are actually concerned with perpetuating this state of affairs. For this reason, no city in existence as far as I know, can plausibly claim to be resilient. Nor, limited by present conditions and mindsets, do we have any solid idea what a resilient city would look like. There are some inspiring visions, and some good ideas of how to get there, but little prospect of progress under present urban governance and planning regimes. Each disruption experienced by a city is a signal of its fundamental lack of resilience, and hence an opportunity to identify routes towards transformative change. Urban resilience strategies that emphasize maintaining the status quo ignore these signals and dismiss these opportunities. In doing so, they force change in exactly the wrong direction. Where such strategies form the basis of measurement, the results will be useless at best, and more likely counterproductive.
Resilience theory shows that, in ecological systems at least, when resilience changes it does so abruptly and without warning. The indicators that a system is approaching such a threshold bear no predictable relationship to the changes that take place when it is reached, and are evident only in retrospect, if at all. Rather than seeking to measure either progress to resilience or resilience itself, what is needed is a more qualitative approach to fostering the conditions that can enable such a transformation. This requires commitment to dismantle existing political, economic and financial institutions, and support for meaningful efforts (pretty much all by grassroots actors too marginal with respect to these institutions to have vested interests in their perpetuation) to replace them with flexible and adaptive structures able to transform in whatever way necessary to allow resilience. Only then can begin the work of building genuinely resilient cities and societies—that sustain themselves, grow and flourish in ways that allow interdependent social-ecological systems to do the same.