Urban System Engineering

By juni 1, 2018 april 8th, 2019 Algemeen

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 analyzing 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. By pushing Earth’s climate and biosphere out of the dynamics of the Holocene humanity is at risk of moving our planet outside a safe operating space for humanity by altering important feedback loops, potentially producing abrupt and irreversible systemic changes with impacts on current and future generations.

From the start human agency, global social and economic networks and important feedback interactions between human systems and planetary and urban processes – have not been dynamically represented or otherwise resolved in existing and integrated assessment models.

Capturing these dynamics in a new generation of Urban Dynamic Models should allow us to address a number of critical questions about socio-economic-ecological turbulence in our cities.

The biggest challenge in answering such questions is to understand human activities and social structures as the least predictable, but at present also the most influential component of cities in the Anthropocene. Understanding and modelling cites, the tightly intertwined social-economic-environmental system that humanity now inhabits, requires addressing human agency, system-level effects of networks and complex coevolutionary dynamics. Analyzing and understanding these dynamics sheds light on a coevolutionary view of urban dynamics in the Anthropocene, including multiple development pathways, obstacles, dangerous domains and the sought-after safe and just space for humanity.

Theory and models of biogeophysical dynamics are well established, and our efforts developing  an adaptive network and flexible framework for modelling social-economic-environmental urban dynamics, regime shifts and transformations in an emergent and dynamic way, are offering interesting perspectives.  Dynamic prescription of scenarios, including phenomena such as social learning, segregation, norm and value change, and group dynamics such as coalition formation are very promising.

Our existing Urban System Engineering is an exciting approach/model to study such phenomena. Such analysis offers significant potential to augment existing models and methodologies. But we are not there yet, further research, experiments, support is necessary.