Cities can be great laboratories for studying a wide variety of subjects but what about studying the behavior of cities? One of my favorite professors at the University of Southern California first introduced to me to the idea that cities are organic entities. They are also in a state of flux. In a recent post for City Lab titled "5 Key Themes Emerging for the 'New Science of Cities,'" Michael Mehaffy reports on the work of researchers at University College London and the Santa Fe Institute that zeroed in on some key motifs of urban systems, in the process, subverting much of the current thinking. The results have begun to find their way into recent and future symposia such as the lead-in events for the United Nations 2016 Habitat III conference on sustainable development. This new information is giving leaders in the fields of planning and development the ammunition in the global fight against sprawl.
|Jane Jacobs at a Greenwich Village bar|
|Vintage aerial of New York City|
Cities generate economic growth through networks of proximity, casual encounters and "economic spillover." Another professor of mine at USC used the word agglomeration to describe this phenomena. Simply put, economic growth in cities such as New York or San Francisco are now understood as the result of "dynamic interaction between web-like networks of individuals who exchange knowledge and information about creative ideas and opportunities." These exchanges takes semi-public and public places such as: plazas, commercial and retail spaces that have specifically set up shop in these particular districts to cater to the clientele.
Los Angeles, California
|Boston Chinatown Park|
These are some examples which illustrate just how complex cites are, "adaptive systems with their characteristics dynamic and if they are going to perform well from a human point of view- they need to be dealt with as such." Therefore, we need to re-examine our present planning systems, "building and managing cities-i.e. laws, codes, standards, models, and disincentives" that combine to form the "'operating system' for urban growth." To improve our cities, we need to take a more historic and scientific approach-an evidence-based approach regarding making good cities from a human perspective.
We human are facing a momentous challenge: finding a new way to generate creative economies and qualities of lives that are ecologically sustainable, otherwise we will usher in era of unparalleled misery. In the face of this challenge, according to Mr. Mehaffy, "cities will be enormous contributors to the problem. Or, if we understand the lessons from the emerging science of cities about cities' dynamic capacity to promote creative growth while reducing resource destruction and perhaps even offering the promise of regeneration-they can be enormous contributors to the solutions."