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Emerging Cities

BenKoski's picture
Based on what was said during the first day of class, I understand emergence to be the study of complex systems in which the final outcome for the system is determined by the state of a multitude of variables that interact in complex, unpredictable, and chaotic ways. As a Cities major concerned primarily with issues of planning and policy in modern American cities, my interest in emergence lies mainly in using the concept to understand cities as the product of large numbers of independent and unpredictable actors. For instance, one could view cities as a collection of a large number of individual citizens, or a large collection of economic agents and actors, or a large set of built structures--all of which represent examples of emergence theory that could be used to define a city. Thinking about cities as emergent systems raises intriguing opportunities to use these insights about cities as systems to model, simulate, and predict changes in the urban system to support planning decisions. From what I'm able to tell from a few cursory Google searches, not much has been done in using emergence theories to understand the dynamics of modern cities. But it seems that there is a bit of existing research (incuding this paper examining the size of cities as an emergent system and this site, which indirectly uses the concept of emergence to explain the relationship between "city-systems" and the "world-system") that has been working to apply concepts of emergence in order to understand the evolution and development of cities and urban form.


LindsayGold's picture

I don't know if I agree that this is a study solely of complex systems. I consider it more of a study of the origins of complex systems, and whether they're all unified under/over one simple set of rules. I think you're getting to my point of view with the part about cities being made up of people, or buildings, or economic things - I see it as, how do these all relate? How can we link the socioeconomic status of a neighborhood with the status of the stock market, or (more difficult) with the placement of hydrogen atoms in certain molecules? I personally think that trying to focus on a certain discipline will be very difficult in this class - it's all about making connections.
AngadSingh's picture

I'm reading some Durkheim for a sociology class, and one aspect of his social theory seems to jive well with my conception of emergence. Let's begin with a functioning society, composed of numerous individuals interacting amongst themselves. Each individual acts in accordance with his or her will. The sum of these interactions and moralities produces, in an emergent manner, a societal culture. These cultural categories then proceed to influence the material/moral reality of the society from which they arose. In a sense, there is some circular, dialectical thing going on here. Society is constantly influenced by the cultural categories to which it gives rise. It is not true that you can begin with a society entirely absent of some conceived cultural categories. Nor does society modify its cultural categories, which then in turn impact social relations. Instead, these processes are ever-present and occur simultaneously.