Monday, November 28, 2011

Complex-City Workshop in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Next week I will be taking part in the COMPLEX-CITY Workshop, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Each invited speaker/participant will be presenting an original research paper. I have completed my paper,"Design of Sustainable Supply Chains for Sustainable Cities," and am very much looking forward to presenting it and taking part in this workshop in one of my favorite cities.

This workshop is being organized by Dr. Peter Nijkamp and Dr. Emmanouil Tranos and will take place at the Tinbergen Institute/VU University. According to the organizers, the aim of the workshop is to bring together scholars with an expertise at the interface of spatial-urban dynamics and complexity theory. Through a presentation of advanced research papers, the organizers hope to ensure both a stock-taking of the scientific state of affairs in this field and an exploration of new and promising research endeavours. This workshop will be sponsored by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and further supported by the Tinbergen Institute and the Department of Spatial Economics at the VU University, Amsterdam.

A more detailed Aims and Scope forwarded by the organizers can be found below.

Aims and Scope of the COMPLEX-CITY Workshop

With half of the world’s population now living in cities and predictions that this will rise to three quarters by the end of the 21st century, cities represent one of the key foci around which important problems in real-world complex systems are clustered. There are clear policy implications for all dynamic urban models being developed. It seems logical that urban policy making should seek to intervene in much more sophisticated ways than hitherto and that complexity theory will provide us with the means for identifying how small changes can lead to dramatic and lasting beneficial effects which are both more equitable and efficient that anything developed hitherto. Pressing problems such as aging and climate change all involve changes in human behavior, particularly travel and social interactions, and our focus here directly identifies both data and models that are pertinent to these complexity issues.

Complexity prompts many intellectual challenges, both conceptually and empirically. The intellectual domain in which the workshop on COMPLEX-CITY is situated, is focused on the development and use of theories and models that explain, simulate and predict the dynamics of cities defined across spatial/geographical scales from the global to the local, from the world city to the village. In the last twenty years, the field has embraced new developments in complexity theory based on the inescapable logic that such systems mainly develop organically, from the bottom up, illustrating fascinating, surprising and sometime chaotic patterns of emergence, which show order al all scales and are hard to understand as anything but the remorseless action of decision-making at the lowest levels. This presents also one of the grandest of challenges to urban policy analysis: current policy instruments are often pitched at the wrong scale, producing methods of intervention which are largely ineffective in that they ignore the essential logic of the way such human systems actually develop.

The workshop has a stock-taking and exploratory nature and aims to identify critical parameters for urban policy analysis with respect to problems of development in large city systems. It will address new developments in complexity theory, based on the existing body of knowledge. What makes this particularly opportune is the fact that massive new streams of data with respect to movement and location patterns in city systems are rapidly becoming available. These are providing the momentum for new developments in theory and modeling which are taking the slow but sure developments of the last twenty years to new kinds of applications relevant to policy making. What is different is that comprehensive data are being routinely collected at the individual level relating to where economic and social activities are carried out in cities and how individuals cooperate and conflict with one another in geographical terms. The prospect exists for the first time of demonstrating how aggregate patterns in cities do actually emerge from bottom-up actions and interactions, linking physical patterns of transportation to social networks, patterns of trade to the flow of information. These developments rely on unobtrusive and automatic data collection using digital technologies that are penetrating every aspect of social and economic life, providing unprecedented possibilities for the analysis of data about human spatial behaviour. This is essential in taking complexity science to the point where it becomes truly applicable in urban policy analysis.

The quest of the workshop is to demonstrate how several long-standing ideas about urban dynamics can be tested and validated using new data sources that provide information about routine decision-making concerning locations and interactions. We envisage that many well-established models of the mechanisms governing how cities change are built around models of reaction-diffusion, which generate both smooth and abrupt change reminiscent of criticality, catastrophe, and chaos, can be tested and extended using new digital data. These range from a synthesis of monetary and social transactions to mobile phone records, electronic ticketing, financial payments, routine compilations of network geometry focusing on infrastructure and locational change, and a host of other data from which value can be easily added through synthesis with other data sets. The workshop will focus on urban models that simulate processes involved in transactional flows ranging from physical movements on transportation systems to information flows associated with phone networks to the assembly of economic data associated with markets.

There are clear links to the resilience and sustainability of city systems with regard to travel and interaction as well as to methods for sensing what is happening in real time with respect to policies that are being implemented. These links have been exploited in complexity theory with respect to spatial/geographical scales but they have not been realised in terms of temporal scales. Thus the workshop will focus on linking frequent to less frequent, and routine events to strategic one-off events, and will provide new ways of examining the link between the micro and the macro.