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Indicators for self-organization potential in urban context

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)951-971
Number of pages21
JournalEnvironment & Planning B: Planning and Design
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sep 2015
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


Self-organization is a basic mechanism by which complex urban systems organize themselves. This mechanism emerges from individual agents’ local interactions, often with unpredictable consequences at the regional level. These emergent patterns cannot be controlled by traditional hierarchical methods, but they can be steered and encouraged towards desirable goals. Self-organization is often used as an allegory for all ‘unplanned’ activity in cities. It is important to study the actual mechanisms of self-organization in cities to link the theory of self-organization to planning praxis. This work builds on ongoing work exploring novel complex planning tools and methods. Here I explore the key features of open dynamic systems identified in the literature as indicators of self-organizing capacity. I study their applicability in urban spatial planning, and propose three measurable characteristics for estimating the self-organization potential of urban activities. Flow reflects generic accessibility, and is measured using space syntax. Internal order refers to autonomously organizing entities, in this case the clustering tendencies of activities. Enriching rests upon increasing complexity and is measured as changes in degrees of entropy over time. The results indicate that (1) the study area meets the criteria for self-organization, and (2) these characteristics can be applied to discover nodes of higher potential for self-organization in a city.


  • complexity, innovation, planning, self-organization, urban evolution

Publication forum classification

Field of science, Statistics Finland