Tampere University of Technology

TUTCRIS Research Portal

Planning Evolution

Research output: Working paperProfessional


Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016
Publication typeNot Eligible


Recent decades the challenge of how to plan our towns and cities in the late modern world has raised increasingly questions about methods, tools and the fundamental nature of planning, design and urbanity. It seems that cities repeatedly avoid the control; its behavior is seen as flawed compared to orthodox linear regression models. The dilemma between (ineffective) control mechanisms in planning and the surprising outcomes in city form and function have become afore from many perspectives of urban life. Seemingly random shifts in (city) economies, vaporized working places and surprising changes in location principles and competitiveness all rebelling against planning and governing; social networks and organization and quality of life; and very complex feedback structures of natural and human systems’ networks… In a corporeal city, unpredictable movement patterns and location preferences seem not to obey a static top down ideal. The deep structure of the way we plan our cities seems to be still based on 100 years old rationalistic-modernistic ideas of control. However our understanding of cities and operation of other similairly complex systems has advanced enormously.
This issue of collading understanding of the urban realm and ideal – of city and its planning - have been scrutinized in research for decades, but only recently it has been seriously starting to become noticed by practicing planners. New paradigm of the Complex city has been emerging, and on its coattails now profound yet embryonic progress in research of fundamental characteristics for planning tools and methods operational in the complex environment. Requirements for those, as will be seen, are profoundly different than for cities understood in a traditional, static sense. This chapter contemplates complexity of cities from three perspectives: progress of city models and planning, evolution of systems theories, and complexity epistemology, to enlighten the world view behind the following articles.

Evolution of the city (models)
First of all, it is important to understand how the city has become, as it might seem, too complex to be controlled in respect of both physical form and configurations, and socio-economic processes. This is partly true due the complexification of urbanity in time through variety of design ideals, aims and maneuvers reflecting technological progress, but also something profoundly related to increasing of scale.
We can perceive that from the beginning of industrial era, as the cities have become increasingly complex the planning and design ideals have gradually (buth not smoothly) adapted from harsh control of the physical structure of the city towards a more tolerant views. Adjusting to the recent trends - citizen activism and social media, holocracy, uberization, pop-up –culture, sharing economy which all may be seen as signs of increasing nonlinear networking emerging in society - the praxis is little by little starting to consider better the urban actors and change, for example the developing means of participatory actions or creating uniquely customed plans). Overall the planning systems has still remained rather strictly top down -oriented, and needs to take the final step towards a genuinely bottom up –approach. Well established urban theoretical framework is required for this. Emergence of complexity sciences of cities has provided a somewhat generalizable theory with novel attitude towards previously unsolvable urban issues such as uncertainty, trans-scalar pattern formation, and sudden qualitative shifts in society and city.
City planning, design and building is first and foremost conscious, intentional human action despite the natural analogies embedded in complexity thinking. City is not a stochastic natural entity, but an artefact and collection of local plans and decisions with - perhaps surprisingly - similar characteristics to natural systems. Neither is the city an organism, but it resembles an ecosystem. Analogical characteristic of the dynamics – not only the form – with natural systems is undeniably a challenge, but it also enables considerate applying of method (not just adopting) from natural sciences capable of dealing with such complex environments.

Evolution of complexity science
Secondly, the emergence of the science of complexity dates back to the first half of the 20th century; however, the profound way (intrinsic in complexity thinking) of considering the world –as a dynamic, continuously and surprisingly changing whole consisting of myriads of nested nets – has deep roots in western philosophy and science despite the domination of mechanical world view for the past two centuries. In a way Complexity can be considered as a culmination point and practical application combining eventually the ages old theoretical views of the world to actual physical environment and phenomena. It does so in a manner that enables practical solutions for understanding and operating with and in complex environment, for example in city planning and design. In respect of cities, this process of slow integration of holistic, or systemic, world views in numerous scientific fields has surprisingly remained remote from urban studies, planning and design during almost all of the 20th century, with only some narrow but strong threads bridging the two, and gradually emergence a more established ground for science of complexity, and parallel science of complex cities.
The narrative for the city and of complexity could have been intertwined together. However it was considered that the separation would be justified for clarity since, first, until recently the connections between the science of cities and planning and the progress leading to complexity thinking were more just random lonely voices than systematic influences, and the confluence of the two took place relative recently within Academia, and in planning and design the task is still in progress.