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What can complexity theory tell us about urban planning?


Ron Crawford

Date published

27 April 2016

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This research note was written as a background paper for our Better Urban Planning inquiry.

The purpose of this note is to generate a discussion about cities as complex, adaptive systems and possible implications for urban planning. The note raises questions about the place of different broad approaches to planning, in dealing with complexity. It also raises questions about how collective choice mechanisms to support a participative, collaborative approach would develop.

Complexity theory is only one frame that the inquiry will use. In any case, complexity theory builds on an eclectic range of other disciplines. Urban economics, the economics of innovation, behavioural economics and comparative institutional analysis are other relevant frames from which to view urban planning. Standard economic equilibrium analysis, suitably contextualised, also has its place (Colander & Kupers, 2014).

We envisage that the ideas set out in this note will inform the inquiry as it proceeds. The advantages of complexity and effective governance within complex systems are integral to well-performing cities.



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