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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 secondsThe urban, well, let me be frank. We all have ideas, concepts, and constructs about how to see the urban. But no one exactly knows what it is. The urban is not an entity. Instead, it has identity. And the urban identity is fuzzy, fluid, vague. And not surprisingly, the urban is defined in very many ways. Look at all these people. They all have great concepts, plural city by Kevin Lynch, social city by Jane Jacobs, the exploiting city by David Harvey, et cetera, et cetera. Most important for us, if we look back in time, is the functional city.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 secondsAnd look around you. Look at your friends. When I think about cities, a daughter of a friend of mine believes the city is the place where she finds Hennes and Mauritz. My sons believe the city is what they see through the iPad. And we find our way using, well, a digital roadmap. For us, sometimes that's the city. For our story, Horst Rittel, a great planner from the past and scholar from Berkeley, is important. He called the urban wicked, in contrast to tamed. A wicked city is something we fundamentally cannot understand. And the reason is, a city is full of discontinuous change, with change being the only constant factor.

Skip to 1 minute and 56 secondsThe city is a place also where the global and the local meet. A city is a place where we communicate and connect, and where the global and the local are connected, with the city being the global village.

Skip to 2 minutes and 15 secondsAt this very moment, 50% of the people do live in cities. Basically, Northwestern Europe, everyone is urban, has an urban attitude. The urban is where we live. And the city is our home. But do we know what's going on in the city and with the city? No. And can we be exact about a city? No. Are we able to foresee the future, the route the city goes? No, we can't. Can we manage the city? Can we manage the urban? Well, perhaps so, but we have to let go traditional ideas. The functional city is no longer, well, a good way to see a city and how it evolves.

Skip to 3 minutes and 8 secondsThe urban is in constant process of discontinuous change. The urban, therefore, behaves more or less like a complex, adaptive system. That means the urban develops, but in a nonlinear way. And how to see this, a city developing nonlinearly.

Skip to 3 minutes and 29 secondsTo understand nonlinearity, let me introduce you to my two heroes. They are not planners. They are not economists. They are mathematicians. One is Fibonacci, long time gone, but he brought us a wonderful system of Arabic numbers. We are still using that today. The other hero is Mandelbrot. He just died recently, 2010. These two are for me extremely interesting, because they're explaining nonlinearity in a very handsome way. Fibonacci, for example, comes up with a sequence which is nonlinear. Each step in his sequence is a process of self-similarity. And this self-similarity is also the key to Mandelbrot's fractals. And whatever scale the fractal is being looked at, it reproduces the same structure. And that is interesting.

Skip to 4 minutes and 29 secondsAnd Mandelbrot's fractal is both dynamic and multilevel, as a city is.

Skip to 4 minutes and 37 secondsCould Mandelbrot's idea of nonlinearity become an interesting way of looking at a city's future and a city's development as Fibonacci's sequence was popular in the past, also a nonlinear sequence. The question is, will nonlinearity help us to understand a city? And will we help to understand a city better than we did before? And can these mathematical structures help us in understanding nonlinearity better?

Skip to 5 minutes and 17 secondsThe Fibonacci sequence combines the first two numbers into a third one, and so. One and one is two, one and two is three, two and three is five, et cetera. We can find these rhythms everywhere, amazing, in trees, sunflowers, in great mathematical bodies, such as the five pointed stars, et cetera, and in cities. In the past, they called it defined proportions. It's as if the gods were hidden in these structures, if the gods were trying to tell us something through these wonderful algorithms. The question is, how does this relate, this defined proportion, this nonlinearity, how does this relate to urban design?

Skip to 6 minutes and 3 secondsI have to take you with me to France to answer this question in a quite elegant way. Let's go to Ville de Richelieu. Ville de Richelieu was a project of Cardinal de Richelieu in 1636. We all know Cardinal de Richelieu. He was the famous villain hunting the Three Musketeers in loads of movies. In reality, apparently he did a good job as prime minister over Louis, King Louis the XIII. Because he was given by the king the opportunity to build a town, a chateau, and a park.

Skip to 6 minutes and 48 secondsGuess what? How did he structure this space with his town, a chateau, and a park? He used the Fibonacci sequence, a defined, nonlinear pattern. And it's now there. You can go to it. You can have a look. That's nonlinearity.

Skip to 7 minutes and 11 secondsNow we're going to make a jump to today basically, a time where linearity prevails. And a milestone in this jump from the past to the modern age where linearity prevails is garden city concept by Ebenezer Howard. He came up with this concept in the early 1900s. It's a milestone for spatial planning. Despite its romantic touch, the concept marks the beginning of a functional era. How it proposes a separation of functions, units of productions are to be allocated in the urban centre, while consumption and great life are meant to be part of the satellite, the garden cities. Satellites and centres are proposed to be well-connected by direct lines of infrastructure. And they are the expression of functionality.

Skip to 8 minutes and 16 secondsThere you are, all the ingredients of the modern city of the 20th century are there in Ebenezer Howard's proposal of the garden city concept. In a highly planned environment, urban functions are separated from each other while being well-connected. It's functional. It's predictable. It's controllable. And that is precisely what we call linear.

Skip to 8 minutes and 42 secondsThe linear world is the world we inherited, our generation. We know no better. All is meant to be functional, straightforward, and clear, no room for multiple interpretations. And we have great examples of those, the Seagram Building in New York by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, [? Gerrit ?] Rietveld's chair. It's a great chair, but not meant to sit in, because it will hurt your back. But it's a chair, straightforward. Piet Mondrian's Boogie Woogie, we bought it for a huge amount of money. Well, it's not even finished.

Skip to 9 minutes and 19 secondsBecause it's a great example of what we are, functional. We have to have a style, an architectural style, [? de bouha ?] style, minimal, equal, and functional. And that is very much us.

Skip to 9 minutes and 36 secondsWe see this around us, these repetitive patterns in apartment blocks. Nowadays, we call them boring. But that's what they are, straightforward, predictable, and we can see what they are. Not much flavour, but nevertheless, very much linear. Monofunctional neighbourhoods, with patterns which are repetitive and predictable. And of one house goes down, they'll go down because they're all the same. Same with what we do with trees, we don't have indigenous forests anymore. No, we've planted them. And guess what? We've planted them in line. If one tree gets sick, they all get sick. A world cannot always be seen as linear.

Skip to 10 minutes and 22 secondsIf we open our eyes, we can see around us things that don't match very well with this linearity, with this functionality, with this predictability. Look at how we're using the bike. Basically it's anarchy. Bikes are everywhere. And well, a traffic light, a red traffic light, and a bike, let's be fair. In this case here, good planning couldn't avoid this. Our area is perhaps very neatly arranged and very well structured, but it's also polluted. The Netherlands is one of the most polluted places in Europe. And we couldn't avoid it through good planning. Here, we see the crash of an airplane. These things happen in an uncertain world. And you cannot run away from them. They're there. They're happening. They're very real.

Skip to 11 minutes and 17 secondsWe could see the urban as a highly dynamic, surprising, uncertain place with its ups and downs, the urban being fragile and sometimes uncontrollable, full of unpredictable, nonlinear processes.

Skip to 11 minutes and 33 secondsTherefore, maybe we could consider the urban to be nonlinear, the urban behaviour as a complex, adaptive system. Let's look at Walter Christaller. In 1933, a long time ago, he came up with a very interesting theory. We call it central place theory. It shows the rhythm between cities, between villages, towns, and cities, basically. There's a hierarchy of cities. It's slightly a static model, but it is a fascinating model, because it relates very much to nonlinear patterns, patterns of emergence which result in specialisation. I'll give you two examples. One is the supermarket. You'll find it everywhere. In every small village, there is something like a supermarket. But what you won't see is those things that are well, expensive, luxuries.

Skip to 12 minutes and 30 secondsFor those things, you don't go to the village. You go to the main city, the main city centre. And there you find specific which relate to these specific centres, for example a piano shop. And it makes perfect sense. But you have to see it. A city is quite an interesting phenomenon. The city is far from stable. One city is not the same as the other. I said with Christaller, there are patterns between cities, nonlinear patterns, where differentiation is all around. And through time, we can see cities evolving. Some time ago, cities were just nodes on crossings, where you could cross a river easily, for example, or where two roads meet. Later, it became a marketplace, a totally, entirely different entity.

Skip to 13 minutes and 26 secondsThe structure and function were different. Later on, it was a place for safety. And we built walls around it. Well, we know since the Industrial Revolution, cities could also be places of production for industry, and for labour. Nowadays, we see this entire different. And places and spaces are there for communication, interaction, creativity, centres of democracy. And we appreciate these places as being leisures and happy places to be, surprising places quite often, with flows, dynamics, et cetera, places where the global and the local do meet. And what's really fascinating about all these examples of this evolutionary pattern is that cities hardly disappear. London has been burned down three times. It's still there. Cities don't disappear.

Skip to 14 minutes and 24 secondsThey are robust, while at the same time, awfully flexible. You can see how cities evolve through time. If we look at these patterns more in depth, we see changes occurring on the spot where the urban, the rural land has changed into the urban. But if we look at this through time, we see second order patterns, jumps through times, jumps we should call transitions. Because during these jumps, structure and function change together. They co-evolve, which gives the city an entirely different meaning through time. That's fascinating. The city of the past is no longer the city it is today. And the city today will not be the same as the city of tomorrow.

Skip to 15 minutes and 15 secondsAnd what the city of tomorrow will be is almost impossible to predict. Because structure and function both co-evolve, which means there's not much to tell. That's the excitement of a city evolving in a nonlinear way.

Introduction to urban complexity

This video introduces the core concepts of the urban. What is a city? How can we view a city? What are characteristics of the city and its environment?

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Decision Making in a Complex and Uncertain World

University of Groningen

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