Massive Small: Smart urbanism in an upside down world

Built Environment Fellowship 2013

Kelvin Campbell
Smart Urbanism

Complexity science is a growing subject. In many spheres of life, new research and development has given us different ways of looking complex issues – giving us new ideas, tools and operating systems to deal with their complexity. In areas such as business, economics, computational studies and social networks, we can see how multiple agents, working collectively within a framework of simple rules, can bring about phenomenal change. This is now a science that is being taken seriously with some of the most influential thinkers leading the way.

This research and development project (The Project) is funded by the Royal Commission as part of a two-year Fellowship in the Built Environment. It looks to evolve the simple rules, conditions and leadership necessary to deliver a viable human habitat within the context of an evolved planning system. Its prime purpose is to make a big difference by clearly showing a different way of dealing with complex urban environments in such a way that gives us far better outcomes. Here, practice will lead theory to offer us a strong and realistic possibility for urban growth and change.

The Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) at the University College London has agreed to host the programme under the mentorship of Professor Michael Batty, chair of the centre. CASA has excellent links with Oxford University’s CABDyn Centre at Said Business School, the Santa Fe Institute, ETH in Zurich, Imperial and the LSE. These are the institutions that are undertaking interesting work in the areas of complexity, social innovation and urban governance.

The Purpose of the Project

Smart Urbanism looks to resolve the conflicts and potentials that exist between the ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ processes that shape urbanism. With our developing knowledge of emergent systems, we have a better understanding of how order emerges from chaos. It is within this context that the Project integrates systems thinking with responsive environments to promote cities and towns that are capable of sustaining urban life in a continuously changing environment.

Our primary purpose is to build the Smart Urbanism Institute as an independent, free-thinking, open-source learning platform within an established educational model, preferably that of the Bartlett at UCL. Drawing on such models as CASA at UCL, the Sante Fe Institute in the US and the CABDyn Centre in Oxford – all specialising in complexity science – the Project is committed to research and development of new theory and practice in the role of complex adaptive systems in planning, design and delivery of viable cities, towns and neighbourhoods.