‘Resolving the conflicts and potentials that exist between top down and bottom up processes of urban change’

— Kelvin Campbell, Massive Small —

Proposition

 

Smart Urbanism: a new initiative started by leading urbanist, Kelvin Campbell, advances a radical evolution in the planning, design and delivery of cities. Drawing on the great urban theorists and systems thinking, it is designed to work with the complexity of the city.

Theory


At a time of rapid urbanisation, many in authority can only exercise the lightest touch when it comes to guiding urban change. This change is happening, despite planning. Now, more than ever, there is a greater focus on the role of the community in shaping their own built environment. This is our ‘new normal’. This proposition comes at a time when we have a to do more with less, when so many of our big plans have failed, when big government promises a move to localism, and when there is an increasing emphasis on the relationship between urban resilience, social innovation and civil society.

More

We now understand more about the irreducible complexity of life where bottom up systems display a remarkable ability to innovate in difficult conditions, but top down has the real power to enable. Viewed through the lens of natural systems, genetics, the web and the new economy, we can see how order emerges from chaos. Drawing on thinking from other sectors (such as economics, business and computational studies); and on our rapidly developing knowledge of complexity science, Smart Urbanism integrates systems thinking with responsive environments to make cities and towns that are capable of sustaining life in a continuously changing environment.

Smart Urbanism shows how cross‐over thinking can translate into the “choice architecture” of practical solutions for the built environment, and demonstrate relevant thinking on planning, ethics, precedent, learning and adaptation mechanisms, protocols, and environmental and cultural tests for success, amongst others. As planning is so critical to the ‘plan>design>deliver’ process, our work focuses particularly on evolving the planning system and the ethics of the planning profession to make it fit for purpose for this new world. This is where Smart Urbanism can make an immediate and enduring impact.

 

The basis of the proposition is ‘Making MASSIVE SMALL Change’ – harnessing the collective power of many small ideas and actions to make a big difference.  We do this through three methods:


Few Simple Rules

From our understanding of complex systems in life, business, information technology and choice architecture we can extract certain lessons; these are used to derive the simple rules that can be applied to achieving a better urbanism: These rules shape our thinking before it becomes operational. They provide the freedom for multiple actions to emerge.

Condition Making

Moving away from the ‘place making’ agenda to that of ‘condition making’, we offer an alternative to our existing prescriptive and legalistic planning system to evolve. Five core conditions for urban viability provide the medium essential for places to flourish. This creates more responsive environments, allowing a wider range of bottom up responses by the many.

Enabling Leadership

Open adaptive systems like those of the city are organic rather than mechanistic, and require a completely different mindset to run them: Rather than using the command-and-control model, our new breed of civic leaders must now enable activity that generates the best ideas and outcomes: Continuous strategy and feedback are far more important than detailed planning.

What do we Mean? 

Top Down

In our top down world, the thinking, models and operating processes we use to plan our towns and cities are found to be wanting. They were created at a time of big government and underpinned with big thinking. Here, the rules have become so complex that they are stifling innovation and arresting progressive evolution of successful urbanism. Our ‘place-making’ models that look to predict and plan every outcome with absolute certainty, determine what we do, forcing us down the narrow corridors of complete compliance. In this world, people cannot be trusted to do the right thing. Do it our way or else! There is no room for experimentation; no room for creativity; and no room to learn! Firmly nailing things down, we operate our planning system with ‘command-and-control’ as the watchwords – reactive. restricting and limiting. The unintended consequences of this kind of ‘top down’ is ‘bigness’: big sites, big players, big processes…big plans that demand big outcomes.

Bottom Up

In our bottom up world, the thinking, models and operating processes that evolve from the activities of many agents, create rules of behaviour that are both liberating and structuring. Here we see how the emergence of a myriad of spontaneous actions by many individuals, all working together, leads to complex behaviour. Things are tried and allowed to fail. We learn and we get better at what we do. The best solutions survive. Regularities form and this leads to creation of an emergent vernacular that is highly adaptive. Self-organisation is the operating process. It is open and connected. In this world people can be trusted to do the right thing. We will work it out! Here individual freedoms are replaced with collective action. We call it community! The outcome is the organised complexity that we all strive for in our cities, towns and their neighbourhoods. 

The Best of Both Worlds

So ‘bottom up’ displaces ‘top down’, or does it? We know that bottom up systems display a remarkable ability to innovate in difficult conditions, but top down has the real power to enable. We need both.

As these bottom up processes evolve, community rapidly demands the need for some form of governance. Bottom up needs top down, just a better form of top down. It demands that our complex rules are replaced with simple rules. Our rigidly deterministic place-making models are replaced with condition-making models that lead to more responsive environments. Restrictive command-and-control practices are replaced with permissive enabling leadership that facilitates a greater level of bottom up activity. The new top-down gives the ‘light touch’. The consequence of this is an evolved planning, design and delivery system. With this comes a new social contract between government and community to do the right thing.

This combination gives us ‘Massive Small’ change, where we look to harness the collective power of many small ideas and actions to make a big difference. We can plan for a different future. We call this is Smart Urbanism. 

 

Massive Small:

The Operating System for Smart Urbanism

Flagship Publication

So… top-down, command-and-control doesn’t work for us any more, does it? Those in power tell us that bottom-up is the better way of addressing the sustainable growth and change of our cities, towns and neighbourhoods.They may be right. This explains why, despite the boom of recent years, we haven’t delivered the quality of place we all wished for. It will show how we can learn from self-organising systems found in traditional cities, nature and the Web, to develop a new paradigm. It will also show how new thinking has been applied in recent initiatives. Further, it will explore how our behaviours in planning, design and delivery will need to change to meet our new challenges.

We need to think of cities not just as artefacts but as systems built more like organisms than machines

— Michael Batty, The New Science of Cities —

Purpose

SMART URBANISM IS AN INDEPENDENT, FREE-THINKING INITIATIVE COMMITTED TO RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT OF NEW THEORY AND PRACTICE IN THE PLANNING, DESIGN AND DELIVERY OF VIABLE CITIES, TOWNS AND NEIGHBOURHOODS.

Action Research


Experimenting with new approaches to open adaptive systems in complex urban environments. This includes initiating, trialing, monitoring and reviewing of real world research and development programmes.

You can:

  • Embed yourself into a project
  • Share your ideas
  • Assist research activities
  • Fund research initiatives
  • Provide relevant case studies

Learning Platform


Developing practical programmes related to Smart Urbanism theory and practice: Modules, seminars and online methods for universities, professional groups, civic leaders and the public sector.

You can:

  • Follow our progress
  • Help us build content
  • Commission seminars
  • Partner with us
  • Fund post-graduate bursaries

Influencing Forum


Promoting evolution and structural change in urban policy, methods and operations of urban planning, design and delivery systems. This includes use of online forums, campaigns, publications and social media.

You can:

  • Come to our events
  • Join our LinkedIn network
  • Participate online
  • Help us spread the message
  • Order Massive Small book

Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior.

— Dee Hock, CEO Emeritus VISA International —

Project

MASSIVE SMALL: Smart Urbanism in an Upside Down World

Fellowship in the Built Environment: Royal Commission 1851

Horizontal Logos 1.0

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.

The Project’s mission will be:

  1. To bring together leading thinkers and doers to collaborately develop Smart Urbanism theory and practice.
  2. To build a common language for cross-sectoral collaboration amongst all urban players and professionals.
  3. To show how cross-over thinking can translate into the “choice architecture” of practical solutions for the built environment.
  4. To become an open, connected hothouse for creative difference makers and civic leaders and build new ethics, protocols and trust.
  5. To translate relevant academic theory in complexity science into practical applications and operations.
  6. To undertake action-based research that pioneer new ideas, tools and operations.
  7. To work closely with our industry partners to develop real solutions and test these in real world situations.

Evolving the Planning System

In urban planning, this Project comes at a time when many of our top down models, which derive from the abstract utopian concepts and ideals that are in the DNA of the planning system, have failed. There is now an increasing recognition that the thinking, models and operating processes we use to plan our towns and cities do not work in an increasingly bottom up world. They were created at a time of big government and underpinned with big thinking. Here, the rules have become so complex that they are stifling innovation and arresting progressive evolution of successful urbanism.

Our ‘place-making’ models that look to predict and plan every outcome with absolute certainty, determine what we do, forcing us down the narrow corridors of complete compliance. In this world, people cannot be trusted to do the right thing. Do it our way or else! There is no room for experimentation; no room for creativity; and no room to learn! Firmly nailing things down, we operate our planning system with ‘command-and-control’ as the watchwords – reactive. restricting and limiting. The unintended consequences of this kind of ‘top down’ is ‘bigness’: Big sites, big players, big processes…Big plans that demand big outcomes.

SU LOGIC BOARD BEFOREFig. 1: The conflicts between top-down and bottom-up

Our new understanding of complex adaptive systems shows us that in a bottom up world, the thinking, models and operating processes that evolve from the activities of many agents, create ways that are both liberating and structuring. Here we see how the emergence of a myriad of spontaneous actions by many individuals, all working together, leads to complex behaviour. Things are tried and allowed to fail. We learn and we get better at what we do. The best solutions survive. Regularities form and this leads to creation of an emergent vernacular that is highly adaptive with self-organisation as the operating process. It is open and connected. In this world people can be trusted to do the right thing. We will work it out! Here individual freedoms are replaced with collective action. We call it community! The outcome is the organised complexity that we all strive for in our cities, towns and neighbourhoods.

As these bottom up processes evolve, community rapidly demands the need for some form of governance. Bottom up needs top down, just a better form of top down. It is clear that top-down processes need to change. It demands that our complex rules are replaced with simple rules. Our rigidly deterministic place-making models are replaced with condition-making models that lead to more responsive environments. Restrictive command-and-control practices are replaced with permissive enabling leadership that facilitates a greater level of bottom up activity. The new top-down gives the ‘light touch’. The consequence of this is an evolved planning, design and delivery system. With this comes a new social contract between government and community to do the right thing.

This combination gives us ‘MASSIVE SMALL’ change, where we look to harness the collective power of many small ideas and actions to make a big difference. We can plan for a different future. We call this ‘Smart Urbanism’.

SU LOGIC BOARD AFTERFig. 2: The potentials that could be realised if top-down systems evolve to be conducive to bottom-up

In order to facilitate this change in thinking, models and operating systems, the core focus of the Project involves the evolving, testing and reviewing of the three ways in which top down governance must change in order to facilitate bottom up activity: Simple Rules, Conditions for Urban Viability, and Enabling Leadership. This includes developing new tools and operating mechanisms for practical implementation of this thinking.

Summary

This is important and groundbreaking work that has bold ambitions, but it has to be this way. The established thinking is deeply ingrained in all our institutions. Its clear target is the evolution of the planning system, where we are shifting the current paradigm and in the world of urban planning and design, there are not many new ideas about how to solve the problems of our times. We do not want a ‘one-off’ shot at this, so we are looking to build a secure platform that will endure and provide the framework for ongoing research and development. We have built the foundations for an open collaborative approach. We now want to build a solid structure of new theory and practice.

Support from The Royal Commission, and the rigour demanded of the intellectual output and its degree of significance, gives Smart Urbanism the boost to accelerate its ambitions and realise those of the Commission – ‘to make a big difference’.


Outputs

With our subsequent testing of the proposition and based on further ongoing research, we plan the following four key outputs to be completed in the two-year programme:

  1. The publishing, through a combination of media, of three companion volumes to the earlier publication, based on the three core areas o0f work, all expanded with fresh cross-over thinking, applications and operating systems.
  2. A programme of four collaborative events starting in November 2013, to disseminate the work of the initiative. We will examine the potential of doing this in concert with CASA, the CABDyn Complexity Centre, Santa Fe Institute, Imperial and the LSE Cities Programme.
  3. The launching of the Smart Urbanism Institute in the second year as an independent, free-thinking, open-source learning platform, committed to research and development of new theory and practice in the role of towns and cities as complex adaptive systems.
  4. A presentation to the Department of Communities and Local Government, Royal Town Planning Institute and other planning bodies of the findings of the Project with the view to mobilising their support in the process of evolution of the planning system. This will include a briefing of the relevant government minister and advisors.
  5. The programme also allows for specific outputs that may be identified by the Royal Commission including briefing sessions, presentations or keynote lectures, as required.

Programme

The Project involves a two-year programme of research and development into the thinking, models and operating systems to facilitate this change. We have included a range of players who will assist in achieving our outcomes. In addition a spectrum of potential partners and a network of collaborators have been assembled.


Milestones

The following milestones are based on agreements with Professor Mike Batty, chair of the University College London’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis  (CASA) and other partners to secure the work outlined in the proposal to the Commission by Kelvin Campbell in late October 2013. The Project was launched at the Urban Design Group’s Kevin Lynch Annual Memorial Lecture on the 27th November 2013, where the support of the Commission was confirmed and the scope of the Project outlined.


Communications

All work will be publicised on the Smart Urbanism website (and blog) and the Smart Urbanism Linkedin network, with links to other organisations, including the 1851 Royal Commission. It is intended to make this a high profile communications exercise to engage a wider audience and the Guardian Environment editor has been approached to assist in the dissemination of the Project content and findings. All attempts will be made to publicise this work at conferences, seminars and lecture programmes.

Contact

info@smarturbanism.org.uk
SMART URBANISM [LONDON]
The Old Mill, 2 Hale Road, Wendover HP22 6NE
United Kingdom

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