Urban Planning of Complexity: Emergent Orders and Governance.

Governance of the Urban Space around the world has already been affected by a reality in which hierarchical planning itself have shifted to a field in which the action of regulation from the state is shared and dissolved by the private sector: It could be argued here that regulation should follow the pace and try to cope with the emergence of the different platforms and networks, adapting to a new reality in which the concept of governance can conserve its preponderance, however this will lead to a zero-sum game in which the regulation will always be outdated due to the emergence of innovation tied to the new technologies being defined as the 4th Industrial Revolution.

A deeper analysis of the context will allow the possibility of recognizing some universal characteristics of the phenomenon of informality and unregulated provision of urban ‘services’, such as transportation by individual and associative networks of people, especially in the context of the developing world where the common social and economic circumstances explain the appearance of this social phenomena no matter its geographical situation. In other words, these social constructions are similar in cities of Southeast Asia like Bangkok, as they can be for the reality of Latin American and Caribbean cities.

In a note of reference, it is interesting as well to analyze the different approaches to Urbanity coming from the European continent, and for the purpose of this document, social interaction with regulation will be studied as well, especially considering the similarities in the legal systems and social constructions.

From: Global Scale Predictions of Cities in Urban and Cognitive Planning. https://www.playthecity.nl/page/6696/global-scale-predictions-of-cities-in-urban-and-cognitive-planning

Various voices in the realm of Planning have alerted about a necessary shift in the way the cities are studied and thought; In 2015, at the annual convention of AESOP (Association of European Schools of Planning) a subject of utter relevance for understanding the future of Urban studies was proposed as Definite Space, Fuzzy Responsibility, in which the limitations of planning in relation to governance were debated (AESOP Prague, 2014–2015):

-While many of the initiatives and powers moved outside public control, the sense of responsibility for spatial change and sustainable development of cities and regions hardly overstepped the domain of city halls and ministries, and planners as their experts. The gap between sprawled powers / potency and blurred sense of responsibility should be the focus of the Congress debates.

Our cities are spreading, the distances that most of us have to travel for jobs, shopping, entertainment, etc. are steadily increasing, and money available for maintenance and improvement of roads, utilities and public services is shrinking. Rich people are retiring to gated communities while some others may remain trapped in social and ethnic ghettos.

All these problems are expected to be tackled by planning as an instrument for urban and regional management. But planning itself was affected by drift from hierarchical control by state and local governments, through public-private partnership projects, to governance where the actual field of municipalities´ and states´ action is dissolved and shared with business. Also many services formerly provided by public domain have been outsourced. Who should take responsibility for how the cities and regions are being changed? -

The proposition of this new paradigm, as in every occasion in where there is a dramatic change in the preconceived methods and models, is unveiling a not-so-silent revolution, as international publications and journals specialized in Urban issues are treating the subject as a transformation from within (Flint; CityLab 2015–2016), Universities changing education methods and international conferences such as Future of Places, lifting up for recognition the work of NGO’s such as the Project for Public Spaces and other recognition to the work of different actors at the international level developing the establishment of an approach that no longer considers centralized or top-down planning as the path to follow in developing the city and the welfare of its inhabitants.

This allocation in crisis for a top-down perspective to planning is inexorably linked to a predictable change in the role of the state in relation to the city, as exposed by De Roo and Porter (2007), there is a need to “…rethink the ‘nature of policy processes’ and in particular processes that are moving away from the coordination or ‘command and control’ models of governance.

The straightforward models are being replaced by ‘fuzzy’ modes of governance, so called because the roles and responsibilities that planning authorities are expected to take are no longer straightforward as there are to the activities of a wide range of parties including other than governmental bodies.”

This defined ‘fuzzyness’ is where the resolution for the needed proposition of new types of governance in relation to the city gets its inception, and how it is related to the transgression against old models of governance which do not answer to the realities of social developments in urban environments, even more considering the problem of mobility –as a broader approach to transportation- and how this answer to outdated regulation gives a backbone to the urban structure in many cities of the developing world.

However avant-garde this approach might appear, as it requires the incorporation of the complexity of the urban experience as a concept of analysis and the comprehension of something as subtle like self-organizing systems, there are urban theorists which have been giving this approach long ago, here its pertinent to name the work of Jacobs (1961) and her idea of the ‘complex order’ structured by movement and change, described eloquently as a dance, not a simple and precise one (say guided) but created by distinctive individuals, full of improvisation:

  • Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any once place is always replete with new improvisations.-
From: Squaring the circle — Natural paths of movement emerge through gaps in the blocks imposed by a municipal grid in the town of Tultepec, Mexico. http://emergenturbanism.com/2009/02/26/squaring-the-circle/

The process is already developing in cases like the tactical urbanism movement, which is in expansion and has been treated as ‘guerilla urbanism’ for the same reasons transgression occurs in front of obtuse regulation, by the natural recognition that individual association helping to build the city produces best results than centralized planning and structured thought and inflexibility shaping the concept of the masterplan, to this matter, many international references of this type of un-planning or true Urbanism can be found, these references are prolific for physical interventions –that is, the direct intervention on the built environment- related to mobility/transportation, from the Dutch urban design concept of the woonerf and the shared space where the conventional indicators of the urban street environment are removed with a surprising result of the free flow and movement of all the actors in the street; How interesting that is, to analyze the reaction of a society when barriers of command and control are removed and the urban space transforms into a space of dialogue and responsibility.

The responsibility derived as a social construct can help disband the position for the creation of as totalitarian utilitarian order, as exposed by Alexander (1975) in his critique to the concept of master plan, and planning in general regarding the complexity and ‘organicity’ inherent to cities:

-…the master plan, as currently conceived, cannot create a whole. It can create a totality, but not a whole. It can create totalitarian order, but not organic order. We shall argue, in short, that although the task of making sure that individual acts of building cooperate to form a whole is real, the conventional master plan -based on a map of the future- cannot possibly perform this task. -

For Alexander, architects and urbanists are incapable to create a built environment in which the variety and organic order pretended are achieved, no matter their level of knowledge and expertise, in this concept, an organic equilibrium can only be achieved by the work of a community in which every member shapes the parts of the environment its familiar with, a premise telling that only the people living in a place can recognize and know their needs.

Considering this theoretical backup, it’s impossible to not make a close relation with Hayek (1948) and its development by Machan (1988) of an evolutionary social and economic theory of the impossibility of centralized planning with relation to the importance of the individual and its paper both in society as a whole, and in this case of study, in the city, but even most importantly, how the individual eventually build this participation on the social and urban construct:

-Persons are not able to escape their humanity-they are human individuals. Treating them as isolated monads or atoms — an idea promptly seized upon and denounced by socialists — has to be rejected. And with this we must reject the impossibility of any degree of political-economic collective “planning,” the notion from Hayek that gives anarchists so much intellectual fuel. With respect to their equality as moral agents, individuals must be understood to share certain features which require a human social order to be constituted in certain ways —

As exposed by Hayek, the importance of the individual falls in the very edge of the limits of centralized planning, specifically in the idea of knowledge dispersion, in which time and place are related to whom it inhabits, as there is the recognition of a de-organized knowledge (non-scientific in the sense of a knowledge of ‘general rules’) but the knowledge of circumstances of place, and time, circumstances of location.

Classical Liberal & Urbanist. Navigating Platform and Informal Urbanisms in the ‘South’. Twitter: @llparedes