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Many aspects of city life could be improved, but change seems hard. Some interventions are ineffective, others have unintended side effects. Cities are complex systems, and complexity makes it a challenge to change them. Hacking means using your knowledge of a system to design an intervention – the hack – that will produce a desired outcome. Easier said than done in a complex system.
In this subject we will analyse a portfolio of city interventions, ranging from small to very large. Each of the interventions will illustrate one or more principles or typical dynamics of complex systems. We will explore parallels of the dynamics in cities with systems from biology and physics. We will investigate why changing complex systems often is hard, or only seems to progress along certain paths. We will also investigate how sometimes seemingly little changes have disproportionally large effects. Another important topic we will address it how to deal with the – sometimes deep – uncertainties complexity presents us with. You will also learn how to assess what `upgrading' would mean – in other words, when can you say something improved city life?
And you get to hack a city yourself. You can choose from the portfolio we treated in the lectures and propose a hack that would have done or would do a better job. Or, you can propose a different city and hack. Either way you will have to explain how the hack makes use of the complexities of the city you are trying to upgrade and how it deals with the uncertainties involved. You get to write up your hack in the form of a policy brief – a document that will not only explain how it works and what it does, but that also would convince a policy maker to implement it.
Intended learning outcomes
Students who successfully completed this subject will be able to:
- Explain why and how cities can be understood as complex systems;
- Use a theoretical framework to analyse systemic normative issues (e.g.\ liveability, sustainability, resilience);
- Analyse and conceptually model or map complex systems such as cities;
- Convey the consequences of complexity, non linearity and uncertainty in theoretical and practical terms;
- Articulate what transformative change entails, both conceptually and in the context of a real-world case;
- Work with some of the tools to deal with uncertainty such as scenarios and exploratory thinking;
- Describe and communicate interventions in complex systems to a general audience and policy makers.
Last updated: 29 July 2022