The Kind of Problem a City Is
March 6, 2013
The title of this essay is taken verbatim from the challenge posed by Jane Jacobs in her influential book the Death and Life of Great American Cities (1). My main objective is to answer Jane Jacob’s question with the benefit of over 50 years of research since its publication and especially from the perspective of new insights from the emerging science of cities as complex systems.
I show that we have made significant progress over the last decade and that a science of cities, recognizable across the full spectrum of urban disciplines, from physics and biology to social psychology and sociology is starting to emerge. Here, I show that cities are not only complex adaptive systems, a point already clear for several traditions of urbanism, but demonstrate also that they are a particular and unique type of system, a new organizational invention that can combine and amplify the cognitive abilities of humans and generate open-‐ended socioeconomic development.