Systems theory is a method of characterising and describing entities as a collection of constituent elements and the interactions between these elements. Although simple in concept, a great amount of complexity can be described in this way through the interactions that are modeled. Cities fit a systems model very well and have been described in this way for a number of years.
The strength of systems thinking is that it is able to identify and predict not only the first order effects of changes to the system but also, by considering a holistic view of a city, track ripple effects throughout the system and predict outcomes which are rarely obvious.
A key aspect of cities which must be reflected in any model is their inherent decentralisation and interconnectivity. Whereas a simplistic view of a city looks at different sub-systems in isolation, the reality is that individual elements interact and overlap between many different sub-systems.
People who live in the same physical neighbourhood, for example, cannot be assumed to travel to the same locations for a particular activity. The complexities of social networks dictate that some people will travel significant distances for a service they could get within their own neighbourhood.
In the same way, changes to a certain sub-system will have effects throughout the whole city system. A new sports facility intended primarily to promote a healthy lifestyle could also have positive effects in social connectivity, urban design, entertainment and the signature and identity of the city . At the same time a new facility can cause disruption to traffic flows but measuring this early can allow for mitigatory responses to be established. Understanding these effects is central to the efficient and effective planning of a city.
The diagram overleaf illustrates the extensive interconnection which is captured within Synergine’s city diagnostic tool. Each indicator, which measures a specific element or part of a city, has a direct effect on multiple considerations over different levels of hierarchy. Not captured in this diagram are the secondary and tertiary interactions, which are too complex to display graphically. Using this tool can help Auranga understand its own complexity.