Typology of Complex Systems

Systems in general can be subdivided in 4 categories (Wolfram, 2002): (I) closed system, (II) linear feed back systems, (III) systems randomly open to assimilation

Simple systems, Less adaptability Lower actor-capacity to Influence resilience

Complex systems. More adaptaMity Higher acto-capadty to influence resilience

Fig. 8.5 Simple and complex systems and (IV) non-linear adaptive systems. De Roo (2006) describes the characteristics of class IV systems. These systems are able to behave such as to maximise benefits of stability while retaining a capacity to change (Mitchell Waldrop, 1994).

The question is how to interpret design projects in terms of complex systems. The following aspects of design projects are relevant:

• They contain a large number of interactions;

• Simple rules underpin complexity;

• Adaptation, self-organisation and co-evolution are apparent;

• The design transforms and retains the project;

• Design principles are characterized by robustness, emergence and fitness for purpose.

De Roo describes the same characteristics for class IV systems (De Roo, 2006). In addition, experience shows that the subject of design is often sensitive to impulses and tipping points.

The question at this stage is which planning approaches would be most effective if the future consists of Class IV systems, manifest in a large number of interactions. The insights of organisation dynamics can be useful here. The conditions to improve the overall fitness of an organisation are (Homan, 2005):

• Large groups of individual elements lead to emergence of collective patterns under certain conditions (amount of connections, quality of relations and network matter);

• Enough diversity but not too much to start autocatalytic processes;

• Idea-interaction (Homan calls it idea-sex) between different elements may lead to creative jumps where new structures and information is created;

• Co-evolution of local systems leads to emergence of collective patterns, enhancing the overall fitness of the system;

• Complex systems manifest several co-existing patterns (patches), rather than either one overall pattern or a large variety of local systems;

• Local ideas function as nuclei, eventually influencing and patronising large parts of a complex system.

The common characteristic in the conditions described, are large numbers and many interactions. There needs to be a large pool of elements. The chance that things interact increases and new processes cause the increase of the overall fitness of the system.

If systems of higher complexity are better equipped to increase adaptability and deal with turbulent circumstances, regional spatial systems should be brought to a higher level of complexity to be better prepared for turbulent circumstances as initiated by future climate change and energy supply. If the system is not randomly self-organising itself it requires some kind of incentive. New crucial interventions need to initiate a creative jump (Geldof, 2002), which starts a process of increasing adaptability, leading to the change of the entire regional spatial system and to a more resilient system. What is missing so far is a trigger setting these processes in motion, such as a focal point that enforces the pool of elements to interact and starting the process of changing the system. These points, where 'dovecotes flutter', ultimately make things happen. Every element in the system orientates itself to these points, and by doing so the system as a whole changes. The result is an innovation coming out of a bunch of ideas. An impulse needs to be added in order to reach a tipping point.

8.3.8 Tipping Points

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. The possibility of sudden change is at the centre of the idea of the tipping point. Big changes occur as a result of small events. The situation is similar to the phenomenon of an epidemic. Epidemics follow three rules (Gladwell, 2000):

1. The law of the few, a small part of the whole is doing all the work (80/20);

2. The stickiness factor: the message makes an impact. It is impossible to forget;

3. The power of context: sensitivity to the environment, influence of the surrounding

By applying these rules to planning and design, the question when a design becomes a success, reinforcing the required changes, can be understood. First of all the law of the few tells us that a successful design will originate from a small group of individuals. The design is not what the common people expect. To change things the design will be away-from-the average (Ridderstrale and Nordstrom, 2004; Florida, 2005; Roggema, 2005).

Secondly, the stickiness factor suggests that a successful design sticks in ones heads. Once having seen the image of the design it is not forgotten. Roberts calls it a visible love mark (Roberts, 2006). A good example of this is the design for Almere Poort, the Wall (Fig. 8.6) (MVRDV et al., 2001).

Fig. 8.6 The Wall in Almere Poort, MVRDV, 1999

Finally, the power of context in relation to design processes tells us that a design with huge impact provides the solution to a commonly felt problem. If a fundamental change is required, such as climate change is asking for, a widely shared context of deep trouble improves the chances of change. A sense of real urgency is required for fundamental change. A crisis will provide the energy to jump to the new situation (Timmermans, 2004). If the existing system dissatisfies, a crisis is required to jump to the next level of complexity required to upgrade the system (Fig. 8.7) (Geldof, 2002). These crises can be seen as the tipping points in design processes.

Geldof describes the relation between complexity, the level of order, the adaptability and the cyclic process of stabilisation and crisis (Geldof, 2002). If there is no order at all or a complete fixed order the complexity is low, but at the optimum point the highest complexity is reached (Fig. 8.8). At the same time this point represents the highest adaptability of the system. A crisis is developing when the order of a system increases and at the same time the adaptability decreases. During a crisis, the system 'flips' from chaos towards the old trail. Two routes can be followed from that point on, depending on the availability of collective actors managing the resilience of the system and realising a creative jump (Fig. 8.7) (Geldof, 2002, Homan, 2005). The system dies or starts all over again. If a creative jump is made, the system is capable of evolving towards higher complexity and reaches a new stable situation with high adaptability (Fig. 8.8).

spanning tussen sysEeem en omgevlng

Fig. 8.7 Crisis enforces the jump to a higher level of complexity, Geldof, 2002

spanning tussen sysEeem en omgevlng

Fig. 8.7 Crisis enforces the jump to a higher level of complexity, Geldof, 2002

Fig. 8.8 Relation between level of complexity, adaptability and crisis (Geldof, 2002)

8.3.9 A New Design Paradigm, Swarm Planning

Translated to planning design terms, the effective spatial intervention creates a tipping point, directing all spatial, societal, political elements in such a way that the entire region changes. Contemporary planning approaches only show little adjustments, while big ones are required to deal with the turbulence of climate change and energy supply. A new spatial design paradigm, following the rules of increasing adaptability in order to make areas more resilient, will emerge in reaction to new demands and developments. The first signs are there, but a structured approach is presented here. In this paradigm, which can be called swarm planning, (Roggema, 2005), the role of spatial design is to introduce essential impulses to influence the entire system, like a swarm of birds is reshaping itself constantly under external influences, without changing its function. Spatial design will no longer be concerned with the entire image, but will focus on those essential design interventions that enforce the region to reshape itself. No blueprint design, but acupuncture planning (Jacobs and Roggema, 2005).

Thus, for a swarm planning approach (Roggema and Dobbelsteen, 2006) to be successful, two aspects are essential: the (spatial) characteristics of the region and the availability of extraordinary ideas. Complex systems theory suggests that the swarm paradigm will work where the following conditions are met:

• A large group of individual elements (people, buildings);

• Many connections (virtual, roads, rail, water);

• High quality of relations (fast, intense);

• High quality network (flexibility, intensity);

• Enough, but not too much, diversity (neighbourhoods, groups);

• Several co-existing patterns (patches).

If these circumstances pertain idea-mergers between different elements will lead to creative jumps, and new structures and information are created. A small group of extravagant idea creating people will enforce this and transform it into a sticky idea, which influences and shapes large parts of the region. If the sense of urgency is there -climate change for instance- a suitable trigger brings the idea to a tipping point and collective patterns emerge out of co-evolution of local systems, leading to an increased overall fitness of the system, which is able to adapt more easily to climate change, resulting in a resilient area.

This paradigm is not yet common, but the first examples in spatial design are there. The way interventions are planned in the design in the 'Blauwe Stad', in the remote parts of Groningen province (Karelse van der Meer, 2003), the projection of new islands in front of the Northern coast of the Netherlands (Roggema, et al., 2006; Alders, 2006; Boskalis, 2006), but also in projects like the Oresund-bridge and its impact on the accessibility, economic welfare and image of Malmo and Copenhagen or the way Mendini (Mendini, 1994) changed the entire inner city in Groningen through the Groninger Museum project are examples of swarm planning.

8.3.9.1 Swarm 'Avant-La-Lettre': The Groninger Museum

The 'Verbindingskanaal' is a waterway at the edge of the city-centre of Groningen, located between the central station and the inner city. In the past, the easiest way to reach the inner city was to walk around the canal. As a consequence the area at the city side of the Verbindingskanaal became neglected, attracting hooligans and criminals. A representative of the municipality decided on the implementation of a new building in the canal, connecting the station with the inner city. As a result of this the neglected part of the city centre changed into a very lively, attractive area, used by a large number of people. The intervention of building the Groninger Museum exactly at this location transformed the entire city (Figs. 8.9 and 8.10).

Fig. 8.9 The Groninger Museum positioned in the Verbindingskanaalzone, before (left) and after (right)

8.4 The Groningen Case

At the start of the development of a new regional plan for the province of Groningen in the summer of 2006, the circumstances were analysed. In the starting document (Huyink, 2006) of the planning process three pillars were defined: economic developments, demographic changes and climate change. By the end of 2006 two events happened, which increased the political sense of urgency. The first event took place

Fig. 8.10 The Groninger Museum

in the night of November 1st 2006: In front of the Groningen the highest sea water level ever was measured. Some (small) urban areas were flooded and at several places dikes were almost breaking through. Despite the fact that there were no casualties and the damage caused was small, the event functioned like a wake up call for regional politicians. The second event was the presentation in autumn 2006 of the movie 'An inconvenient truth' by Al Gore. The mass-media attention the movie caused generated public attention for the issue of climate change and increased the awareness among the public, but also among politicians. People became aware of the turbulent environment they live in, the long-term changes that might be happening in the future and the possible risks that are connected with these changes. This resulted in political urgency to increase the resilience of society and the spatial system, using the new regional plan.

The design of the regional plan was carried out in three phases: The analysis, the interaction and the reflection. Every phase was finished with a political document. The role of climate change in the process is shown in Fig. 8.11.

New regional plan for Groningen - Phasing

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    What is spatial typology?
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