30th Sep, 2014Gareth Simons

Self organisation at the ‘edge of chaos’

I took these pictures one miserably cold winter morning in Winnipeg. Note the potency and variety of snow pattern formations at the intersection of slow-fast system dynamics: in this case the wind (fast), snow (medium), and bridge railings (slow). This is really just a way of saying that interesting information exchanges and feedback loops occur at the intersection of these slow-fast thresholds. The crux is that the information exchanges are happening at an emergent scale that transcends the wherewithal of the individual systems. In the case of inert components (as in these pictures) this edge of information exchange is only optimal when the conditions are ideal, however, systems consisting of living agents seem to have some capacity to naturally gravitate towards this “edge of chaos” as part of a co-evolutionary dynamic.

The same dynamics are at work in cities where multiple interacting systems transfer information back and forth over varying time-scales, leading to epigenetic processes of development and decay; Such as the movement of citizens (fast), changes in land-uses (medium), and the spatial distribution of infrastructure (slow). Overly abstract, rigid, or prescriptive forms of urbanism hinder these processes from unfolding and subsequently co-evolving because they stifle these emergent information exchanges. Food for thought, given the ultra-fast dynamic increasingly introduced by technology… and that, to this day, most new urban development continues to lack the necessary heterogeneity and granularity to facilitate these information exchanges, thus compromising the resilience and vibrancy of cities.