Indicators of Increasing Complexity in Canadian Urban Systems, 1871-2001
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Last modified: June 25, 2007
Over the past 130 years, Canada has evolved from being a rural and hinterland society and economy with important urban nodes, into a highly urbanized country (from 20 percent to 80+ percent "urban"). The evolution of urbanization is traced by applying complex systems concepts to historical data from the Census of Canada and other reliable sources. The aim is to assess the potential for combining evidence-based decision-making methods with complex systems theory. (Urban regions are simultaneously socio-economic, physical, and engineering systems, and must be tracked using all these data sets.)
The central conundrum addressed by the research is that "urban" policies of federal and provincial governments have repeatedly failed to have the intended impacts. There is also a repeated pattern of limited learning from these failures. An important part of the explanation from works by Jay Forrester, Donald Schon, Thomas Schelling, Nelson Polsby, and others, may be the inherent properties of complex systems. These tend to simplify policies with complex and subtle intentions, and to make “simple” policies instantly more complex.
Evidence for these contentions is to be found by examining historical, institutional/legal, and geographical data simultaneously. Results are presented as a graphical series of "fans" of increasing complexity over time, for example, increasingly diverse immigrant populations, and increasing application of high-technology products and systems.
One result of applying the complex systems perspective is to reformulate urban policy sciences, mainly to consider how much "leverage" different options and instruments may achieve in promoting change over time.