Center for Emergent Cities

  • A Brief Project Summary
  • According to statistics, with the global urbanization process, the population residing in cities in the world exceeded for the first time that living in rural areas in 2007 (SD, 2007), and the World Expo commenced in Shanghai with its theme of Cities proclaimed the era of cities in human history.  The Science magazinepublished a special issue on the topic of cities (Science, 2008).  Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate and renowned economist, argued that urbanization in China would be one of two driving forces that will change human history, the other being technological innovation led by the U. S.  Since the open policy commenced in 1979 in China, the urbanization rate has almost reached 50% (China Census Bureau, 2008), that is, about half of the population in this country reside in cities, and this trend will continue increasingly for the foreseeable future.  In Taiwan, the urbanization process has never stopped during the past three decades, and the firms and population conglomerate incrementally in the northern region, in particular the Taiepi metropolitan area, including Taipei City and Taipei County (Lai, 2006).  In addition, with the promotion of Taipei County to New Taipei City, the firms and population will increasingly immigrate into the region, resulting in the spatial lock-in effect of the Taipei metropolitan area.  In particular, as argued by Jane Jacobs (1993), a renowned urban theorist, prosperous and affluent society builds on effective urban development.  With the global trend of urbanization and increase in the frequency of large-scale disasters, how to resolve effectively human settlement development issues has become one of the most challenging tasks faced by human beings in the 21st century.

  • 1. Objectives
  • The objectives of the establishment of the Center for emergent cities are 1) to apply the cutting-edge scientific research paradigm to explore the regularity of urban development and resolve the issues resulting from such development, and 2) to develop effective institution and technology for urban management, in order to enhance future human settlement development under creative, safe, and sustainable conditions in the regional contexts of cross-strait, Asia, and across the world.

  • 2. Research Content
  • The research content of the Center is divided into two main parts: exploring descriptively and normatively into how cities work and how to manage them.  The question of how cities work is mainly concerned with the exploration into and discovery of the deep order underlying the seemingly chaotic urban development process, whereas the question of managing cities addresses how we can improve urban environment through planning, administering, governing, and regulating.  Through theoretical research about how cities work and how we should manage them, in practice, the Center is aimed at improving the development of human settlements through the aspects of safety, creativity, and sustainability.  The notion of “Creative Cities” has become a new way of thinking about planning for urban development (Hall, 2000), and in order to shape the milieu for creative places, the presumption is to provide a safe environment (Lai et al., 2010) for a sustainable future (Gell-Mann, 2002).

    The notion of creative cities has been listed by United Nations Education, Science, and Culture Organization as a priority initiative and established Creative Cities Network of which the objective is to enhance social, economic, and cultural development in both developing and developed countries.  Its main content includes the pursuit of urban economic and cultural diversity, both urban space and activities, in order to stimulate vitality and aim at innovation in cities.  This idea can be traced as early as Jane Jacobs’s writings.  However, a prerequisite of creative cities is safety in urban environment.  Recently, numerous events have happened in the international community that threaten people’s lives and assets, from the fire of the ALA Pub in Taichung, Taiwan to the earthquake in Japan that led to the leak of nuclear pollutants.  Some of these disasters were caused by nature, whereas others were human-made, or both.  How to prevent or mitigate the damages thus caused needs effort at the national level.  The goal of urban safety is thus to reduce and prevent these problems from happening through planning.

    The scientific paradigm adopted by the Center is mainly emergentism that is derived from complexity science, complemented by reductionism that has gained tremendous triumph for the past four centuries.  According to Professor Robert B. Laughlin (2005), the 1998 Noble laureate in physics, the scientific community is facing the Emergent Age, and emergentism will be the new paradigm of future science.  It is worth mentioning that according to personal communication with Professor Laughlin, Taoism and Buddhism that have been developed in China are consistent with emergentism, which provides an opportunity to reconcile the cultural differences in science in the East and the West.  On the other hand, the Center does not turn completely away from social and natural scientific theories that are derived from reductionism , for example, expected utility theory in neo-classic economics.  In addition, the notions of creative cities, urban safety, and sustainable development can all be based on emergentism, including complexity science, to be addressed in a more rigorous way.  For example, Cumunian (2010) applied complexity and network science to examine the meanings of creative cities; Murray Gell-Mann (2002), the 1969 Nobel laureate in physics, explained the relationship between homeland security and sustainable development through the notion of simplicity and complexity; Clayton and Racliffe (1996) discussed sustainability based on complex adaptive systems.  These existing accomplishments provide the Center with a solid basis for the pursuit of the mission:  To enhance future human settlement development under creative, safe, and sustainable conditions in the regional contexts of cross-strait, Asia, and across the world.

  • 3. Research Orientation
  • The research orientation is mainly inter-disciplinary, cutting across natural and social sciences; incorporate both traditional scientific theories in the East and the West; emphasize simultaneously on both theoretical development and applications in practice; and focus on the cross-strait urban development issues in the light of the trend of human settlement development in the international community.

  • 4. Research Topics and Methods
  • The research topics of interest to the Center can be largely divided into two categories: urban theory and management science, the former exploring descriptively and normatively into the process of urban genesis, whereas the latter being focused on how to take actions, both descriptively and normatively. Note that management science is used here to aim at harnessing large, organized complex systems.

    4.1 Urban Theory


    Cities, Complexity, and Emergence: explores descriptively into how regularity of emergence of urban phenomena come about in large, organized complex systems, such as cities.


    Urbanization and Economic Development: explores descriptively and normatively through a macro perspective into the relationship between urbanization process and economic development.


    Cities and Creativity: explores normatively into how to shape creative urban environment.


    Cities and Safety: explores normatively into how to shape safe urban environment.


    Cities and Ecosystems: explores normatively into how to shape eco-city environment.


    Cities and Sustainability: explores normatively and comprehensively how to shape urban sustainable development environment.

    4.2 Management Science


    Cities and Planning: explores descriptively and normatively into the logic of making plans for urban development.


    Cities and Administering: explores descriptively and normatively into the establishment of the administrative institution for urban development.


    Cities and Governing: explores descriptively and normatively into the evolution and design of the mechanism for collective choice and action in the context of urban development process.


    Cities and Regulating: explores descriptively and normatively into the evolution and design of regulation and institution in the context of urban development process.

    In addition to the above-mentioned more general, theoretical topics, the Center is also concerned with policy-oriented topics, including but not limited to national land planning in Taiwan as well as housing, transportation, disaster mitigation, urban infrastructure, city finance, and urban environmental issues. Other issues in the third world, including sanitation and poverty and smart growth in the more advanced countries will be the focus of the Center’s research topics as well.

    As for research methods, the Center is not intended to adopt the positivism that is derived from reductionism; instead it is based on more the diversified and open methodology of coherentism. Coherentism does not seek a theory of everything; rather it focuses on useful explanations by constructing theories of things. Analytical tools include, but are not limited to, computer simulations, deductive reasoning, psychological experiments, field studies, questionnaires, system design, data mining, and even hermeneutic analysis.

  • 5. People and Collaboration
  • The Center will invite renowned academicians in Taiwan, China, UK, and US to participate and provide advisory service, including but not limited to Chao-Chen Mai (Academician of Academia Sinica in Taiwan), Liang-Yung Wu (Fellow of the Chinese Academy of Science and the Chinese Academy of Engineering in China), Michael Batty (member, Royal Society in Britain), Luc Anselin (Member, National Academy of Science in the U. S.), and Lewis Hopkins (Fellow, American Institute of Certified Planners in the U. S.). The collaborative universities include Tsinghua University (China), University College London (Britain), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (U. S.), University of Texas at Austin (U. S.), and University of Southern California.

  • 6. Conclusions
  • As argued by Jane Jacobs (1993) the problem of the city is one of organized complexity, and the scientific endeavor during the past four centuries has focused on exploring into problems of simplicity and disorganized complexity. We understand so little about complexity in that we know much more about the universe than the society where we find ourselves, not to mention solving the problems resulting from the latter. Much evidence has shown that exploring and managing complex systems, such as cities, is one of the most challenging tasks of human beings during the 21st century. It is the Center’s responsibility to help create a prosperous and affluent global society.

  • References
  • China National Bureau, 2008, "China Annual Census of 2008," Beijing: China Statistics Publisher. (in simplified Chinese)

    Lai, Shih-Kung, 2006, "Cities, Complexity, and Planning: Understanding and Improving Urban Development,"  Taipei: Chan’s Books. (in traditional Chinese)

    Lai, Shih-Kung, Pei-Chun Shao, Hung-Chih Hung, and Chuen-Yuan Chen, 2010, "City Safety and Post-disaster Reconstruction,"  Taipei: Wu-Nan. (in traditional Chinese)

    Clayon, Anthony M. H. and Nicholas J. Radcliffem, 1996, "Sustainability: A Systems Approach,"  Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.

    Comunian, Roerta, 2010, "Rethinking the creative city: the role of complexity," online: DOI: 10.1177/0042098010370626.

    Gell-Mann, Murray, 2002, "The simple and the complx," in David S. Alberts and Honolulu, Hawaii: University Press of the Pacific, 3-28.

    Hall, Peter, 2000, "Creative cities and economic development," Urban Studies, 37(4): 639-649.

    Jacobs, Jane, 1993, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," New York: The Modern Library.

    Laughlin, Robert B., 2005, "A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down," New York: Basic Books.

    Nature, 2008, “China’s challenges,” 454: 367-550.

    Science, 2008a, “Cities,” 319: 693-836.

    Science, 2008b, “China’s environmental challenges,” 321: 597-728.

    ScienceDaily, 2007, “World population becomes more urban than rural,” <>.

    UNESCO, 2011, “What is the creative cities network? <http://portal.unesco.,org/culture/en/en.php-URL_ID=36746&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html>.

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