Confronting Vulnerability and Violence in the Urban Century

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Did you know that there were more murders in the US-Mexico border town Ciudad Juarez in 2010 than civilian deaths in the whole of Afghanistan – 3111 compared to 2421. Mike Batty gave a talk at this meeting which was organised by the the University of Pittsburgh’s Ridgway Center for International Security Studies in the Graduate School of Public & International Affairs from November 13-15, 2016. He talked about how complexity might be used to help articulate questions of fragility and resilience associated with violence in the cities of the global south. This was a free ranging seminar with a strong strategic dimension and it introduced ideas about feral cities and fragile cities as well as descriptions and analysis of many different. Phil Williams, an expert in international security talked about different types of cities, introducing the idea of feral cities – a term first used by Richard Norton from the Naval War College – to describe cities that were on the edge of lawlessness but still connected to the global economy in diverse ways – Mogadishu comes to mind – and then John de Boer presented ideas about fragile cities – again cities on the edge whose core functions were under threat. There was much talk about resilience, vulnerability and fragility with Desmond Arias introducing the notion that cities might be resilient but pernicious – caught in the trap of being sustainable but undesirable places to live. A great seminar. You can read my own contribution here but like all good seminars, it needs to be rewritten in the light of what I learned here.

In the Shadow of Darwin

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Michael Batty is working on a project with colleagues from the University of Melbourne, UNC at Chapel Hill, and the Santa Fe Institute at the Galapagos Science Centre with the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. They are exploring the way human populations are interacting with the natural ecosystem. The Islands are facing enormous population pressures from ecotourism and the group are modelling these interactions between the coupled human-natural systems using the science of complex adaptive systems (CAS).  Eventually they will produce a book about these pressures and their impact on the fragility of the ecosystems making suggestions for future change. The notion that the human and natural ecosystems remain in equilibrium is a convenient fiction and the idea that the Galapagos would have remained the same since Darwin’s historic landing in 1835 (described in his The Voyage of the Beagle) if no human populations had resided on the islands, is fanciful. Natural ecosystems evolve perhaps at a slower rate than human populations at least in terms of their migration, growth and change but these coupled systems pose special problems which have wide implications for cities and nature. The challenges for us all are enormous. They lie at the cutting edge of science and human affairs.

The pictures above show Darwin’s first landing site on the Galapagos Islands in 1835.

Sao Paulo, Brasil: Acessível para quem?

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Joana Barros and Mike Batty write about their work on the BBC Brasil Web Site. Read their article here which is about how transport segregates people rather than linking them together in cities in Latin America such as Sao Paulo. This is from their ESRC Resolution Project with Chen Zhong and Duncan Smith where they are comparing Sao Paulo with London and working with the group at the University of Sao Paulo and INPE.