About Michael Batty

I chair CASA at UCL which I set up in 1995. I am Bartlett Professor In UCL.

The Requiem Revisited


40 years ago, Douglass B Lee published his notorious article “Requiem for Large Scale Models” in the Journal of the American Institute of Planners on the demise of the first generation of urban computer models in the United States. In it he identified seven ‘deadly’ sins of modelling: defining these relative to our understanding of cities at that time and the technologies used to implement the models as: Hypercomprehensiveness, Grossness, Hungriness, Wrong-headedness, Complicatedness, Mechanicalness, and Expensiveness.

20 years ago, a number of us – myself, Britton Harris and Michael Wegener gathered under the auspices of Dick Klosterman in Chicago at the APA conference to review Lee’s findings. This lead to a special issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association (renamed from the JAIP) where we all recounted our reactions to the intervening 20 years with respect to large-scale models. In fact the field was just about to upturn at that point. Large scale models we need – indeed desperately so – to examine and structure impacts analysis –and a year later in Dallas Texas federal highways sponsored a meeting that we to assess the field and provide momentum for the continued upturn. In fact the special issue was rather disappointing. It was written at a turning point for sure and since then the field has revived in some respects and certainly there are now many more and different types of urban models. But in way we are still grappling with the problems of dynamics, equilibria,  predictions from such models and of course they way we might use them in supporting planning. A recent theme issue of Environment and Planning B reviews progress with LUTI models

20 years on again and we face new issues. Large-scale models almost seem like history now with new approaches to cities coming from every quarter. In particular the smart cities movement is generating enormous momentum and big data is shortening the time horizons over which we might consider planning to be effective. In some respects the new found interest in smart cities is attracting a very different set of people who are intent on computerising our approach to their management and understanding and I wonder just what this holds for applications. Are we about to repeat the mistakes of the past? Does new technology imply that we will always overreach ourselves? What are dilemmas and pitfalls of big data, new forms of management and control using computer systems and so on?

In these two commentaries in the current issue of Environment and Planning B, we seek to unpack these notions. Marco te Brömmelstroet, Peter Pelzer, and Stan Geertman first review Lee’s article and then your truly comments on these issues in terms of the smart cities movement.  I will not elaborate this message further but simply refer you to these commentaries and urge you to form your own views of what is happening now and how it relates to what wee happening then. It’s a fascinating dilemma.

The picture above is taken from http://www.toysperiod.com/blog/scale-models/toysperiods-model-railroader-review-2004-2010/ 

Celebrating 100 Years: BSP, RTPI, Geddes


In planning there are various Centenary events this year and next. This year the Bartlett School of Planning will celebrate its existence for 100 years along with the Royal Town Planning Institute, also founded 100 years ago in 1914. Next year, is the centenary of Sir Patrick Geddes’ famous book Cities in Evolution, and it is fitting that he should be included as he was instrumental in the founding of the town planning profession in Britain as well as being a sort of early alumnus of UCL.

The Bartlett School of Planning is marking its centenary with a series of public lectures and a special centenary seminar reviewing the history of planning education at UCL. The year will culminate in a special Alumni Event that will bring together past and current students with many of the School’s industry and professional partners. The Alumni Event will be followed by this year’s Annual Sir Peter Hall Lecture, to be delivered by Professor Anne Markusen, from the University of Minnesota.

The Centenary Exhibition will be the final event of the centenary year to be held on 6 May 2014. It will be a celebration of what has been done and what we now do at The Bartlett School of Planning. It will provide a great opportunity for networking and catching up with old friends. It will show-case student work, staff research and consultancy, and the work of our alumni. It will also act as a meeting place for alumni, current students, potential employers and staff creating partnerships and synergies for future success.

… all models are wrong, but some are useful


So said the English statistician George Box with his colleague Norman Draper in his 1987 book Empirical Model Building. I saw him espouse this idea at the Royal Statistical Society in a lecture in the 1980s and the quote is used by Chris Anderson in his controversial article on The End of Theory in Wired Magazine. I recently came across a paper by John Sterman  who is the current advocate of Systems Dynamics, the modelling approach initiated by Jay Forrester at MIT, which in some senses adds a lot more to Box and Draper’s little cliché. Models are abstractions, simplifications, toy versions of the real thing and they must inevitably be different from the real thing and in this sense they are wrong implies Sterman. What Sterman’s paper which is entitled “All models are wrong: reflections on becoming a systems scientist” says, is that if we have problems where we know that key variables are important, we must never leave them out because we have bad data or even no data at all. This discipline of leaving out what you can’t measure numerically, he argues, is far too narrow to deal with the kinds of open problems that inevitably we deal with in our own world of cities and city science. This has profound implications for model-building and simulation and if taken to heart would discount most of our existing models from application and use in advising on practical policy problems. Quite profound issues are raised by all this. Sterman’s article is on the net and you can download it by clicking here.