PG and D’Arcy

I hope more people (>2) see this post than actually attended the four lectures celebrating the contribution of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson at this year’s RGS-IBG conference last Thursday when we presented. But such is the state of the world and especially human geography that 2 people in the audience is all that can be expected when one is celebrating one, nay two, of the great contributions from the early 20th century.

In 1915 Patrick Geddes (PG) published his great book Cities in Evolution and in 1917 D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson published his magnum opus On Growth and Form. Both books outlasted the 20th century and it is our prediction that they will outlast this one, the 21st. Not many books do that and not many that have an influence on geography but it doesn’t matter that we had more people speaking than were in the audience – we are in it for the long term! Both books are gratis – they are online and you can get them b y clicking on the links above.

Dave Unwin organised the session and introduced it. Alan Werritty then spoke on D’Arcy’s contribution to spatial form and networks, Chris Brunsdon then followed this with some key questions and extensions of two dimensional transformations – one of D’Arcy’s key tools, and then myself (with Stephen Marshall) talked about the links between Geddes (PG) and D’Arcy. One of the intriguing questions that myself and Stephen are addressing is “why is it that two people – PG and D’Arcy –spent 31 years in the same department, never published anything together, rarely spoke about each other in their voluminous letters – every one wrote letters in those days, both were sceptical Darwinists, both published their great books within 2 years of each other, and so on … “. We address this questions in the talk and you can glimpse a sense of this from our PDF that is linked to this post – click here.

The other key thing is that these two guys had a vast network of serious influential people who they met in their lifetimes – Darwin, Huxley from Thomas to Julian to Aldous, JBS Haldane and his father, Galton, Pearson, H. G. Wells, Foster, Balfour – the list goes on and on. It is a great detective story that needs a lot more work. Stephen and myself worked on PG and his contribution and we are still grappling with PG’s great dilemma – how to write or not write the great book on social evolution and cities and society that he wanted to but never did – we write a paper in Landscape and Urban Planning last year for PG’s Centenary of his 1915 book Cities in Evolution.

So there is a lot of unfinished business here. Little did I realise that I would spend a lot of time in the twilight of my career trying to unravel the book (and the person who wrote it) that I got as a school prize back in 1962 for A Level Geography.

When Stephen and myself have done more, we will post it, so follow this space.

GeoComputation 2017

2017 International Conference on GeoComputation: Celebrating 21 Years of GeoComputation 4-7 September at the University of Leeds

Stan Openshaw and his colleagues set up the first meeting 21 years ago in Leeds and it returns there for its coming of age. Some good papers will be presented but we have published some commentaries in Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science on the state of the art in GeoComputataion, and you can get these by logging on here. All freely downloadable. Read the words of wisdom and incisive critique and commentary on GeoComputation from

Editorial: GeoComputation: Michael Batty

Commentaries: More bark than bytes? Reflections on 21+ years of GeoComputation: Richard Harris, David O’Sullivan, Mark Gahegan, Martin Charlton, Lex Comber, Paul Longley, Chris Brunsdon, Nick Malleson, Alison Heppenstall, Alex Singleton, Daniel Arribas-Bel and Andy Evans

The Age of the Smart City

In this paper (downloadable here), I argue that the smart cities movement is simply the latest stage in the massive dissemination of digital computation that began with its invention some 70 or more years ago. In fact, the key thesis in the paper is that digital automation is simply the outcome of dramatic transition from a world without machines to one with, that digital technologies are the natural end-state of a process of automation that marks the ascent of man in general. This became evident with the rapid super-exponential change in technologies marked by the first industrial revolution which lead to the invention of the steam engine, then proceeding at pace through electrical and then into the digital revolution. In this context, I argue that the smart cities movement is the essence of the sixth Kondratieff wave. In developing this, I relate these waves of technological innovation to the prospect of all waves speeding up and collapsing into a singularity while in parallel, continuing into a regime of permanent creativity at the individual level

This paper also reflects on how the smart city can be defined and the difficulties in providing a coherent framework for its understanding and analysis. To an extent, smart cities are simply one feature of the city and to generate any collective and comprehensive understanding, ideas and technologies defining it must be related to every other perspective on the city. In this paper, I allude to the notion that the world population will stabilise during this century – that the demographic transition will work itself out and when we look back from the distant future, we will see this period as one in which the world moved rapidly from a non-urban regime to an urban one. In an earlier paper, I elaborated this argument in a commentary entitled “When all the world’s a city” which you can download here and can be read alongside the new article (also accessible on Research Gate).