Mathieu Helie has been writing at a blog he calls Emergent Urbanism. His most recent post is the first part of a series that will be published as an entire article entitled “The Principles of Emergent Urbanism” at International Journal of Architectural Research.
This first part of the series, and hopefully the entire published article gives a great introduction to the concept Helie names “Emergent Urbanism.” In my opinion as a Market Urbanist, Mathieu’s most remarkable contributions to urbanism revolve around the concepts of “emergence” as it relates to urban patterns, particularly with regards to Hayek’s ideas about “emergent order” or “spontaneous order”. As Mathieu writes:
How is it possible for what is obviously a human artifact to arise as if by an act of nature? The theory of a spontaneous order provides an explanation. According to Friedrich A. von Hayek (Hayek, 1973) a spontaneous order arises when multiple actors spontaneously adopt a set of actions that provides them with a competitive advantage, and this behavior creates a pattern that is self-sustaining, attracting more actors and growing the pattern. This takes place without any of the actors being conscious of the creation of this pattern at an individual level. The spontaneous order is a by-product of individuals acting in pursuit of some other end.
In this way cities appear as agglomerations of individually initiated buildings along natural paths of movement, which originally do not require any act of production as dirt paths suffice. As the construction of individual buildings continues the most intensely used natural paths of movement acquire an importance that makes them unbuildable and these paths eventually form the familiar “organic” pattern of streets seen in medieval cities. This process still takes place today in areas where government is weak or dysfunctional, notably in Africa where urban planning often consists of catching up to spontaneous settlement, and in the infamous squatter slums that have proliferated in the 20th century.
Although few, if any (let me know if you know of any others), before Helie have delved deep into Hayekian "emergence" as it relates to cities, many have discussed Jane Jacobs’ prolific contributions which are profoundly similar in approach to that of Hayek and other Austrian Economists:
The most devastating criticism of modernist urban planning came in the form of a sociological study and personal defense of the spontaneous city, the book The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. (Jacobs, 1961) In it she described in great details how the functions of a spontaneous city related and supported each other. Her concluding chapter, the kind of problem a city is, is still the most relevant. In it she attacks the scientific foundations of urban planning at a paradigmatic level, and claims that the methodology of the life sciences, at the time undergoing the revolution created by the discovery of DNA, is the correct approach to studying cities.
Beyond spontaneous order, Emergent Urbanism examines the use mathematical and geometric techniques to examine the complex structures, and thus urban patterns, that result from emergence. I am truly looking forward to the final, finished edition of Mathieu’s article, and further insights into "Emergent Urbanism".