Cities as Complex Systems: Some Characteristics of the Hybrid Urban Spaces

Cities as Complex Systems: Some Characteristics of the Hybrid Urban Spaces

Antonio Opromolla (Link Campus University, Italy) and Valentina Volpi (Link Campus University, Italy)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/IJUPSC.2020070101
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Cities can be considered as “complex systems,” since they are characterized by multiple connected elements and by relations among them that are not always recognizable. The massive presence of digital technologies in urban spaces that transform them into “hybrid” spaces makes cities even more complex. This article shows some of the challenges that arise in this new context (e.g., rethinking the people experience in the urban spaces; developing new “urban competences” using in an effective way the large amount of produced data; focusing on the human aspects rather than the technological ones; thinking of sustainable solutions from the environmental, social, and economic point of view; etc.), and it proposes the application of collaborative design frameworks that can offer specific tools and methodologies to face them.
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The academic literature has been focusing on cities for many years now and addressing several issues. The debate about cities is very complex and articulated. In fact, the city as an object of study is of interest for researchers from different fields (sociology, architecture, engineering, etc.), which, on the basis of the specific field, focus on different aspects. It should be also considered that the focus of each research field can be either on micro-aspects (that is to say very specific elements of the city) or on macro-aspects (that is to say very stratified and intertwined relations among different urban elements). Moreover, the point of view can be on the city as it is or as it will be, with the aim, respectively, on the one side of describing the actual phenomena that occur in the city and on the other side of predicting its evolution. All these elements are just a few examples of the complexity which characterizes the studies and the related research approaches on the city. On the basis of these different elements, many definitions about cities arose. In fact, in the academic literature it is possible to find definitions that focus on many different aspects. Among the most common used definitions we can find the following:

  • 1.

    Smart cities, that refers to cities which improve the citizens’ quality of life through the application of information and communication technologies (Kondepudi et al., 2019);

  • 2.

    Digital cities, that indicates cities which invest on the combination of technological infrastructures and software applications to offer various e-services (Anthopoulos et al., 2016);

  • 3.

    Creative cities, which refers to cities investing in the knowledge shared capital (Galably, 2018);

  • 4.

    Learning cities, which are cities providing services of education and lifelong learning to their citizens (Biao, 2019);

  • 5.

    Fab cities, that points out the ability of cities of creating and building internally what they need through an active involvement of citizens, Institutions and local businesses.

The intention of the authors of this contribution is not to criticize the spreading of these different definitions, but to demonstrate how they contribute to consider cities as complex systems. In effect, each single definition could evoke many different possible meanings depending on the context of use and, as already said, the background of the researcher who refers it to his/her specific field of study. At the same time, different expressions could often address the same purpose. This is inevitable, since giving a specific definition to a complex subject as cities means emphasizing only specific aspects and leaving out others, with the final result that each definition appears incomplete and fleeting.

For these reasons, the aim of this contribution is not focusing on city elements that provide a defined city model but identifying transformative processes (that is to say challenges) from which different city solutions could emerge. In detail, the authors pointed out the massive presence of digital technologies in the urban environment that made cities more complex, by transforming them in “hybrid” (that is to say at the same time physical and digital) spaces.

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