Friday, April 02, 2010

The relevance of Urban Dynamics to Singapore's success story...

The relevance of Urban Dynamics to Singapore’s Success Story: Lessons for ‘Moving Beyond the Crisis.’

System Dynamics is a method and body of theory for representing and understanding complex systems, especially social/political/economic systems. Singapore is an example of the sort of system System Dynamics modelers seek to understand. The most famous book using the method was The Limits to Growth (1972), by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jurgen Randers and Bill Behrens. There have been two more iterations by three of the same authors, Beyond the Limits (1992) and Limits to Growth: The 30 year update (1994).

Since mid January, with the assistance of a great collaborator, I have been working as many hours a day as human endurance makes possible to produce a paper drawing lessons from Singapore’s experience using this method. Committing oneself to a product with a firm drop-dead date (in this case submission for refereeing) has advantages. Like a student term-paper, it forces one to make the inevitable choices and compromises necessary to bring a project to completion. But the process of doing so can be draining - even hellish. It is also true that viewing the final product, even with its imperfections, can be very gratifying.

Here is the abstract of our paper. The “crisis” to which the title refers is the global crisis of potential overshoot and collapse described in the Limits to Growth and its successor volumes.

The relevance of Urban Dynamics to Singapore’s Success Story: Lessons for ‘Moving Beyond the Crisis.’

This paper seeks answers to a question implicit in the theme of The 28th International System Dynamics Conference Program: “how can humankind move “Beyond the Crisis” towards political economies that are more resilient, sustainable and humane?” Its focus is cities, which are seen both as the principal loci of the crisis and pointing paths to moving behind it. Those concerned with urban challenges need new ways of viewing the problems they face. In seeking new ways, they should consider what Dr. Louis Alfeld has called “perhaps the most insightful System Dynamics application ever developed”: Jay Forrester’s urban dynamics model. This representation of cities as living systems seeking equilibrium with their environments offers lessons that are timeless and needed. A notable development success story, Singapore illustrates applications of these lessons by leaders who were not even familiar with Forrester’s work. This further highlights the value and contemporary relevance of the urban dynamics model’s worldview.



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