2012/10/10 10:10 Andrew Wisdom, “Cities as systems of systems”, City Science Workshop, U. of Toronto

Thematic presentation by @MelbourneWisdom on “Cities as systems of systems” to stimulate discussion at #cityscience workshop on “Finding Connections Between City Systems and Subsystems”,University of Toronto Cities Centre, October 10-11, 2012.

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, by David Ing.

Introduction by Eric Miller

  • Andrew Wisdom, Cities Leader at Arup Australasia

[Andrew Wisdom]

From previous talk, definitional issues on water

  • Live in Melbourne, don’t even think about storm water as water

Challenge in changing the way we think about things

Cities under pressure

  • San Paulo traffic jam

Dominant paradigm

  • Systems are organized as a way we look at the world
  • Technocentric — Sustaincentric — Ecocentric


  • World is there for us to rip things out
  • Nature has no inherent value
  • We can fix anything with technology


  • Have to work with nature
  • Shouldn’t be materialistic
  • Should be able to survive without growing
  • Reaching Earth’s limits
  • Environmental problems are solvable


  • ?

[Exercise on where we are on the scale]

Waning interest

  • Global warming peaked in 2007 (when it beat out Angelina Jolie on Google Search), some people wouldn’t mind warming
  • Unemployment is much more popular
  • Cartoon: An Inconvenient Truth, versus A Reassuring Lie

Instead of thinking of cities as consumptive city, think as generative city

Map of city of Melbourne, VAMPIRE Index, vulnerability to petroleum, insurance, real estate, etc.

  • People who live in the middle of town don’t really care
  • In western suburbs, sewage is a problem, thus west is branded as a bad place to be
  • New development is in Windom, is one of fastest growing in North America
  • Tricky place to be, dual income families
  • Great Australian dream
  • All of the good new jobs are on the east side of city, so everyone is commuting 1-1/2 hours per day
  • In western part of town, more than 50% of home are single person

Sweden importing waste to service power plants

  • Different paradigm

City patterns: a way of dealing with complexity

Zambian Wine logistics

  • Process to take grapes, and put them into a glass

LinkedIn network

  • Blue is Arup connections in Australia, but don’t know people outside

TTC executive suite with four operating divisions

  • What would happen if you put the chief customer officer over the other divisions?

Because of complex sets within city, we create silos

  • Land use planning, with single use zoning
  • Easy, what goes where become tractable
  • Doesn’t mean the city operates well
  • Melbourne used to have 3000 people, used to have licensing to close pubs at 6 pm so people would go home
  • Now converting commercial spaces into residential

Transportation as optimized within a silo

  • Build a freeway, has a terminus

Health: Agency for Health Care Research in the U.S.

  • Average length of stay
  • Outcome metrics
  • Readmission rates

Accounting approach to health: structure –> metrics –> outcomes

  • Breaking bone below the elbow is occupational therapy, as compared to above

Medical model of health

  • Define a problem, sets of treatment

Mental Health: DSM-IV, follows the medical model

  • Homosexuality used to be categorized as an illness
  • Temper disregulation disorder?
  • Oppositional defiant disorder: easily annoyed or angry: could be characteristics of a naughty kid

Internet use disorder?

The medicated child, as a way we think about the health issue

  • Prescription of ADHD drugs to underperforming kids
  • Deals with a social issue in a medical way

National health expenditures per capita

  • U.S. is spending more, but life expectancy isn’t longer

Rather than dealing with health, deal with wellbeing

  • Health related benefits of companion animal ownership, on physical health, psychological health and social health
  • Greenspace impacts on health
  • Availability of healthy food and BMI for New York City
  • Neighbourhood walkability and BMI for New York City residents
  • Health and social problems are worse in more unequal countries

Dongtan Eco-city, China

  • A hero project
  • Near Shanghai
  • Growing on river, sediment deposits
  • Building out productive land to make urban land seems weird, unless productivity is increased, e.g. vertical farming
  • Food-positive, water-neutral
  • A place where people walk
  • Land resource model

Low2No, Helsinki

  • Old waterfront area that Sitra is developing, focus on productive value
  • What is combination of uses that can be put there?

Werribee, Melbourne

  • West end of Melbourne
  • Have been planting an idea of 4 to 5 years of sewage as nutrient-rich water
  • Leads to thinking about industrial ecology: output from one process is input to another process
  • Market gardens, used to grow 3 crops a year of broccoli, now irrigation means 2 crops a year, with duopoly in retail
  • Hothouse grower: 100 hectare community as an eco innovation centre
  • University in the western suburbs, could use a living lab next door
  • Opportunity for energy self-sufficiency, could be water-positive
  • Difference between minimizing and being productive
  • Could have a carbon sink

What is an effective policy?

  • Have issues with bipartisan support
  • How to drive action?



#cities-centre, #city-science, #utoronto