31 August 2007

Fractals and Urban Planning

As the readers of my blog can observe, I am doing a great deal of thought about fractal analysis, agent based modeling as they apply to urban development and planning. This is related to a paper which I hope to submit to a suitable journal concerning the use of fractal analysis of Istanbul. More will be posted about this soon to be completed manuscript.

Recently, I downloaded a fractal program that is very easy to use and started to examine the different variations of some of the fractals. Although I am not a programmer, the language was very easy to alter. I would recommend this program for some exploration in fractal analysis.
The download for this program can be found at: http://www.contextfreeart.org/download.html
I found this program while searching for more literature on fractal analysis and cities. Actually, I first came across this blog concerning fractals Dataisnature at http://dataisnature.com/ which directed me to this program. Dataisnature is an excellent blog in this area and presents the enthusiasm that many have toward fractal analysis.

As ideas sometimes emerge, these random bits of thought dawned on me, although I have loosely thought about these themes previously.

Fractals are generated by rules which
result in a end state at one period of time (Actually there is no end state but there is also no entropy with fractal generation)

Dimension and lacunarity measurements are indications of the characteristics of the fractal at one point in time (A 'rolling' measurement of a fractal as it is being developed would be very useful.)

The basic elements of fractals are
1. the starting point (s)
2. rules
3. generation
4. end state at time X

In urban development, the rules determine the generation of the built environment
In urban planning the rules would go beyond the formal rules such as policies and regulations but would also include 'rules' such as economic factors, goals of stakeholders, and technology.
Complexity arises because of the changing and multiple rules and their effects. It is challenging and interesting to model these elements as is presently being done using cellular automata. Using these tools we can generate an infinite set of possible outcomes. Agent-based modeling is also being incorporated and in the future cellular automata and agent based modeling will be 'tightly coupled' or evolve into something else. (I don't know if there are the right words, but I could not think of any other ones at this writing.) The problems lie as in all modeling in the ability to approximate reality. This has also the alternative term in modeling as calibration.
If they will actually predict a future state is really not the point. The point is to rapidly explore various scenarios. If in cellular automata see the effects of different rules, then these would be clues to how we can manage the complexity of the urban environment. However, I do not think that research in cellular automata has approached this level yet.

Taking this approach, the rational long-range planning process where a governing body produces 20 years plans are at best worthy efforts to deal with trying to shape the direction of urban development and at worst a pointless and perhaps costly exercise whose only product will be a document which sit on the shelves of a government office. According to this logic, planners should not so much be concerned about long range planning, but concentrate on the policies, regulations, enforcement, formal and informal interaction with various stakeholders and capital improvement planing. Cities will continue to develop chaotically no matter what long range plans we develop.

Any comments on some of my statements would be welcome. As always, I will hopefully develop these ideas further.

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