Complex Systems Modeling of Urban Development: Understanding the Determinants of Health and Growth Across Scales

  • Luís M. A. BettencourtEmail author


There is growing interest in the systematic scientific understanding of cities and urbanization due to an increase in data availability about many aspects of urban life throughout the world, as well as ready access to more powerful computation and modeling capabilities. Cities are manifestly complex systems in that social, economic, health and other aspects of urban processes are interconnected in the lives of each urban dweller and depend on the nature of urban services and infrastructure over their built environments. Despite this truism, the modeling of cities as complex systems across all these interdependent dimensions is relatively new. This paper presents a primer to different modeling approaches to cities and urbanization, pointing out their realms of applicability as well as critical areas where they are currently insufficient. Specifically, I give a short introduction to five main traditions—agent-based, spatial equilibrium, contagion, life-course and growth models—and discuss how they are becoming increasingly articulated and interdependent to create more realistic and more predictive models of cities. From this perspective, I summarize a research agenda for urban theory and modeling focused on understanding issues of growth and development across scales of organization from individuals to neighborhoods, cities and urban systems.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation and Department of Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Santa Fe InstituteSanta FeUSA

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