The Urban Systems Collaborative is an inter-disciplinary community that facilitates the integration and “smartening” of existing systems, and the creation of new systems with the intent of advancing certain individual, community and global goals (see below). The group is engaged in study, evaluation and modification of real-world information to reveal emerging patterns of urban behavior that are changing the ways that people live in cities and how these changes affect the planning, design, development, governance, and operation of cities. Here are some of the important features we look for in cities.

Who are we?

At present we are a somewhat random group of professionals across urban planning and design, architecture, finance, engineering, property and infrastructure development, and urban service operations.

We have in common the following beliefs:

  • There is a need for a greater integration of thinking among the several professions we represent, among the several lifecycle phases of the built environment, and among the many agencies within a single city that are responsible for providing public services.
  • There is a need for a common language among these professions to express this integrated thinking.
  • Information Technology is a growing presence in our professions and our cities and offers great potential for the design, development, and operation of cities as well as the interactions among citizens, services, and government.
  • Data-driven decision-making in all lifecycle phases of a city, enabled by Information Technology, has great potential, but must incorporate human, social, economic, cultural, and political considerations.

In the spirit of Systems thinking, we define a core group of professions and disciplines that will have the primary role in defining Urban Systems. We define the core group as:

  • Architecture and Urban Planning
  • Real Estate Development
  • Engineering (civil, construction, mechanical, electrical)
  • Transportation
  • Public and private utilities
  • Information Technology
  • Operations Research
  • Social Sciences (anthropology, economics, history, political science, psychology and sociology)
  • Geography and Environmental Sciences
  • Public Finance
  • Public Policy
  • Communications

We also defined an extended group of professions and disciplines that are stakeholders in Urban Systems and that will be consulted about our work. We define this extended group as:

  • Business
  • Law
  • Public Health

What do we want to accomplish?

The present team came together during 2010-2011 out of a recognition that, while the future of cities is evolving very rapidly at the beginning of the 21st century, a void or a disconnection exists among the several professions implicated in that evolution. So our immediate motivation in organizing the Urban Systems Symposium (urbansystemssymposium.org) was to begin a process of mutual learning among these professions and thereby address a number of problem areas:

  • A desire, in an era of growing competition, to understand more deeply the dynamics of cities, and what makes them successful at an operational level.
  • The metrics of a city that will be the primary focus for our data-intensive studies and a common vocabulary of Urban Systems terminology.
  • The need for principles to address the growing concern of citizens about their erosion of privacy and the related issue of ensuring greater transparency of decision-making by governments and their agencies..
  • The need for standards of various kinds to enable the professions to connect their work products effectively, perhaps beginning with a common taxonomy and typology of Urban Systems and urban forms.
  • The need to introduce more quantitative methods into the design, development, management, and operation of cities.
  • The need to extend the education and professional development of many of these professions to encompass this integration.
  • The need for an underlying scientific theory of how cities work at the level of individual citizens.
  • The need for understanding of how information technology changes social behavior and hence urban planning needs.

This is not by any means a definitive list. So in the second half of 2011, our goals are:

  • To advance and accelerate a systems approach to understanding and improving the planning, design, development, governance, and operation of cities.
  • To refine our definition of Urban Systems and to communicate and explain our views to the identified core professions and disciplines.
  • To pare away at this definition until we find a unique set of roles that we can fulfill productively and then to exercise these roles in studies and pilots that demonstrate the effectiveness of the Urban Systems point of view in explaining, diagnosing, and improving the attractiveness of cities.
  • To engage in Mutual Learning and to find a common understanding of the many shared concepts such “design”, “modeling”, “complexity”, “adaptation”, “system”, “complex adaptive systems”, and “planning”.
  • To define a common body of knowledge that all participants should share. We will begin this by developing 101 reading lists across the several disciplines. This may form the root for eventual programs of education and professional development.
  • To identify a small number of concrete starting points for work on some of the problem areas listed above or other areas that the group may decide to adopt with specific work products that are recognized inside and outside the group as having value for the future development of Urban Systems and that increase awareness of the Urban Systems point of view among the identified core professions and disciplines.
  • To organize a design competition for urban planning, management or operations that illustrates Urban Systems thinking.
  • To decide whether and in what form we wish to become a more formally organized group.

We will conduct this work by sharing knowledge and points of view through well-managed, regular Web meetings, through email correspondence and use of the symposium Web site.

What do we not want to accomplish?

Given the plethora of Smart/Future/Sustainable Cities conferences, we should also define what we are not:

  • We do not intend to organize commercial conferences.
  • We do not intend to develop or advocate new theories or policies for urban development.
  • We do not intend to lobby any government body or political individual for the enactment of any kind of legislation.
  • We are not a trade organization aiming to foster commercial activities.
  • We do not intend to develop patents, technologies, product or services, although we may engage in research and experiments to validate a theoretical principle.
  • We do not intend to create a public repository for open data or other forms of planning, development, or operational data.


We believe that the impact of Information Technology on the future of cities requires us to dig well below the level of visions, but we clearly need further dialogue to reach this. As our community grows and engages in debate these things will become clearer and we may realize that our direction needs to change. We find ourselves at a historic moment in the development of cities as the most complex human creation, we have much to learn and many people to teach.