Model Town: Using Urban Simulation in New Town Planning

Edited by- Egbert Stolk and Marco te Brömmelstroet

The book ‘Model Town: Using Urban Simulation in New Town Planning’, a wonderful insight into the world of city simulation – both of networks and of agents, is an outcome of the research, and subsequent conferences, held by the International New Town Institute, based in Almere, Netherlands. It is an assortment of essays by various renowned urbanists and researchers, descriptions of various simulation and speculation efforts around the world, especially in the design of new cities. The book primarily seeks to answer the question, “Why should urban practitioners be interested in simulation programs anyway, in an era when the limitations and risks of these all-encompassing models have become so clear?”

The process of designing towns and cities, a task of dazzling complexity, involves much speculation on the outcomes of the design ideas. The book articulates the importance of simulation models in developing speculations, what-ifs and scenarios in this process. Various acts of speculation are articulated with examples, not necessarily limited to computer simulations. A wide variety of recognized failures of new towns such as Milton Keynes and Warrington are presented together with plausible links to the design and planning of these towns. It introduces one of today’s most well-known simulation techniques, the Space Syntax Method, and provides various examples of how it has been used to develop strategies for new towns.

While it most certainly makes a case for the use of simulation methods in the planning and design of cities, the book acknowledges the threats posed by the assumption that such methods provide the last word in planning. Through various examples, it demonstrates the failures of overly depending on metrics such as land-use models and integrated spatial decision systems. The book also does not fail to acknowledge the dilemma of choosing between self-organisation and explicit planning in cities. A refreshing chapter by Juval Portugali approaches the issue from the perspective of cognition and its resultant outcomes in planning. A growing body of research around activity and travel patterns has evolved over the years, and the book presents the notable work of Harry Timmermans in the use of activity-based modelling to predict activity-travel patterns. A fascinating subject broached by the book, is that of urban time rhythms and time-oriented policies in the planning of cities. Most modern planning paradigms do not acknowledge the relationship between space and time in cities, despite the fact that a city is quite naturally a temporal object. Stefano Stabilini and Sandra Bonfiglioli of Politecnico di Milano, illustrate the use of chronographic mapping techniques to map the dynamics of Italian city of Bergamo.

While it is easy to get overwhelmed by the various computer-logic driven simulation methods described in the book, one of the most interesting chapters in fact deals with non-digital urban gaming and so-called “serious games” to engage multiple stakeholders in the act of planning and design. It provides various low-tech examples of paper-based mockup games, as well as computer-based “serious games” such as Blob (developed for the municipality of Utrecht), Second Life, SIMPORT-MV2, etc. The book is also wonderfully punctuated by a visual essay by Gerard Hadders, which articulates the fact that simulation models deal with human processes, and are not merely autonomous projects. Simulations and speculations are deeply affected by the social and historic context of cities. The logic model is simply the armature, around which incredibly unique and colorful cities are sculpted.

Text & Image Credit: Ankush Chandran

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