In this modern age, we think of cities as large institutions or machines. We talk about their failures as failures of management, coordination, governance. We think we could have "better" cities if we could only tune the machine to make it more "efficient." The machine model is implicit in the popular language around "smart cities." The promise is that shiny, smart boxes will figure out how to make our cities tick by smoothing traffic flow, monitoring crime and allocating power through smart grids.
We need to think again. Urban centers are evolving organisms, not engineering problems. Although we are able to control parts of a city -- central business districts, mass-transit systems, water distribution -- we will never hold and understand the whole. Cities are dynamic, complex-adaptive systems composed of millions of relatively free-willed individuals who each day make hundreds of individual decisions that set in motion consequences leading to a million other decisions.
Via Viktor Markowski, Complexity Digest