Cities as Emergent Models: The Morphological Logic of Manhattan and Barcelona

Sense Editor
August 28, 2012

ABSTRACT

Over the years the world has been characterized by a rapidly growth in urbanization. As a consequence, cities all over the world continue to grow at an unparalleled rate to be able to absorb the increasing in urbanization. Usually, cities are growing with no regard for planning laws. Have you ever considered that may be a logic behind the growing process of cities? And that once this logic is identified, potential rules which might be driving or restricting this growth process will come to light? Kinda Al Sayed, Alasdair Turner and Sean Hanna are researchers at UCL and proposed to investigate the spatial growth of cities, aiming to identify potential rules which are related with its growing processes. For this research be conducted, they have to take into account the historical development process of a city in order to understand how it has changed over time and how distinct cities compare to each other. Do they share some similarities in their evolvement processes?

To answer all this questions, the researchers had to focus on the main influential factor in the formation of cities: the spatial aspect. They have considered two cases of study to evaluate and capture the change in the morphology of the cities during their growth courses. By morphology we mean as the changes in human settlements over time and the discernment of the underlying structure within a city. The first case of study is the city of Manhattan and the second, the city of Barcelona. One of the main reasons for the selection of these cities as cases of study is because both of them present two different spatial growths processes within their urban area. The first growth process was formed by a bottom up emergent spatial structure which is identified in old historic centres. This is referred as the organic grid, which represents the areas of the first settlements, i.e., the region where the city has begun. The second is a top down planning which extends across both cities creating a uniform grid on vacant areas. The latter is more geometric and regular planning and, in both cases of study, presents the form of a grid.

This research shows that in both case studies the most integrated part of the city is the one which presents emergent growth process and not the top down planning. Furthermore, it was identified that the integration of the city spreads from old historic centres outwards. This assertive implies that the success of a city as a whole is highly dependent on its organic grids. The success of uniform network within cities is achieved by either a close relationship with the organic grids and through improvements in their development stages. Hence, these findings highlight the importance of carrying out analysis regarding the emergent models of cities to understand their evolution process.