- freely available
Sustainability 2015, 7(5), 5211-5240; https://doi.org/10.3390/su7055211
1.1. Four Urban Features: Complexity, Connectedness, Diffuseness, and Diversity
1.2. Problematizing Urbanization: Succession and the Process of Change
2. A Framework for Global Urban Change
- A Power Law of Urban Size . The population of urban areas is statistically related to urban characteristics. Innovation, crime, infrastructure, and wealth, for example, have been shown to increase nonlinearly with increasing city population. Economies of scale are associated with the infrastructural features, while socio-economic outputs, such as wealth, are enhanced by the diversity and intensity of social links and display superlinear growth relative to city size .
- Urban Form . Classical city theory notes a progression from city design that embodies cosmological significance as ceremonial and administrative centers, through industrial production, and finally to a sprawling form growing by incremental and financially driven additions.
- Street Networks . Proposed that the open grid familiar in cities driven by colonial expansion and industrial and business growth, has shifted to a cul-de-sac or pinnate form with its associated focus on enclaves. Marshall  concentrated on the needs of transport and the rank hierarchy of streets. He proposed a three-dimensional analyses for comparing road networks. More recently, Strano et al.  suggested that the long-term evolution of road networks can be modeled more fundamentally as emerging from the interplay between innovation and increased density.
- Block Form . City block forms are related to street form, but taking an alternative perspective, are used to classify cities into four kinds based on the distribution of sizes and shapes of their blocks.
- City Patch Types . Following on the ideas of Foucault , Shane  has proposed that cities be seen as a changing array of patch types. He identified armatures, or connecting features, with enclaves of particular use or structure, and heterotopias, that is enclaves of creativity, novelty, or experimentation in the urban fabric. Heterotopias may be cryptic, as in those focusing on socially marginal groups or behaviors, or conspicuous as in the case of schools or artistic establishments.
- City Function . In the early 20th century, U.S. cities could be classified into nine main types. Aside from the inevitable “mixed” or diversified category, there were manufacturing, wholesale, educational, retail, transportation, resort and retirement, mining, and capitol centers. A simple ecological perspective has used such functions to focus on commodities and trade, housing of refugees, industrial manufacturing, sanitation and hygiene, convenience, consumption and entertainment, and sustainability as “modes” of urban form and function . An entire city may be labeled as one of these types or, more likely, comprise locations that express different functions.
- Infrastructure Theory . Although the ecosystem concept would seem adequate to represent the components, interactions, and dynamics of built, social, biological, and physical aspects of cities, interest in infrastructure particularizes these concerns. The subsystems of urban regions are often referred to as green, blue, and grey infrastructures. Specific instances are transportation, water delivery, stormwater removal, energy, and waste removal systems and networks [8,36,37,38], with biophysical infrastructures exemplified by parks, street and yard trees, and biodiversity. A related conceptualization of the components of urban systems is as social, human, built, financial, and natural capitals. The human ecosystem framework is yet another representation of the subsystems of cities, suburbs, and exurbs comprising complex urban regions .
Social and Political Models
- Place as Lived Space : The biophysical models listed above often emphasize the material and formal nature of urban systems. Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space  argues that cities are much more than abstract spaces, commoditized and governed from the top down. His theory serves as a transition to several examples, below, that theorize urban systems based on people’s perceptions, actions, needs, social adjustments, and institutional arrangement. Cities, as Marcotullio and Solecki  note are both physical quantities that are mapable and measurable, but they are also human and social qualities that affect people’s sense of self, place, and well-being and which govern their interactions with one another and with their built, biological, and mediated environments.
- The Human Ecosystem Framework . Not a theory per se, but a hierarchy of potential causes and interactions that can occur in urban systems, the human ecosystem framework includes attributes reflecting both biological and social (in the largest sense) origins and interactions. It acknowledges that urban systems are founded on fundamental biological and ecosystem processes, which have come to be grouped as ecosystem services . However, it also notes the necessity of resources such as the myths, organizations, and beliefs a culture provides. It also includes socio-economic resources, such as information, human population, labor, and various forms of capital. These biological and socio-economic resources are accessed, allocated, and used by a social system, embodying institutions, social ordering mechanisms, and temporal cycles or changes.
- Political Ecology [42,43]. A theoretical approach to understanding how struggle and conflict determine the relationships of people with the environment. Political ecology explicitly acknowledges that social and spatial dynamics in urban systems are contested, and that there arise a variety of networks and institutions, both formal and informal, to operate in contested fields of action. Race, class, and ethnicity are common determinants of access to power. Political ecology can also be considered a normative and practical approach to power relations in urban systems.
- Economics of Locational Choice [44,45]. The fundamentals of economics suggest that people have perfect knowledge, access to capital, and freedom to choose where to locate if they have sufficient capital, have motivated such things as bid rent theory. Potential purchasers, such as firms or households, can make trade offs concerning the size of parcel purchased versus the location of that parcel relative to urban amenities. Theoretical advances have added understanding of the constraints on knowledge, access, and freedom, and have acknowledged that in any locational choice there will also be a trade off that may involve non-monetary “push and pull” factors.
- Culture and Symbolism [46,47]. This view of urban areas is founded on the cultural and semiotic determination of urban form and activities. It accommodates both individual behaviors and shared group identity. Recent expansions into theories and models of consumption, such as an “ecology of prestige”  for explaining purchasing and maintenance behaviors within and between neighborhoods, is an example of this category of urban theory.
- Industrial Capitalism and its Discontents [49,50]. The rise of capitalism and of cities is seen as entangled. Cities can be seen as growth or production “machines,” in which part of the production is of labor itself, either by birth in situ or via migration and the conversion of farmers to wage workers. Generation of the middle class, as distinct from the working class, and the associated development of middle class suburbs are phenomena addressed by this theoretical realm. Of course, critiques of the viability of cities as capitalist institutions have existed since Marx and Engels .
- Globalization . Cities are increasingly seen as nodes in global financial, production, and commercial networks. Perhaps correctly thought of as emerging from the centuries-old European and Middle Eastern colonial enterprises, globalization now involves virtually instantaneous transfers of information, capital, persons, and to a slightly lesser extent, raw materials and consumer goods. The position of cities in global networks not only affects their relationships with their peer cities around the world, but also shapes their regional and local connections.
- Polycentric Governance [53,54]. With the change of cities from relatively focused metropolises, to linear megalopolises, and finally to urban mega-regions (or megacity regions), the spatial scaling of government has become mismatched with the effective urban scale. Hence, governance takes on informal, corporate, and cross-boundary attributes. Public-private partnerships have emerged as a familiar tactic in polycentric regions, as have quasi-governmental authorities. Concepts such as “the rights to the city” and privatized public space become important under this theoretical perspective.
- Social Heterogeneity and Innovation [55,56]. Classical urban social theory notes that urban areas are socially diverse, bringing together persons of different ethnicities, traditions, religions, ages, genders, and intellectual backgrounds. Such heterogeneity can spark conflict, such as that studied under Political Ecology, but it fundamentally also generates novelty and innovation. The role of innovation and creativity founded on density, mixed access, and informal venues for interaction is a powerful factor employed in some urban theories.
- Heterogeneity [73,74]. Cities and towns are structurally heterogeneous. Previously utilized methods for characterizing structure at large scales were not refined enough to capture the heterogeneous nature of urban locales. For instance, urbanization at large scales is usually quantified using low-resolution (30 m or greater) satellite imagery. Although these methods are useful for displaying general urbanization processes, they can only indicate broad differences among developed and undeveloped land areas
- Pattern and Process [75,76,77]. Quantifying heterogeneity in the biophysical environment is extremely important because landscape patterns are inextricably linked to ecological processes. Ecologists often also refer to this as a relationship between ecosystem structure and function. Although the study of these linkages has a long history in ecology, landscape and urban ecologists are advancing these concepts utilizing studies of heterogeneous urban systems.
- Social–Ecological Systems [78,79,80]. When studying urban systems there is a need to address the social part of the system as well as the ecological. This calls for interdisciplinary science to address sustainability issues and has led to numerous conceptual frameworks for studying complex and integrated social-ecological system.
- Ecology of Cities [78,81]. Early urban ecologists tended to do “ecology in the city.” However, as the field of urban ecology developed ecologists there became a need to do more work on the “ecology of cities.” Only by studying cities in a comparative way can scientists understand the drivers of development and the impacts of urbanization over the long-term .
- Patch Dynamics [9,83]. The spatial heterogeneity of urban systems can be expressed as social and as biophysical patches. However, such patches are connected by various flows and influences, and are capable of changing size, shape, and spatial configuration. The changes can be driven by internal processes and externally originating phenomena. Hence, patch mosaics are dynamic in both space and time, and provide a useful approach for understanding urban form and change. The “metacity” concept is an outgrowth of patch dynamics applied to urban areas as social-ecological systems.
- Continuum of Urbanity [1,84]. This concept distills the idea that urban and rural can no longer be considered to be discrete systems. Rather, most areas on Earth are now some combination of urban and rural attributes and processes. The continuum of urbanity thus acknowledges a gradation of these formerly different kinds of system based on dimensions of livelihood, lifestyle, regional and global connectivity, and the effects of these three phenomena on the social and biophysical environments of specific places.
- Urban Ecological Resilience . An adaptive cycle of resilience, emphasizing the ability of systems to adapt and respond to internal and external shocks without collapsing, has been a guiding theory for natural resource management . Its translation to social-ecological systems in general has invited exploration of its applicability to urban systems. Still in its infancy, urban ecological resilience provides an alternative to the traditional engineering resilience theory, which often assumes an equilibrium reference point, deterministic dynamics, and the predominance of resistance rather than adaptation to change. This concept provides links with urban design and sustainability planning .
- Biogeochemistry and Energy Flux [87,88]. A powerful research tradition in ecosystem ecology is the mass balance approach for understanding the fluxes and control of nutrients and contaminants, and the fluxes of useful and waste energy. In the urban realm, following traditions from the social sciences, such studies are often labeled “metabolism” . Of course the flows of matter, contaminants, and energy in urban ecosystems are linked to economics, power, politics, institutional structures, human capital, and social capital .
2.5. A Continuum of Urbanity
3. Research Implications
Conflicts of Interest
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