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Coupled Human / Biological Systems in Urban Areas : Towards an Analytical Framework Using Dynamic Simulation (Concepts drawn from the NSF-sponsored Urban Trace-Gas Emissions Project) Phillip C. Emmi Professor of Urban and Regional Planning University of Utah November 20, 2003.

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Coupled Human / Biological Systems in Urban Areas:Towards an Analytical Framework Using Dynamic Simulation(Concepts drawn from the NSF-sponsored Urban Trace-Gas Emissions Project)Phillip C. EmmiProfessor of Urban and Regional PlanningUniversity of UtahNovember 20, 2003

presentation outline
Presentation Outline
  • Conceptualize coupled human - biological systems in urban areas
    • Mankind as an ecological force
    • Energy use and urban density
    • Population growth, urban land consumption and road-building
    • A reinforcing feedback loop
  • Simulate urban sprawl and traffic congestion
    • Reference behavior
    • Causal loop diagram and system map
    • Policy simulations
    • Structure, results, findings and conclusions
  • Future directions
mankind as an ecological force
Mankind as an Ecological Force
  • Mankind is now a force of geologic proportions on the surface of the earth.
  • Mankind is now a force for global atmospheric and climatologic change.
  • Within 4 years, we become a predominately urban species: within 30 years, we will be 72% urban.
  • With further density declines, we go from occupying 3% to 8 - 9% of the earth’s habitable surface. We will then be an interconnected tissue across earth’s land surface.
  • We need to think seriously about the use of land and the reconstitution of our atmosphere through urban processes.
sprawl in a growing region land 3 3 pop

Range of Change in Population

and Urbanized Land, 1982-97.

Sprawl in a Growing Region∂(land)=3.3*∂(pop)

Source: Fulton. 2001. Who Sprawls Most? Brookings.



of the




sprawl in a declining region

Range of Change in Population and Urbanized Land, 1982-97.

Sprawl in a Declining Region










Lake Erie

Source: Fulton. 2001. Who Sprawls Most? Brookings.

∂(land) = -7.6*∂(pop)



West Virginia

a reinforcing feedback loop a la newman kenworthy 1989
A Reinforcing Feedback Loop(a la Newman & Kenworthy, 1989)
  • Most cities that built freeways found that this spread out urban land use and generated more traffic, until the freeways were congested again.
  • The response was to suggest that still more roads were urgently needed.
  • The new roads were justified again on technical grounds in terms of time, fuel, and eliminating congestion.
  • This sets in motion a self-reinforcing cycle of congestion, road building, sprawl, more congestion and more road building.
1 baseline 2 shock and awe and 3 cake and eat it too
(1) Baseline, (2) Shock-and-Awe and (3) Cake-and-Eat-It-Too

Land Development Densities in People per Acre

three scenarios 1 baseline 2 shock and awe and 3 cake and eat it too
Three Scenarios:(1) Baseline, (2) Shock-and-Awe and (3) Cake-and-Eat-It-Too

Traffic Congestion as Measured by the Percent Change in the Road Gap

system structure
System Structure
  • The interaction between urban land development, trip generation, and roadway construction can be represented asagoal-seeking process nested within a self-reinforcing feedback loop.
system results
System Results
  • This structure gravitates toward a pattern of incessantly more fervent activity in pursuit of an ever-receding goal – increasingly more miles of roadway construction, induced developmental density declines, increased vehicular traffic and more traffic congestion.
  • It gravitates toward an ever-expanding gap between actual and desired results.
finding 1 feedback as force
Finding #1:Feedback as Force
  • This reinforcingfeedback structure is anautonomous force sufficient to cause urban expansion even without an economic or demographic impulse.
finding 2 management requirements
Finding #2:Management Requirements
  • Regulating this force is essential for the successful management of cities.
    • It is key to urban metabolics, thus …
    • It is key to the dynamic of human-biological systems in cities.
finding 3 feedback dampening works
Finding #3:Feedback Dampening Works
  • Dampened feedback scenarios work.
    • They do so by aggressively shifting travel mode, increasing existing roadway capacities, increasing developmental densities and thus lowering auto trip generation.
  • Defeating sprawl and congestion requires multiple policies aggressively implemented.
  • With that, other beneficial results ensue.
  • A three-fold policy design dampens sprawl.
  • Dynamic simulation facilitates experimenting with alternative policies.
  • This creates a new basis upon which to learn and act.
    • Highlight critical factors, complex links
    • Visualize policy explorations
    • Identify robust strategies
    • Stimulate discussion among reference groups
    • Facilitates “steering” of inter-organizational networks
future directions
Future Directions
  • Refine the current sector
  • Add further sectors
    • traffic volume, speed and congestion sector
    • local fiscal sector
    • atmospheric emissions sector
    • urban forest regime sector
  • Continue to engage local policy leaders in group-based modeling