This workshop was organized against a backdrop of rapidly growing renewed interest in the theme of urbanization, which was characterized by Simon in the 1980's as "the major challenge for [organization] sciences in the 20th century". To be clear, that does not in any way reduce the importance of the huge amount of work that has already been done on this theme, both in Europe and in North America, in part by participants in this workshop (Batty, Pumain, etc.).
But this work is now reaching a different stage, in part due to the application of complex systems theory to this domain as a result of the work first initiated in the ISCOM project (funded by the ICT directorate of the EU, and led by Lane, van der Leeuw, Pumain and West as PI's), which seems to be pointing to the possibility that the community may actually be reaching a mature stage in which a theory of urbanization is achievable.
Clearly, this renewed activity is also driven by the fact that the percentage of the world's population that is living in cities continues to rapidly increase, and that many cities are now so large that a whole new set of challenges arises.
What researchers are currently aiming for, with some hope that this may ultimately be realized, is nothing more or less than a 'science of cities', a conceptual framework about all cities no matter when or where, that is predictable of the properties of urban agglomerations and falsifiable. It would bring predictability about the future of cities, enabling us to provide practical guidance to what makes a “good” city, both in terms of defining “good” but also in terms of understanding the linkages between design and outcomes. That would prepare cities for future developments by determining norms that can be adopted to carry out systemic urbanization (e.g. deciding upon appropriate population densities and urban layout).
Clearly, such an ambitious aim involves (a) that the approach be based on urban data from across the world, and (b) that this huge mass of data (true Big Data) be dealt with by newly developed, sophisticated methods of analysis, representation and modeling that use current computation on a much grander scale, and in many different ways than is currently possible.
This workshop has begun discussions on what the questions might be that need to be answered, how one might begin to design such a theory, and which kinds of data are going to be required to implement this approach.
We have invited for the workshop a number of specialists from a range of different disciplines, including archaeology, geography, complex systems science, ICT, economics and other disciplines, in this case both from Europe and the US.
As is usual at the beginning of such kinds of discussions, these have some time to go before they will reach the stage where a formal plan of action can be launched. But there was remarkable synergy between the participants, who desire to keep this effort going with a number of smaller workshops in different locations, and eventually a second workshop of the same kind as the present one, again to be held at ASU in a year's time or so.
Finally, the organizers would like to express their profound gratitude to the Walton Sustainable Solutions Initiative for its financial and logistical support.