Fractals and Urban Forms: Using Chaos Theory to Reshape Cities

David Thorpe from J. David Thorpe Illustration and Design presents "Fractals and Urban Forms: Using Chaos Theory to Reshape Cities" at the 2011 GeoDesign Summit. 
 

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00:01Our next speaker is going to be David Thorpe.

00:09This conference is like brain candy. It's like Halloween.

00:11You know, you knock on a door and there's some more goodies, and you knock on the next door and there's more goodies.

00:15I'm having a blast being here.

00:19I'm going to talk about fractals and urban forms.

00:21I'm a bit of a nerd and I like to think about how things relate and cross paths and cross fields.

00:27But before I get into that, we were talking about how geodesign is a young thing, that it's growing.

00:32It survived its infancy, right?

00:34When we're kids, we begin to exhibit behaviors and passions that are going to grow through the rest of our life.

00:40I didn't get on an airplane 'til I was 13.

00:43I rode the train around America, and it was a really cool experience, meeting people and seeing the landscape.

00:48But in fifth grade in Mrs. Tassa's class, I would draw little islands and do maps and make trains...

00:54...and I would design cities and mountains and rivers.

00:58And now I'm an illustrator and I illustrate transit-oriented development.

01:02These things grow, right?

01:04Well, I think that where we're going to go today is a place where geodesign might grow.

01:07We talked about how you can create models and let it run, see where geodesign will take you, create scenarios.

01:14This is a...where might this go in a few years?

01:20So the idea for this came from the fact, when I did my undergrad work, I studied leadership theory in part.

01:27And I saw this image.

01:28It's called the Mandelbrot set.

01:29It's an image of chaos.

01:30We'll talk a little bit about where these come from.

01:33But one day I was driving around Colorado Springs, and I realized that the looping pattern of suburbia...

01:36...kind of looks a lot like that image, right?

01:39So then I starting thinking, I wonder if maybe chaos explains how that image came to be.

01:43So I called a professor friend of mine, Jack Burns at Whitworth University, go Bucks, if anybody here's ever been there.

01:50And here's what I found.

01:51So these are some initial discoveries for how chaos theory might explain urbanism...

01:55...and how you can leverage chaos theory to create better urban places.

01:58In 1960, Edward Lorenz was a meteorologist and mathematician trying to figure out how weather worked.

02:04And he built this computer that was supposed out these, projections of the weather and they were all linear equations.

02:11But he lived in Boston and they have bad weather there, and he was looking out his window and realized that it didn't line up...

02:15...really, at all, and he wasn't sure why.

02:18So he started playing with things and looking at models and he came up with something called the butterfly effect...

02:23...which has infiltrated our culture.

02:24We've all heard tons about the butterfly effect.

02:26The basic idea is, changes in initial condition are amplified over time, and those can have profound impacts as iterations occur.

02:36So he created this image called the Lorenz attractor which, thanks to computers, which is the reason why we're all here...

02:42...is one of the first images of chaos.

02:45The Lorenz attractor is this, I nerd out about this all the time, no point is ever plotted twice.

02:52You don't know exactly where the thing is going to go.

02:54This is a projection of Lorenz's model of convection.

02:58But, you don't where it's going to go.

03:00But it kind of clings to the y axis.

03:02It's like it's held there by gravity.

03:05There's no bounds. There's nothing that's jamming it there.

03:07It's just...it's staying with what already exists, but it's also free will.

03:10It's free will and determinism at the same time.

03:13So hang on to that idea.

03:15Fractals have come after Lorenz.

03:17This is called the Julia set on the left, and as you zoom in on it over and over and over again...

03:22...you see familiar patterns, even if they're not identical, right?

03:26There's like a visual DNA built into these things that relates to a theme, relates to the equation that created it...

03:32...even if it's not identical.

03:34This is the Mandelbrot set.

03:35That's where it starts and where it ends up is what I showed you before, right?

03:40So that the patterns are there even if they're not identical.

03:44And this is the Koch curve.

03:45It's a really great idea for a fractal.

03:47A similar pattern repeated over and over and over again at smaller scales...

03:51...equilateral triangle, stuck on an equilateral triangle, stuck on an equilateral triangle, and you get these unbelievable details.

03:59Okay, so nature does the same thing, too.

04:01Ferns do it.

04:02Canyons do it.

04:03Broccoli florets as you zoom in on broccoli, it's a similar pattern repeated over and over again.

04:08Clouds do it.

04:10The book you should all read right now is called Leadership and the New Science by Margaret Wheatley.

04:15And I lifted this with my little Canon scanner from that book.

04:19The Grand Canyon is a perfect example of this.

04:22Equation for fractal in nature is water erodes the landscape on its way downhill, right?

04:27And you see this in infinitely smaller and smaller and smaller scales.

04:31The rocks in the foreground and the canyon in the background.

04:34So, here's my idea. This is where I'm getting, okay?

04:37This is where we get really nerdy.

04:38I think cities work like fractals, and the equation that created the image for a mathematical fractal, right?

04:45It's an equation that's repeated over and over again, we have in our cities as well.

04:50And that equation turns into a physical form, and it's our value system for the community, right?

04:56So in a suburban setting, this is an aerial photo of my home, Colorado Springs.

05:00We do sprawl, grade A sprawl.

05:04So, these are familiar pictures.

05:07They could be anywhere.

05:08These are sidewalks in Colorado Springs, just totally unpleasant.

05:13But as you zoom...there are values here.

05:15And it's not...we fight a lot about the laws.

05:17Should things be form-based code, or what should they be?

05:20But we don't have other values behind it.

05:22The values behind this that turn into the codes and turn into the laws are that, automobiles really are the best thing...

05:27...and we should use them.

05:28Boundaries between uses are important more than the connections between them, right?

05:33Private property a lot of times trumps public property and public space.

05:37That gets codified.

05:38That gets fractal growth, and it turns into these physical forms.

05:41Same thing is true in urban settings.

05:42This is Denver.

05:44I love Denver.

05:45Everybody's moving from Colorado Springs to Denver.

05:46We have growth problems now.

05:48This is Seattle. This is where I grew up, right?

05:50You see benches. You see parks.

05:52Those are repetitions of the belief that pedestrians are primary.

05:55The relationships are where we need to put our focus.

05:58And then you see it in Portland as well, right?

06:00Transit use...it's kind of default.

06:01If you value people, that grows fractal-like into transit.

06:06Okay. So the lesson of chaos is this.

06:08You can't always know everything.

06:10The world is unpredictable but you can expect familiarity if you write an equation with the right values in it.

06:16That kind of make sense?

06:18Okay. So let's write urban equations.

06:20I think it comes from the triple bottom line.

06:23People've seen this image before...the people planet profit, right?

06:26The idea is that real sustainability has got to be economically sustainable or you go broke, right?

06:31Builders won't build, everybody dies.

06:33Social...if you kill your neighborhoods, you kill your community.

06:35So you've got to sustain your neighborhoods.

06:37And you can't tap the earth beyond what it can handle, right?

06:40Well, that's why we're here.

06:41That's geodesign in three circles.

06:44So what if that became your city's code?

06:46What if, above all the existing stuff, you put an ethical overlay called the triple bottom line, right?

06:51And if that trumped everything else, what would happen to your city?

06:56I think it would create a gravity like the Lorenz attractor.

06:59Alright, there's still freedom.

07:00You can go wherever you want to go, but there's a solid, solid gravity that's drawing you to the core.

07:06And I think you would find that the easiest place to comply with the triple bottom line is a preexisting nodes.

07:11It's at your downtown.

07:12Our downtown is dying because public policy is killing it.

07:16So another element of this would be that public- and private-sector people all have to comply with the triple bottom line.

07:21It levels the playing field.

07:22It makes the private sector more inclined to do this stuff.

07:26It relates to what already exists.

07:27And I think it might actually repressure urbanized areas without urban growth boundaries.

07:32We have incentives in the Springs, and it doesn't work.

07:35We will never pass an urban growth boundary because we're very politically conservative.

07:39But this might just do it.

07:42So, we're working on a model of how this whole thing would work, and I'd love to explain to you but...all the details of that.

07:48But one little teaser is if you restructure planning commission to have some economic experts, some proneighborhood people...

07:55...and some environmentalists, a couple citizens at large, and then give them the ability to let these codes evolve...

08:01...you will probably see more Lorenz-like growth.

08:06So then, here's the challenge to geodesign.

08:09We've already talked about how we can make predictions and we can make models where we can see how things grow.

08:14But what if we could make geodesign give us an ethical overlay?

08:18What if we could see how changing these values will change the form of a built environment?

08:24Right? It's a simple equation.

08:26Now let's graph it, just like this.

08:29What we're talking about here is the big D design that we mentioned before.

08:32It's not just planning a site and tossing it out there.

08:35It's giving planners and political leaders in our city a tool that they can manipulate so that as they say...

08:42...well, what if we required a rule for neighborhoods that you have to have so many connections.

08:50You have to have so many transit options.

08:52You have to have so many price points for housing, and we give it a GPA, right?

08:57And you have to score 3.0 or whatever.

08:59Let the experts figure out the model, but what effect would that have on a built environment?

09:04And how could we model it with GIS and geodesign?

09:09So, I might be overly romanticizing the city, but I'm an artist, and art is what I do, so I apologize.

09:16But we respond to rules.

09:18We respond to codes and we either break them or we comply with them, but most of our codes are a box, right?

09:24Traditional codes, it's a box.

09:25You got to fit into the box if you want to build.

09:27Form-based codes are a heck of a better box, but in a lot of ways, they're still a box you got to fit in if you want build.

09:33But what if you could have a gravitational source that stuff just got sucked to, right?

09:38I think that's what the triple bottom line can be.

09:40And we know value changes work.

09:42You can see it in Dockside.

09:43Kudos to the folks from USGBC.

09:46Dockside is a project in Victoria, BC, where simple values were thrown out there.

09:51We want this thing to be sustainable.

09:53It's got to comply with the triple bottom line.

09:55And the whole thing is LEED-ND, the LEED Neighborhood Design, one of the first projects in North America.

10:00Fort Collins, Colorado, is also a really pretty conservative area.

10:02And this is the idea.

10:04It's got a great university.

10:05It's also got a lot of farms.

10:06It's diverse community.

10:08In '04, they put in a whole bunch of new values and little bit by little bit by little bit, the city has changed around it.

10:14So what a few of us were working on in Colorado Springs is what if we could create new values, pass that by our city council...

10:20...and see what happens to development.

10:24So, I think, as an artist, people respond to beauty, people respond to what's lovely.

10:34Give them values and let them engage with it.

10:36That's why I still have a job as an artist, because when I put a painting out there, people can engage with it, right?

10:41We're painting a picture of the city.

10:42We want triple bottom line.

10:44Now make it happen. Engage with it.

10:45Make it your own and innovate with it.

10:48So, as a conclusion here, you should read both of these books.

10:51This is where this came from.

10:53Leadership in the New Science is really more business and leadership oriented, but it's a great introduction to chaos theory...

11:01...and what's dubbed the new science.

11:03And then Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick.

11:06Wheatley refers to Gleick's book like every other sentence.

11:09They're both fascinating and a great introduction to the subject matter.

11:14And then, the book that I just read is The Twenty-One Balloons.

11:17It's a little children's book from the 1940s, I believe.

11:20I like to read kid's books because they keep you sane, you know, in a world where you're staring at computer screens, you know.

11:25They keep your imagination going.

11:26And, so the author says this, he's talking to a friend, "I don't suppose one thinks of one's hometown in terms of streets and buildings...

11:36...as much as one does of personal associations, friends, and relatives."

11:40It's relationships, right?

11:42That's what makes a good city.

11:43We know this intuitively, right?

11:45But, now what we're talking about is relationships between elements of the triple bottom line, right?

11:50What's the relationship there?

11:51Let's map that and let's use geodesign to do it.

11:54So, thank you for your time, and I look forward to answering any questions.

11:57If you see a black hole in this thing that I've just shoots a hole down in it...

12:01...let me know because I need to know that before I do too much more work on this.

12:06If you know how to make this thing happen, I also want to talk to you...

12:08...so let's play the card swap game and be like fourth graders with our baseball cards.

12:13So, thank you.

Copyright 2014 Esri
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