Self-organizing urban transformation and its institutional implications

Shuhai Zhang

    Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

    1739 Downloads (Pure)


    The cities we are living in are typical complex systems. And spatial planning is the discipline which aims to enhance the sustainability of cities. Indeed, we can plan to create desired urban changes in some circumstances, however quite often it is not the planner or any dominant agent but the cities themselves change or adapt ‘autonomously’. Such ‘autonomous’ and spontaneous changes strongly relate to a mechanism known as ‘self-organization’. This thesis is exploring such a mechanism and its relation to spatial planning. Four cases from Beijing, China were studied, including two cases of new urban development in the periphery of built-up area, one case of urban renewal in hutong area of Beijing inner city, and the functional transformation of a peri-urban village. Supported by these cases, we are able to find out that a non-linear mechanism of self-organization exists widespread in various types of urban transformations. Such a mechanism manifests how independent and unintended individual actions could result into a spontaneous pattern formation without external coordination. In the face of self-organizing urban transformation, spatial planning still finds its way to play a role albeit not through a controlling manner. Instead of direct regulation, institutions are actually triggering, constraining and enabling the conditions which allow the happening of self-organizing process. Based on the above findings, we suggest a shift in spatial planning from getting things under control to getting ready for change, and from a focus on content and process to situations and conditions.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Groningen
    • de Roo, Gert, Supervisor
    • van Dijk, Terry, Co-supervisor
    Award date3-Mar-2016
    Place of Publication[Groningen]
    Print ISBNs978-94-91937-24-8
    Electronic ISBNs978-94-91937-25-5
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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