Saturday, January 15, 2011

Is there a revival of the large urban model?

Every three weeks my workshop on urban complexity attracts more than twenty urban scholars and their PhD students from several universities in Israel. The workshop has been meeting for some 18 months now and each meeting is divided into two parts. The first part is devoted to a conference style lecture – albeit we devote to the lecture and to the discussion that follows 90 minutes. The next 90 minutes is devoted to the actual workshop at which we ponder questions raised by one of our participants.

This week we met at Tel Aviv University and we heard a lecture by a Hebrew University geographer on his Urban Sim modeling efforts. Urban Sim is a platform that permits interactions among several modules. If I understand it correctly a transportation model is at its heart and it plays a central role in the spatial allocation of activities be altering accessibility.

I remember that as a student I heard pronouncements concerning the death of the large urban models. The main criticism of these models was the inability to track the causes of various results generated by the models. The multiplicity of equations and variables made it impossible to identify which variable, at what value threshold and in which equation was responsible for a particular result.

The last few years seem to witness a revival of the large urban models. I am not sure what caused the revival. However, simulation is much easier with today’s computers. Furthermore, data is plentiful and available at a fine spatial resolution. There are 70 research groups around the world developing and refining Urban Sim based models alone. There is an entire community of such researchers sharing experiences, insights and knowledge gained.

And yet, some of the old criticisms of the large urban models can be leveled at the new models as well. During our discussion this weeks some people were concerned about the uneven sophistication of the various modules of the model. The transportation model is quite detailed and well calibrated. The model representing real-estate supply, mostly housing, is quite unsophisticated and there are no prices to speak of. The demand for housing is also modeling quite simply. Others were concerned that the results are not caused by the values of certain key variables, but that the results are predicated on the functional forms of certain non-linear equations.

This led us to an intense discussion of the role of fast and slow variables in generating cusps and the applicability of the concept of phase transitions to urban spatial phenomena. Since we did not come to a conclusion, we will continue our discussions next time.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tenure-Track Positions in Urban and Regional Planning at the Technion

We are looking for a few good persons...

The Graduate Program in Urban and Regional Planning at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology is seeking to expand its program. Up to 3 tenure track faculty positions will be added in the coming academic year. The positions are open to junior as well as senior academics. The appointments may start as early as October 1, 2011. Salary and compensation are compatible with Israeli university standards.


The successful candidate will demonstrate exemplary scholarship and teaching record in his/her field compatible with their current rank. Applicants must hold a Ph.D. degree in urban planning or in a related field. Successful candidates will be expected to teach graduate-level planning courses, supervise Master’s theses and Ph.D. dissertations, conduct cutting-edge research, and participate in faculty and Technion activities. Rank will be determined in accordance with the candidate's record. Teaching may be conducted in English.

We are especially, but not exclusively, interested in candidates specializing in:

- Environmental policy and planning

- Social aspect of planning and housing

- Spatial statistics, quantitative and GIS methods (spatio-temporal problems and data-driven analyses of spatial planning decision-making)

- Planning in developing countries.

About the Technion and Program

The Technion is the leading university of science and engineering education in Israel. The Graduate Program in Urban and Regional Planning in the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning was founded in 1969. This is the only program in Israel that has been accredited by the Council for Higher Education to grant M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in urban and regional planning. The program gained international recognition by the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) and the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP). At present there are 136 graduate students studying for the M.Sc. degree in the program and 27 students for Ph.D. degree.

The university is located on Mount Carmel in Haifa, a pleasant city in the Northern part of Israel with extensive high-tech industry and breathtaking views. The city offers excellent housing and quality of life as well as ample research opportunities.

For more information about graduate studies at the Technion, please see the web site at:

Applicants should submit the following materials in both electronic and hard copy:

1. Letter of interest describing research, and teaching accomplishments and future interests.

2. Curriculum vitae.

3. Names and contact information of three references.

Review process will start as early as February 15, 2011 and will continue until the possessions are filled.

Application should submit to Prof. Amnon Frenkel, Program Chair

Graduate Program for Urban and Regional Planning

Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning

Technion – Israel Institute of Technology

Haifa, Israel 32000

Walter Isard (1919-2010)

Walter Isard (1919-2010) lived a long and very productive life. His interest in spatial phenomena started some 60 years ago. He started to use the term Regional Science quite early, during his early years at MIT and before he moved to Philadelphia and established there the Department of Regional Science.

There is no doubt that the modern interest in spatial economics owes much to Walter. At the last congress of the European Regional Science Association in August there were over 1,000 people. In Denver, at the North American conference in November there were some 900 people. The field is in bloom. And yet, Walter did not receive the Nobel Prize in economics. He should have.

While there is no doubt about his impact on the field, I suspect that Walter’s contribution was mainly to place a spot light on the field and to organize what today we call Regional Science International. He was stubborn and skilled at persuading people to join his causes.

I cannot be sure what persuaded me to study urban economics. I have no doubt that Walter had at least a small part in it from the time I was in high school and copied numbers for the Philadelphia I-O table.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New book and book series "Cities and Nature"

Well, it has been a long time since I added to this blog.

Here is my belated, and now public, resolution for the New Year... since I signed to write a book and to edit a new book series with Springer, both entitled "Cities and Nature", I and my two co-authors [I. Benenson and D. Malkinson] will write our thoughts at least weekly. I hope that we will be able to do it over the weekends.

We will look forward to creative criticisms and to other reactions. We will start soon.

Friday, November 27, 2009

urban and peri-urban sustainability policies

I find Kevin Kelly's writing a pleasure to read. Contrary to many who popularize science he has a deep understanding of current science thinking and an uncanny ability to extrapolate it and indentify questions that are yet to be addressed.

Recently, Andreas Lloyd has "remixed" Kelly's 1994 book entitled Learning from self-organizing systems in nature and technology. Lloyd has made Kelly's book much more accessible by removing, moving and editing the original. This has become a popular method in music. See for example my son's mixes on . [My son is Jordash]. Lloyd has adopted the method to writing.

In the final chapter Kelly raises and answers a question that sums up much of current deep science thinking.

"So how do you make something from nothing? From the frontiers of computer science, and the edges of biological research, and the odd corners of interdisciplinary experimentation, I have compiled Nine Laws of God governing the incubation of something from nothing. These nine laws are the organizing principles that can be found operating in systems as diverse as biological evolution and SimCity. Of course I am not suggesting that they are the only laws needed to make something from nothing; but out of the many observations accumulating in the science of complexity, these principles are the broadest, crispest, and most representative generalities. I believe that one can go pretty far as a god while sticking to these nine rules:

§ Distribute being

§ Control from the bottom up

§ Cultivate increasing returns

§ Grow by chunking

§ Maximize the fringes

§ Honor your errors

§ Pursue no optima; have multiple goals

§ Seek persistent disequilibrium

§ Change changes itself.

You can download and read the entire book for free at Once you read the book, ask yourself what policy and planning measures should be promoted to advance urban and peri-urban sustainability.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Stan Czamanski prize for best paper by a young regional scientist

I have been around Regional Science since my early high-school days in Philadelphia. Some kids of the Philadephia I-O table research team were employed during the summer vacation as "research assistants". We wore NASA name tags and felt proud that our salary was paid by NASA.

Many of the small group of people who called themselves regional scientists at the time are no longer with us. I find it rather sad. Walter Isard, the father of the field and Stan Czamanski are still around. Walter is a few month younger than Stan.

I was very sorry to hear that Walter did not attend the November meeting of the RSA. It was a first. The founding generation is no longer present at the conferences and soon their impact on the organization will be forgotten.

Stan just turned 91. I decided to mark the occasion by organizing a young scholar prize in honor of my father. The prize will be awarded during the annual meeting of the Israel RSA organization in January. So, if you are presenting a paper at that meeting and you are a young scholar who recently completed her PhD, please submit you paper for consideration to the organizing committee.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Entrepreneurship, innovation and more

I just came across the following short video clip about the resilience and dynamism of the Israeli economy and the societal driving forces behind it: The video is a promo for a book entitled Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle.

It raises a vast number of hypotheses concerning entrepreneurship and innovation in Israel. While some of the assertions explaining the record breaking performance of Israel's economy seem correct, there is a need to perform an empirical analysis. In particular, cross-sectional data within Israel could provide counter-intuitive evidence.

I recommend the book.