Complexity as the telos of postmodern planning and design: Designing better cities from the bottom-up

Michael Patrick McGreevy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


This article explores the relationship between complexity theory and the analysis, planning and designing of cities, specifically their suburban and neighbourhood subsystems. It argues that while complexity theory is an apposite goal for postmodern urban planning, and it has been influential in the analysis and modelling of urban environments, it has been far less influential in their actual planning and design. In particular, the postmodern era has seen a decline of complexity within urban subsystems, as the self-organised complexity found within the traditional town centre and high street has been progressively superseded by the top-down mechanistic order of the shopping centre. This article argues that postmodern planning has often been an accomplice to this process because its antipathy to spatial determinism and/or the expert as arbitrator of what is right or proper in urban planning has left postmodern planners admiring complexity but not necessarily advocating for it. This has left the design and management of urban subsystems to the demands, choices and purposes of giant corporations, a situation more likely to deliver modernist mechanical order than postmodern complexity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-374
Number of pages20
JournalPlanning Theory
Issue number3
Early online date2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2017.

Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • activity centres
  • complex adaptive systems
  • complexity
  • endogenous
  • place making


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