Urban systems: Mapping interdependencies and outcomes to support systems thinking

Melissa Bedinger, Lindsay Catherine Beevers, Guy H. Walker, Annie Visser-Quinn, Kerri McClymont

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
60 Downloads (Pure)


This paper argues that urban systems issues are design problems on a grand scale and that various disciplines aiming to address them can have only a partial view of the problem. It is necessary to draw boundaries around the detailed analyses of specific issues, but a way to map the wider system, to contextualize and more deeply understand how they are interrelated, is still lacking. Four complexity obstacles related to reasoning about complex systems are in our way, and to our knowledge no existing approach navigates them effectively. We propose a tool called the Abstraction Hierarchy as a way to do just this, in order to frame complex issues on a large scale, in a way accessible to all disciplines. To demonstrate the power of this systems model, the Abstraction Hierarchy is applied to an urban area. Through its application we demonstrate its capability to navigate all four obstacles and investigate previously unexplored space in urban systems research.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2019EF001389
JournalEarth's Future
Issue number3
Early online date4 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • abstraction hierarchy
  • complexity
  • human factors
  • interdisciplinarity
  • pluralism
  • urban systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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