Introduction to Urban Science

Introduction to Urban Science

Evidence and Theory of Cities as Complex Systems

By Luís M. A. Bettencourt

A novel, integrative approach to cities as complex adaptive systems, applicable to issues ranging from innovation to economic prosperity to settlement patterns.
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A novel, integrative approach to cities as complex adaptive systems, applicable to issues ranging from innovation to economic prosperity to settlement patterns.

Human beings around the world increasingly live in urban environments. In Introduction to Urban Science, Luis Bettencourt takes a novel, integrative approach to understanding cities as complex adaptive systems, claiming that they require us to frame the field of urban science in a way that goes beyond existing theory in such traditional disciplines as sociology, geography, and economics. He explores the processes facilitated by and, in many cases, unleashed for the first time by urban life through the lenses of social heterogeneity, complex networks, scaling, circular causality, and information.

Though the idea that cities are complex adaptive systems has become mainstream, until now those who study cities have lacked a comprehensive theoretical framework for understanding cities and urbanization, for generating useful and falsifiable predictions, and for constructing a solid body of empirical evidence so that the discipline of urban science can continue to develop. Bettencourt applies his framework to such issues as innovation and development across scales, human reasoning and strategic decision-making, patterns of settlement and mobility and their influence on socioeconomic life and resource use, inequality and inequity, biodiversity, and the challenges of sustainable development in both high- and low-income nations. It is crucial, says Bettencourt, to realize that cities are not “zero-sum games” and that knowledge, human cooperation, and collective action can build a better future.


$45.00 X ISBN: 9780262046008 496 pp. | 7 in x 10 in 156 b&w illus.


  • “This commanding work offers a provocative, encyclopedic and exciting new approach to understanding cities, synthesizing the time-worn theories from economics, sociology, geography, and others to propose a layered path to meaningful coherence for furthering the understanding of the complexities of urban development.”

    Eugenie L. Birch

    Lawrence C. Nussdorf Professor of Urban Research and Education, University of Pennsylvania

  • “As cities, particularly in the Global South, face the challenges posed by the transformation of informality, Bettencourt illuminates the science behind the process. This book's special resonance lies in its bringing together the different stakeholders in the urban space to appreciate each other's contributions rather than battling for ownership.”

    Sheela Patel

    Founding Director, Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres; Cofounder, Shack Dwellers International

  • “Bettencourt brilliantly interweaves his deep knowledge from a range of fields—history, geography, archeology, biology, complex systems, economics—to develop the building blocks of urban science. This tour de force will enter the canon for twenty-first century urban scientists.”

    Karen C. Seto

    Frederick C. Hixon Professor of Geography & Urbanization Science, Yale University