Sixth International Conference on Urban Regeneration and Sustainability
14 - 16 April 2010
A Coruña, Spain
The sixth International Conference on Urban Regeneration and Sustainability, The Sustainable City 2010, was recently held in A Coruña organised by the local University, the University of Siena and the Wessex Institute of Technology.
This series of conferences addresses the multi-disciplinary aspects of urban planning, a result of the increasing size of cities, the amount of resources and services required and the complexity of modern society. Previous meetings, all very successful, were held in Rio (2000); Segovia (2002); Siena (2004); Tallinn (2006) and Skiathos (2008). The meetings provided a forum to discuss the challenging situations that urban areas are confronting nowadays.
Innovative tools are required for identifying the high complexity of contemporary cities. It is necessary to provide a more scientific approach to urban studies, inspired by Prigogine’s theories of dissipative structures, and to highlight relations between different systems and between systems and the environment. The metaphor of a chessboard can be used here.
Observing a chessboard, one tries to imagine aspects of the possible arrangements based on a progression of movements. In the mind of an expert player, possible moves are devised within the limits of the chessboard and the rules of the game. A network of possible relationships must be visualised in the spaces between the pieces in order to elaborate coherent strategies towards the objective of checkmate.
Cities are like a conflicted chessboard, where the various pieces have multiple relationships and degrees of freedom, oriented tasks and a series of shared objectives. Like the chess player, the town planner studies the possible configurations, selecting the most sensible to satisfy the need for specific or general services. Like the pieces on a chessboard, a city’s configuration may appear to be static and the individual parts isolated and disconnected. However any integration or planning of a city must consider the relationships between the parts and the interaction with the living world. This plot of relationships, like potential moves of chess pieces, is not manifest and must be imagined in the fabric of the city. The dynamics of the networks (flows of energy, matter, people, goods, information and resources) are fundamental for an understanding of the evolving nature of today’s cities.
The necessary conditions are not however sufficient for a complete understanding of urban systems. A chessboard is a linear system governed by rigid and geometric rules capable of generating situations that are complicated but always determinable. An urban system, on the other hand, is complex and therefore not completely determinable. Dynamic phenomena and surprising new events spring from the variable relationships between the parts and from collective behaviour that escapes individual control. The evolution of urban systems is governed by irreversible and stochastic processes combining choice and chance.
The idea that the city can be conceived as a complex self-adapting system, or even like a living ecosystem, is a key point for urban research and opens promising perspectives to direct scientific choices in future developments. Certain aspects, from complex systems theory to evolutionary physics, from thermodynamics to ecology, confirm this hypothesis is in line with Eugene Odum’s definition of an ecosystem as “A unit of biological organisation consisting of all the organisms in a given area interacting with the physical environment”. The interactions between society and the built environment, living and non-living systems, change and take various forms that can be observed on different space-time scales.
The challenge of placing sustainable contemporary cities lies in considering the dynamics of urban systems, exchange of energy and matter and the function and maintenance of ordered structures directly or indirectly supplied and maintained by natural systems. The task of researchers, aware of the complexity of the contemporary city, is to increase the capacity to manage human activities pursuing welfare and prosperity in sustainable cities.
The Sustainable City conference, inspired by the ideas of Prigogine, attracted city planners, architects, environmentalists, social researchers and many others coming from academia, government, and private institutions involved in urban issues.
Because of these concepts it was appropriate for the conference to be the venue for awarding the gold medal instituted by the University of Siena and the Wessex Institute of Technology to honour the memory of Ilya Prigogine, Nobel Chemistry Prize winner. Professor Prigogine’s contributions in the field of non-linear thermodynamics, particularly the theory of dissipative structures has powerful consequences for understanding biological and ecological systems.
Prigogine Award 2010
The Prigogine Medal was awarded in the historic town centre of A Coruña, presided by the Deputy Mayor Dr Obdulia Taboadela.
The Academic procession consisted of Professor Santiago Hernandez of the University of A Coruña, Professor Carlos A Brebbia of the Wessex Institute of Technology, Professor Patrick De Wilde of the Free University of Brussels and Professor Riccardo Pulselli of the University of Siena, in addition to the awardee Professor Felix Müller of the University of Kiel. It was presided over by the Heralds of the city, one of them carrying the ceremonial mace.
Dr Taboadela started the ceremony by referring to the importance of the event and the satisfaction of A Coruña at having been selected for this occasion. A Coruña – she said – is committed to being a centre of learning and to sponsoring important cultural events such as the Prigogine Medal.
Professor Santiago Hernandez was the next speaker, commenting on the importance of the research reported at the conference and in particular that carried out by Professor Müller. The conference – he explained – attracted delegates from all over the world who are committed to improving the interaction between mankind and environment to ensure sustainable development, particularly in the urban centres.
The next speaker was Professor De Wilde who referred to the personality of Ilya Prigogine as follows;
“Professor Ilya Prigogine was born in Moscow in 1917 and was 12 years old when his parents eventually settled in Brussels. He studied in Ixelles for his secondary studies and obtained a university degree in chemistry at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
“He then started quite soon with his doctoral study of what was then called ‘physico-chemistry’ in the group of Theophile De Donder at the same university on the topic of thermodynamics of irreversible processes. From then on he progressed to build a group of nearly 100 researchers, probably the largest group of theoretical physicists in the world.
“Since 1958 he was the Director of the renowned Solvay Institutes of Physics and Chemistry. This Institute was founded by Ernest Solvay, famous Belgian industrialist and supporter of advanced science. Famous members of the Solvay Institute were Theophile De Donder, Albert Einstein and Marie Curie among more top notch scientists. In 1967 he became the Director of the ‘Prigogine Centre for Studies in Statistical Mechanics, Thermodynamics and Complex Systems’ in Austin, Texas, where he spent three months per year in the centre. He was a member of numerous Scientific societies and Doctor Honoris Causa in at least 23 universities.
“Probably the most characteristic breakthrough Ilya Prigogine achieved was to bring together a multidisciplinary team consisting of physicists, chemists, biologists and engineers, but also sociologists and philosophers. His book, written with Isabelle Stengers also from Université Libre de Bruxelles, in which he describes this ‘new alliance’ between humanities and hard sciences, completely redefines our views on what was to be called ‘complexity’. In his 1997 book, The End of Certainty, Prigogine contends that determinism is no longer a viable scientific belief. “The more we know about our universe, the more difficult it becomes to believe in determinism”. This is a major departure from the approach of Newton, Einstein and Schrödinger, all of whom expressed their theories in terms of deterministic equations. According to Prigogine, determinism loses its explanatory power in the face of irreversibility and instability.
“Ilya was made Viscount by the late King Boudewijn of Belgium. He died at the age of 86 in 2003"
Professor Pulselli expressed the regret of Professor EnzoTiezzi (Prigogine Medal recipient in 2005) for being unable to be at the conference due to health reasons. He also stressed the commitment of the research group directed by Professor Tiezzi at the University of Siena, to continue the work of Prigogine in the field of sustainability and ecological systems. The University of Siena, in collaboration with the Wessex Institute of Technology, launched the Prigogine medal to highlight the importance of this work.
Professor Brebbia then referred to the importance of the medal and the outstanding scientific career of the previous awardees in the following terms;
“The Prigogine Medal was established in 2004 by the University of Siena and the Wessex Institute of Technology to honour the memory of Professor Ilya Prigogine, Nobel Prize Winner for Chemistry, who has been called ‘the greatest scientist of the 20th century’.
“Ilya Prigogine was born in Moscow in 1917, and obtained his undergraduate and graduate education at the Free University of Brussels. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his contribution to non-equilibrium thermodynamics, particularly the theory of dissipative structures. The main theme of his scientific work was the role of time in the physical sciences and biology. He contributed significantly to the understanding of irreversible processes, particularly in systems far from equilibrium. The results of his work have had profound consequences for understanding biological and ecological systems.
“Prigogine’s ideas established the basis for ecological systems research. The Prigogine Medal to honour his memory is awarded annually to a leading scientist in the field of ecological systems. All recipients so far have been deeply influenced by the work of Prigogine, to the point that they could justly be called his disciples.
“The recipient of the first medal in 2004 was Professor Sven Jorgensen of the Danish University of Pharmaceutical Sciences. He is also well known for his work in ecology, particularly in systems modelling, ecological engineering, environmental sciences and environmental management of aquatic systems.
“Professor Enzo Tiezzi received the 2005 Medal at the University of Cádiz during an academic ceremony presided over by the Rector of that Institution. Professor Tiezzi studied at the University of Florence where he developed an interest in the then novel field of magnetic resonance and worked on the first MR prototype machine built at that University.
“After teaching at Cagliari University, he won a Fulbright Scholarship to Washington University, where he continued working on MR under Professor Sam Weissman of the Physics Department and Professor Barry Commoner of the Department of Biology. This collaboration resulted in several seminal papers on pioneering development of MR.
“Professor Tiezzi taught Physical Chemistry at Florence for several years before being appointed at the University of Siena where he is Full Professor of Physical Chemistry. His outstanding scientific career has been matched by a strong involvement in environmental and social issues, reflecting his deepening commitment to ecology and Prigogine’s ideas. Professor Tiezzi, in addition to numerous papers, has published more than 20 books dealing with scientific topics, as well as humanities and poetry.
“Bernard Patten, recipient of the 2006 Medal, is Regent Professor of Ecology at the University of Georgia in the USA. He is a Systems Ecologist and Ecological Modeller interested in the applications of mathematical theory to ecosystems. He formulated a well-known environmental theory called ‘environ theory and analysis’ that permits the use of network mathematics to represent and analyse ecosystem networks.
“Professor Patten’s publications include many papers on a variety of ecological topics especially main fresh water and wetlands ecosystems.
“Robert Ulanowicz, recipient of the 2007 Medal is Professor at the University of Maryland, at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. He is a Chemical Engineer by training who specialised on Ecosystems Theory with outstanding results in the field of Complex Ecology. His scientific contributions are renowned in the Network Analysis, Information Theory in Ecology, Thermodynamics in Ecology and Causality in Evolving Systems.
“Another area of interest for Profesor Ulanowicz is the dialogue between science and religion.
“Ioannis Antoniou was the recipient of the Award in 2008. He is Professor of Analysis and Statistics and Head of the School of Mathematics at the Aristotle University of Thessalonica.
“He graduated from the Physics Department of the University of Athens. He went to Brussels for his PhD research where Ilya Prigogine was one of his PhD advisors and this was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration and friendship with Prigogine.
“The 2009 Prigogine Medal was awarded to Professor Emilio Del Giudice, currently a member of the International Institute of Biophysics at Neuss in Germany. Professor Del Giudice previously worked at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Milano as well as the University of Naples, MIT, CERN and the Niels Bohr Institute.
“Professor Del Giudice’s research interests are focused on Quantum Field Theory with reference to the investigation of collective processes and living organisms, as well as the structure of liquid water. Since the 1970s, Professor Del Giudice has been working on ‘the study of the emergence of collective properties of matter and particularly the living state”. His work is characterised by innovative approach and a fresh look at scientific problems beyond their description in terms of mechanistic paradigms.
“The recipient of the 2010 Award is Professor Felix Müller of the University of Kiel, Germany, where he is Coordinator of the Ecology Centre.
“Felix is international renowned for his work on ecosystems theory, ecological modelling and landscape sciences.
“He studied biology, geography and chemistry at the Universities of Kiel and Regensburg, before completing his Doctoral thesis at the University of Kiel on the topic of the impact of selected environmental chemicals in the soil."
Professor Felix Müller then proceeded to deliver his special address on the topic of ‘Thermodynamic constraints of ecosystem and landscape dynamics’ which he summarises as follows;
“Ecosystems are self-organised systems. Therefore, ecosystem behaviour is constrained by the basic thermodynamic principles of dissipative self-organisation. In this talk, an attempt is made to link the physical basis of Prigogine’s dissipative structures with the topical demands of environmental systems analysis and management.
“After a short introduction to the concepts of self-organisation, the fundamental ideas of two approaches from ecological systems analysis – hierarchical theory and the gradient principle – are presented as general consequences of self-organised processes in the environment. These two concepts are related to other essential approaches of ecological systems analysis, ending in orientor theory. This concept proposes that throughout the undisturbed development of ecosystems certain attributes are regularly optimized. Such attributes are used as indicators to depict ecosystem integrity, a management guideline which tries to support the ecosystem’s capacity of self-organisation.
“The final part of the contribution demonstrates the potential benefits of the thermodynamics theories to understand and management human-environmental systems. In this context the concept of ecosystem services is used as a link from ecological to social and economic evaluations. Following a case study about urban-rural gradient dynamics, some conclusions are drawn: On the one hand, it is postulated that the concept of dissipative self-organisation is a very good starting point to understand ecosystem and landscape dynamics. On the other, this utilization provokes the necessity of a holistic environmental management strategy. The demands and potentials of such a strategy are discussed with reference to the actual requirement for adaptation to changing constraints, originating in climate, techniques or socio-economy.
After Professor Müller’s address, the Alcalde closed the ceremony and invited the participants for participation in refreshments and a buffet containing some local specialities.
The event attracted the attention of the regional and national press and was widely reported, including the interest of the authorities in achieving a harmonic and organic growth of the urban areas in A Coruña and Gallicia as a whole.
A conference dinner to mark the occassion took place in the Museo del Hombre, an inspiring building on the bay which houses important permanent as well as temporary exhibitions. The dinner consisted of typical Gallician dishes and local wines, including the world renowned Albarino. At the end of the meal, a group of bagpipes (Gaiteros) played a series of popular musical pieces demonstrating the versatility and melodic character of the Gallician bagpipes. Some of the most courageous delegates took the opportunity to join in the spirit of the event by attempting to learn the rather complex Gallician dances!
There were a series of important presentations during the conference given by well known scientists including;
“Expansion of metropolitan areas, land use and sustainability indicators: the case of Valencia (Spain)”
L Montero, Politecnic University of Valencia, Spain
“An innovative survey of urban systems dynamics: the evidence of the MoTo project”
E Tiezzi, University of Siena, Italy (delivered by Prof. R Pulselli, co-author)
“Tasks of local public services for environmental protection”
G Genon, Politecnico di Torino, Italy
“Approaches to analyzing the rural-urban interface: comprehensive development views from town and countryside”
R Rojas-Caldelas, University of Baja California, Mexico
“Integrating thermodynamics and kinetics of urban systems for regional studies”
R Pulselli, University of Siena, Italy
“Achieving socio-cultural sustainability in the design of the government-sponsored single family houses in the UAE: the case of Al Ain”
K Galal-Ahmed, United Arab Emirates University
“Sustainable urban life in skyscraper cities of the 21st century”
M M Ali, University of Illinois, USA
The substantial number of papers presented at the meeting were classified in the following sections:
- Planning, Development and Management
- Landscape Planning and Design
- The Country and the City
- Urban Strategies
- Urban-rural relationships
- Architectural Issues
- Cultural Heritage Issues
- Waste Management
- Case Studies
- Environmental Management
- Energy Issues
International Scientific Advisory Committee Dinner
The International Scientific Advisory Committee of the conference met over dinner to discuss matters related to the running of the conference and when and where to reconvene the 2012 meeting. There was general agreement that the conference was very successful and that it continues to evolve, reflecting contemporary interests in Urban Sustainability. A series of emerging topics were proposed for inclusion in the 2012 Call for Papers. Wessex Institute of Technology will investigate some of the possible venues.
Publication of Papers
Papers from the conference will also be hosted online in the WIT eLibrary as Volume 129 of WIT Transactions on the Built Environment (ISSN: 1743-3509). For more details visit the WIT eLibrary at http://library.witpress.com