Land re-use, complexity and actor-networks: a framework for research
Doak, J. and Karadimitriou, N., (2004) Land re-use, complexity and actor-networks: a framework for research. Working Papers in Real Estate & Planning. 09/04. Working Paper. University of Reading, Reading. pp12.
This paper will present a conceptual framework for the examination of land redevelopment based on a complex systems/networks approach. As Alvin Toffler insightfully noted, modern scientific enquiry has become exceptionally good at splitting problems into pieces but has forgotten how to put the pieces back together. Twenty-five years after his remarks, governments and corporations faced with the requirements of sustainability are struggling to promote an ‘integrated’ or ‘holistic’ approach to tackling problems. Despite the talk, both practice and research provide few platforms that allow for ‘joined up’ thinking and action. With socio-economic phenomena, such as land redevelopment, promising prospects open up when we assume that their constituents can make up complex systems whose emergent properties are more than the sum of the parts and whose behaviour is inherently difficult to predict. A review of previous research shows that it has mainly focused on idealised, ‘mechanical’ views of property development processes that fail to recognise in full the relationships between actors, the structures created and their emergent qualities. When reality failed to live up to the expectations of these theoretical constructs then somebody had to be blamed for it: planners, developers, politicians. However, from a ‘synthetic’ point of view the agents and networks involved in property development can be seen as constituents of structures that perform complex processes. These structures interact, forming new more complex structures and networks. Redevelopment then can be conceptualised as a process of transformation: a complex system, a ‘dissipative’ structure involving developers, planners, landowners, state agencies etc., unlocks the potential of previously used sites, transforms space towards a higher order of complexity and ‘consumes’ but also ‘creates’ different forms of capital in the process. Analysis of network relations point toward the ‘dualism’ of structure and agency in these processes of system transformation and change. Insights from actor network theory can be conjoined with notions of complexity and chaos to build an understanding of the ways in which actors actively seek to shape these structures and systems, whilst at the same time are recursively shaped by them in their strategies and actions. This approach transcends the blame game and allows for inter-disciplinary inputs to be placed within a broader explanatory framework that does away with many past dichotomies. Better understanding of the interactions between actors and the emergent qualities of the networks they form can improve our comprehension of the complex socio-spatial phenomena that redevelopment comprises. The insights that this framework provides when applied in UK institutional investment into redevelopment are considered to be significant.