I admit, I am one of those people who does all the eye-rolling when city science comes up because it way-too-often comes in the following form: Planners Have Failed to Solve the City, and Thus SCIENTISTS with their RIGOR are here to help. And then it boils down to a bunch of atheoretical and dehumanized equations, sometimes with BIG DATA attached.
In this “debate” piece, James Duminy and Susan Parnell say “not so fast, and don’t be so darn biased in your thinking” and they are, in general, right that knee-jerk dismissals are lazy and, over time, likely to be wrong. Now, I have to say, I am not convinced ulitimately by what they have here–they have reconceptualized science in ways that I suspect are really useful in order that there might be a possibility of city science, which is theoretically intereting but I suspect would make many a scientist get squinky. (That doesn’t disqualify the reconceptualization.) I do think they are onto something when they say perhaps the general model for a city science could come from citizen science (interesting). That releases the possibiities from the strangulation of academic hierachies in the first place. And they are right; if you dismiss it as impossible, you miss what it is possible to show with it.
I always like essays that make me examine my own intellectual biases and this one did it.
James Duminy & Susan Parnell (2020) City Science: A Chaotic Concept – And an Enduring Imperative, Planning Theory & Practice, 21:4, 648-655, DOI: 10.1080/14649357.2020.1802155
Debates surrounding the ‘new’ city sciences are polarized. On the one hand, a new generation of tech-savvy data scientists, spatial modellers, and analysts confidently express their ability to predict and explain city processes at unprecedented scales of complexity. On the other hand, those trained to see the world as fundamentally shaped by contingent meanings and subjectivities may see in such approaches little more than old positivism in new bottles, or perhaps a hubristic overstep of urban non-specialists onto their turf (Derudder & Van Meeteren, 2019).