Often, taking a wider, multidisciplinary perspective on urban problems can lead to criticism of being a so-called “jack of all trades master of none” . We must reject this notion if we truly believe the urban problems are not only multifaceted, but require integrated, multidisciplinary approaches to define. The solutions must not just be combinations of the economist’s solution, the engineer’s solution, and a sociologist’s solution, just as definition of the problem cannot just come from one field. Solutions must be a synthesis, and we must believe that together, these viewpoints are more than the sum of their parts. There are great thinkers who have done this. They have successfully defined hyphenated areas of inquiry.
I recently read an article that posed an interesting question: does the wealth of data that we are now able to collect about every aspect of life make the development of explanatory models and theories moot? All theories and models are reductionist representations of complex real life that are meant to help us understand how things work. But, says the author of this article, in the age of the Petabyte, explanations of why we do the things we do are becoming less important. More important are the development of tools and methodologies that extract the patterns, show the statistical correlations, and find the relationships between all the data that we are collecting.
A few events– specifically the Legacy and Innovation forum at UPenn back in October, and a session I attended during Greenbuild last week called “Innovative Governance for One–Water: Research and Action Plan”– have been solidifying the idea for me that legacy includes much more than aging physical structures. Perhaps even more challenging are the regulatory and institutional frameworks developed to complement the physical networks.