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Oxford Urbanists New Literacies: What drives the success of cities? What Complexity Theory teaches us about urban spaces and economies

  • University College Lecture Theatre 10 Merton Street Oxford (map)

Does a formula to predict the perfect city size exist? Urban economists since the industrial revolution have long sought to develop equilibrium models for how cities evolve and grow. Yet the emergence of increasingly diverse spatial networks of industries, people, and jobs entails new ways of thinking about urban ecosystems. This lecture offers a brief introduction to complexity theory, which offers a multi-disciplinary approach combining the social, mathematical and physical sciences. It applies this lens and way of thinking to understanding what constrains and enables cities to become inclusive engines of growth. In particular, it will examine the relationship between the creation of formal employment and the embedded capability base or complexity of the city.

Dr Neave O'Clery is a Senior Research Fellow at the Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford and leads a new research programme on Urban Dynamics and Policy. Her work focuses on studying processes underlying economic development and the emergence of complexity for cities, using tools from graph theory and network science. She was previously a Fulbright Scholar and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Center for International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School.


“New Literacies for a New Urbanism” is a novel series of lectures, featuring a range of experts - both scholars and practitioners - doing cutting-edge work on urban issues. Given the deeply multi-disciplinary or even trans-disciplinary nature of cities, the lecture series will seek insights and wisdom on urban phenomena in a range of academic disciplines and areas of practice. Upcoming lectures in Hilary and Trinity Terms will include what we can learn

about cities from mathematics, Chinese politics, design and sustainability studies - so watch this space!