Complex versus simplified places

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Surburban connections

Competing norms among simplified roles

By complexity I mean interacting multiplicities. This involves both structural complexity in the grammar and architecture of a place, and lived complexity in one's interactions with the place.

I will distinguish three dimensions of complexity: (1) in a place's spatial and normative structures, (2) in the ongoing processes of interpretation and reproduction that maintain the place, (3) in the larger forces and remote decisions and policies that impinge on the place.

Here are some questions for locating structural complexity. Although these aspects can vary independently of one another, each will tend to reinforce the others. Is the place totally foreground, or does it interweave foreground emphases and more banal, everyday, stretches? Are the place's normative courses of action linear or not? Are these courses parallel and loosely connected, or are they interwoven and tightly interacting with one another? Does the place provide just a few straightforward roles and norms, or does it provide multiple aspects and multiple interacting roles? If the forms of life and social roles involved in the place are multiple (whether thick or thin), how does the place define them to be together? Do they intersect or do they just run in parallel?

Here are some questions about processes of interpretation: Does the place encourage inhabitants to be aware of their own processes of active interpretation and their resolution of multiple roles and demands? Are there opportunities to participate in reformation or reproduction of the place's spatial structures and social norms?

Here are questions about the larger forces influencing a place: Does the place have explicit links to or signs of its insertion into larger contexts and processes? Does the place enforce the illusion that its social and spatial structures are immediately given and natural? Or do its norms and spatial articulation and architecture make it easier to become aware of the political and economic processes, the systemic pressures and constraints, the varied interest groups within and outside the place, and their procedures of negotiation or imposition? Are there possibilities for intervening in or redirecting those larger processes?

(This notion of complexity is not the same as that used in recent "complexity theory.")