On Evolutionary Regions

by Arjen van Susteren

Project hosted by Fava, May 2012

Like many other systems the region needs maintenance in order to persist and maintain (survive) itself. This maintenance is mainly based on acquiring energy by exchange of people, commodities, information and/or capital with its surrounding context whereby this exchange results in a positive energy balance for the region. The gain of this exchange is used to compensate the loss of energy as a result of the fact that energy degenerates.

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Nairobi (Kenya): example of a small evolutionary region (3,133,518 - population.de, 2009)

Nairobi is Fava's pending case (by Rob van der Bijl & Arjen van Susteren, May 2012)

Maps: Open Street Map, a non-profit organisation that relies on donations for much of its funding.

On Evolutionary Regions

by Arjen van Susteren


Hosted by Fava, May 2012


Like many other systems the region needs

maintenance in order to persist and maintain

(survive) itself. This maintenance is mainly based

on acquiring energy by exchange of people,

commodities, information and/or capital with its

surrounding context whereby this exchange results

in a positive energy balance for the region. The

gain of this exchange is used to compensate the

loss of energy as a result of the fact that energy



Theoretically there are two energy processes:

1. The degenerative energy process resulting in

a constant loss of energy. This loss of energy is

compensated by energy input (maintenance)


2. Generative energy process by interaction

(exchange energy / maintenace) with the

environment (context) to compensate the loss of

energy that is a result of the degenerative process.


These processes also occur in regions. The region

can be seen as a body. Bodies are Open Systems

that interact with their environment (of which they

are part) by exchanging energy types (people,

commodities, information and/or capital) in order

to survive and persist. In this analogy the region

can be considered an “open region”: an open

system (Open System Theory) that interacts with

its context in order to compensate the degerative

energy process by exchange in order to survive

(Darwinism. In the next paragraphs this “open

region” theory will be elaborated and illustrated

by several examples on how regions can be seen

as open systems that in order to survive exchange

energy with their surrounding context of which they

are part.


Regionalisation and regional evolutions: the

rise of regions

“It is worth noting that regions are found in the

minds of humans and so regions can be of any size

and that each region is unique in its own way.”

“Region” defined by the Wikipedia Encyclopedia

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Region

The mental construct of the region is applied here

in an analogy with the mental construct of the body

(or a system) in order to understand the workings,

life cycle and survival of it.


It is essential to acknowledge that regions have

no characterizing size, frame or scale as they are

mental constructs as stated above. However we

need to spatially frame the concept of a region in

order to work with the open region theory. In this

article, the standpoint of defining regions at two

levels of scale has been taken. The choice for two

levels of scale is to clarify the two extremes that



First there’s the region in terms of the global

region at the level of the globe. This region covers

the earth so to speak. It has been described

as the “rise of the terrestrial city” between the

first global connections in the 1600s through the

industrial (and informational) revolution resulting

in the contemporary terrestrial network of nodes

(metropolitan areas) that are interconnected

with each other, forming a terrestrial network

of cities that exchange information, people,

and commodities: the terrestrial city (region).

This region and its evolution will be explained in

paragraph. 4.4.


Second there’s the metropolitan region which

is harder to spatially frame. In the Metropolitan

World Atlas (010-publishers, Rotterdam 2005)

metropolitan regions are described as regions

where global relationships dominate over local

ones. A Metropolitan region is sensitive to global

developments (as a result of what is happening in

other regions) and at the same time contributes to

them (affecting other metropolitan regions). This

all takes place by common exchange of people,

commodities, information and/or capital in order

to survive in the global region (arena) described

above. These regions their evolutions will be

explained in paragraph. 4.6.


The question however remains why metropolitan

regions are so interesting. One of the explanations

can be the fact that the traditionally idea of

statistics and comparison is based on national

frameworks. However this framework seems no

longer suitable for comparison as regions can be

border-crossing and national frameworks can be

very differing while the regions within the nations

a similar or comparable. Therefore the tendency to

think in regions arises.


The same can be stated about cities. If we look

at the example of the Randstad Holland region

that consists of multiple interconnected cities it

becomes clear that if we frame the individual cities

at a metropolitan level of scale (for example the

level of scale of Sydney the metropolitan area of

Philadelphia) at it can undeniably be considered

one metropoltan region.


Globalisation and global evolutions: rise of the

terrestrial city (region)

“It is useful to distinguish economic, political,

and cultural aspects of globalization, although all

three aspects are closely intertwined. The other key

aspect of globalization is changes in technology,

particularly in transport and communications,

which it is claimed are creating a global village.”

“Globalisations” defined by the Wikipedia


Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globalisation


The evolution of the Global regions will be

illustrated by a text-excerpt of the Metropolitan

World Altlas and illustrated by a series of images

that clarify this development of the global region:

“The beginning of what was to become today’s

global network of metropolises was the moment

in 1492 when Columbus concluded that the world

was round. Among other things, this ‘innovation’

of his resulted in the development of the global

network of international navigation routes,

stimulating the growth of the first worldwide trade

flows in the course of the sixteenth century. On

20 March 1602, for example, the Dutch East India

Company, a joint venture by several urban Dutch

trading companies dealing in exotic products all

over the world, was founded in the Netherlands.

Some cities experienced rapid growth as a result

of the worldwide connections offered by these new

commercial opportunities.


Since the trade and transport networks of the time

consisted primarily of water-based infrastructures,

delta landscapes were attractive regions for

settlement and trade. A delta area is defined as

a low-lying, flat, sometimes triangular landscape

where a river branches out before joining the sea.

This junction of salt and fresh water connects the

global network of seas and oceans (salt water)

with the trade and transport network of canals and

rivers (fresh water) – a physical configuration that

has made a major contribution to the historical

development of trade and transport.


These networks were not significantly expanded

until the nineteenth century, as a result of various

technological innovations. The first of these was

the introduction of the telegraph. Until then, people,

commodities, capital and information were all

transported at the same speed. A message, for

example, would be carried by a courier and the

answer came back the same way, perhaps with a

different courier. The introduction of the telegraph

meant that the speed at which information (and

later capital) was transported no longer depended

on how fast a person could travel. A difference

now arose between the speeds of transporting

mass (people and goods) and data (capital and

information), which had previously been the same.

The advent of the telegraph had far-reaching

consequences for world communications and

trade. One of them was the need for a global time

system, in the interests of world commerce. The

US -led International Meridian Conference was

therefore convened in October 1884, and Greenwich

Mean Time was established by delegates from 25

different countries by a majority of 22 to 1 (San

Domingo voted against, and France and Brazil

abstained). From that moment on, the world was

divided into the 24 time zones which together form

our 24-hour day, and the ‘prime meridian’ was

defined as passing through the English borough of



Halfway through the nineteenth century, the

telegraph network was growing slowly but surely

into a full-fledged worldwide network, thanks

among other things to the laying of the first

transatlantic telegraph cable by Cyrus Field. This

cable, financed by British private investors, created

a worldwide telegraph and telephone network

alongside the 300-year-old global network of water

routes, that would eventually evolve into today’s

network of telecommunications, TV , the Internet, email

and so on.


In the same period, a new network was being

introduced at a more local level – the railway

network. Among other things, this considerably

increased accessibility both within regions

and between cities and the countryside. Cities

that introduced an underground railway system

during this period soon began to be known as

‘metropolises’. In Paris, this was clearly reflected

in Hector Guimard’s 1899 design for the station

entrances (‘Le Métropolitain’).


In the early twentieth century, two more technical

innovations in transport were introduced within

a short period: the car and the aeroplane. Both of

these soon became accessible to a large portion

of the population, with tremendous consequences

for spatial development at both local and global

level. In particular, the introduction of the ‘Model

T’ Ford in 1908 brought great social, infrastructural

and economic change. Ford’s strategy was to

achieve a lower price for the consumer through

mass production. The idea worked, and by 1910 Ford

assembly lines were turning out more than 25,000

Model T’s every month. Its low price quickly brought

the Model T within the reach of the American

middle classes, increasing the mobility of much of

the population. A parallel development occurred

a few years later across the Atlantic. During the

years preceding the Second World War, Hitler’s

Germany developed the Volkswagen ‘Beetle’ and

strategically brought it within the reach of the

middle classes by means of a save-as-you-earn

scheme. The apparent increase in middle-class

purchasing power increased the individual mobility

of the population.


In 1903 the aeroplane was introduced by the

Wright brothers, and barely six years after their

first successful flight Charles Lindbergh flew the

Spirit of St. Louis from New York to Paris, making

transatlantic flight a reality. The advent of the

car and the aeroplane added two more networks

to the world’s trade and transport system, with

hubs concentrated in existing economic centres,

confirming and reinforcing their position as



In the second half of the twentieth century, two

more important networks became available to world

trade and transport: the network of oil and gas

pipelines and the satellite system. The worldwide

pipeline network was the outcome of a great many

local and private initiatives in the nineteenth

century. During the twentieth century greater car

and air traffic and a sharp rise in demand for oil and

kerosene enabled the network to grow to global



What is for the time being the latest network was

introduced in 1957, when the Soviet Union launched

the first satellite. The satellite system has also

greatly increased opportunities for studying the

earth and land use. Opportunities for using this

network came were extended to much of the world’s

population during the second half of the twentieth

century. The Internet, GIS and GPS systems and

route planners now provide an immediate picture of

the world in which we live and how we move about

in it.


“A metropolis (in Greek metera = mother and

polis = city/town) is a major city, which is an

economical and cultural center for some country

or larger region, and usually an important hub for

international connections….

…In modern usage the word is used for a

metropolitan area, a set of adjacent and

interconnected cities clustered around a major

urban center. In this sense “metropolitan” usually

means “spanning the whole metropolis” (as in

“metropolitan administration”); or “proper of a

metropolis” (as in “metropolitan life”, and opposed

to “provincial” or “rural”).”

“Metropolis” defined by the Wikipedia Encyclopedia

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolis


Metropolization can be described as the

contemporary rise of metropolitan regions

WITHIN the global region (terrestrial city). This

brings us to the question of what can be described

as “metropolitan” and therefore what as a

metropolitan region. The adjective “metropolitan is

used in many senses and therefore is like the term

“region” hard to spatially frame.


The next question that arises what can be

considered as metropolitan regions? This question

has been partly addressed in paragraph 2 of this

section and the definition of metropolitan areas will

be used as was used for making the Metropolitan

World Atlas:


“Metropolitan regions are regions where

global relationships dominate over local ones.

A Metropolitan region is sensitive to global

developments and at the same time contributes to

them. This all takes place over the global network

of infrastructure of airlines, sea routes and telecom

connections where the common exchange of people,

commodities, information and/or capital between

metropolitan regions takes place.”


The US Census considers areas with more than

50.000 inhabitants as metropolitan but clearly this is

no suitable definition for a global approach as at the

present time thousands of cities and regions apply

for this qualification and the term metropolitan

somehow implies a certain scarcity and to be

superlative global urban regions.


Comparing the different metropolitan regions in the

Metropolitan World Atlas illustrates the spatial and

statistical parallels and differences between the

metropolitan regions. The example above illustrates

for example the parallel in terms of the number of

inhabitants but the difference in the regional urban



These characterizing differences and parallels

can almost be biologically categorized. The

different species of metropolitan regions can

be distinguished when comparing them. This

characterization can be done in many ways like for

example the North American metropolitan region,

the Asian metropolitan region and the European

metropolitan region which all have parallels within

their categorization while the categories differ from

each other.


This “species” approach suggests that these

metropolitan areas can almost be seen as bodies

with an analogy to the biological bodies like the

human body.


Like the human body, regions have circular systems,

tissue, specialized functions in organs etc. And

like the human species, regions mutate as a result

of adaptation to their surrounding context in order

to survive. This adaptation can be interpreted

as evolution or mutation of the body which is

not consciously driven by altering the body but a

result of generations that evolve as a result of their

adaptation to increase their chances on survival.

As for metropolitan region this analogy can be seen

as well. Regions adapt to new technologies and

mutate in order to survive. This survival is based on

the energy balance as described in paragraph 4.1

and the mutations can take place in many different

forms of which some of them will be illustrated in

the next paragraph.


Regional metropolitan Darwinism: adaption,

mutation, survival and extinction

“Municipal Darwinism is a concept first described

in Philip Reeve’s Hungry City Chronicles, which

refers to the practice in the post apocalyptic

world described therein, in which large mobile

metropolitan areas, known as Traction Cities,

consume one another by gathering other, smaller

cities in large hydraulic jaws. Captured cities are

melted or salvaged for parts, and their citizens

either resettle in the city they were just eaten by, or

- in less ethical cities - are enslaved, often to work

in the predator city’s engines. Technology and small

goods of value are looted as well.


The larger metropolises consume smaller cities,

which consume towns, which consume villages,

hamlets and stationary settlements. This is an

obvious but interesting satire of the animal kingdom

and Darwinism’s theory of “survival of the fittest”.

The parody is not limited to the predator/prey

relationship; the positions of scavenger and

parasite are also filled. During Mortal Engines,

the main characters find an empty and abandoned

city being slowly stripped of goods and scrap

metal by scavenger crews from small towns and

airships, reminiscent of a decaying carcass being

decomposed by bacteria and insects. In Predator’s

Gold, airships are seen hovering around a large

city and sifting through its exhaust smoke to

recover minerals, similar to flies hovering around

a larger animal.


Later in the book, a small aquatic

vessel secretly attaches itself to the underside of

Anchorage like a barnacle or limpet, and the crew

sneak into the city at night to pilfer valuables.

Municipal Darwinism is opposed by such groups

as the Anti-Traction League, which sees Traction

Cities as obstacles that hinder the recovery of the

Earth to its natural state and view their citizens as

barbaric. Traction suburbs also view Anti-Tractions

as barbarians and often use “Mossie” to refer to

Anti-Tractionists. In Infernal Devices, a radical

offshoot of the Anti-Traction League called the

Green Storm wages war on the Traction cities.”

“Municipal Darwinism” defined by the Wikipedia


Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munincipal_



If we look at metropolitan regions and their

evolution we can almost go back to prehistoric time

where the distinction (separation of generation/

production of energy and the consumption of energy

needed to survive and procreate) of downtown

areas and suburbs was almost as clear as it is today.

The parallel can be seen as the downtown area as

a hunting ground by the exchange of energy and the

suburbs or nesting caves as an area for procreation.

Obviously these two activities could not be united

in one area as the hunting is the opposite of the

safety needed for nesting. This understandable

separation of activities within one (metropolitan)

region is illustrated below.


This evolutionary concept has been elaborated in

a hypothetical evolutionary way in the movie “The

Matrix” where the city of the machines also is

illustrated by the distinction of hunting grounds and

nesting caves.


The concept of evolution and especially mutation

is not new. This idea was already elaborated by

Rem Koolhaas c.s. in 2000 in the book Mutations.

This book is however one of the first works that

illustrates the contemporary change happening in

regions in the world as a reaction on for example

globalization. The fact that regions are exposed to

influences beyond their control “mutates” them.


So in a way (metropolitan) regions act and react in

different ways to global and regional developments

which can be seen as a form of urban mutation.

However this book does not so much illustrate

the concept of mutation in terms of evolution in a

regional way.


The last part of this section will give examples of

different types of regional evolutionary mutation,

divided in two categories: by intervention and by

non intervention in metropolitan regions. Finally

this section will conclude on the parallels in both

processes of regionally evolutionary mutations.

The first category is the category of metropolitan

regions that are “generated” by intervention. As

a result of a high energy input these regions start

to evolve towards a region where the degeneration

process of energy is overcome by this intervention

and the region survives and sometimes even

evolves toward a mutation from non-metropolitan

to metropolitan An intervention can be described

as an energy input in terms of planning and design

that results in a energy generation resulting in the

transformation of a region from non-metropolitan

to metropolitan.


As a result of this tactical intervention (energy

input) in order to establish the strategy for

transforming the region to a metropolitan region:

a region where global forces start to dominate

and it starts to contribute to global developments

also resulting in generation by exchange/trade of

energy in terms of people commodities, information

and capital. This intervention can have different

forms. In Dubai for example the energy input was

very direct and big. New islands were created for

example resulting in the increase of tourism and

economic growth. These big interventions however

require big investments which is no problem for the

regions as the region has large energy-reserves

(capital, resources). Also the rapid growth of the

Dubai airport is resulting in the fact that this region

starts to develop towards a metropolitan region.

This airport facilitates the global connections

and stimulates the global relations. Kuala Lumpur

can be seen as a similar development where big

interventions resulted in the region to transform

from a region where local forces dominate towards

a region where the global forces start to take over.

Examples of KL are the Petronas towers and the

F1 circuit. These tactical interventions clearly

contributed to the evolution (mutation) towards a

metropolitan region.


Interventions can also be less intense like in

the example of Barcelona. When timing the

interventions right and planning them at the

right locations within the region a region can

also transform (mutate) from non-metropolitan

to metropolitan. In Barcelona the timing of the

Olympic Games was used to intervene in the urban

plan with very few and low energy interventions

but resulting in a leap for the whole region. Even

though this was carefully designed and planned

it differs from Dubai and KL that it was not huge

energy investments but merely tactically well

timed and well designed interventions which in the

perspective of Dubai and Kl can be seen as minor

energy investments. Both types of intervention

however5 resulted in the shift from a region were

local forces dominated to a region which started to

contribute to global developments as well as being

subjected to it


These interventions are not always planned and

designed. In other words: they can also emerge. A

good example of an emerging metropolitan region

is the region of the Randstad Holland which lacks

metropolitan authorities, borders, frames and (until

lately) hardly worked on tactical interventions in

order to establish a metropolitan area. However

different cities developed themselves within this

region with a certain specialization that the region

itself started to become more and more connected

to other metropolitan regions which resulted in a

shift from non-metropolitan to metropolitan even

though this was clearly not the result of a regional

strategy but merely a result of local specialization.

This specialization generated a certain attraction

that resulted in the development towards a regional

metropolitan area as the region is nowadays

characterized as a metropolitan region.

The second category are regions that are

degenerating as a lack of energy input through

intervention and therefore starting to shift from

metropolitan towards non metropolitan. In other

words the global forces start to decrease and

local forces start to take and the region that was

formerly undisputedly metropolitan starts to

decay as a result that the energy within the region

is degenerating and the region starts to mutate

from non metropolitan to metropolitan as a result

of the lack of compensation for the energy that is

degenerating. A good example of this process is

the former motor city metropolis Detroit. In the first

half of the 20th century this metropolitan region

was flourishing as a result of the motor industries

that were clustered in the region. As a result of no

energy inputs the region started to degenerate and

the industries pulled out degenerating the region

even more which is clearly illustrated by the facts of

the development of Detroit shown below:


• From 1900 to 1950 the population of Detroit grew

from under 285,700 to over 1.8 million


• From 1950 to 2000 the population of Detroit

decreased from over 1.8 million to 951,270


• In 1998, the average income in the city was 47% of

that in the surrounding suburbs


• In 1990, the city spent $25 million on the removal

of abandoned houses and other structures


A similar development has taken place in the

German Rhine-Ruhr area which was mutated from

one of the largest industrial areas in the world in

the first half of the first half of the 20th century to

an abandoned landscape at the end of that century.

Also here the lack of energy input resulted in a

negative evolution and decay in the region. Both

Detroit and the Rhine-Ruhr area are currently

struggling to survive in the global metropolitan

network and are developing plans for intervention

in terms of interventions through new energy inputs

that will strategically mutate the region again

so that they will survive and the degeneration of

energy will be turned around to the generation of

energy as a result of transformation (mutation).

To conclude the two things that all of the processes

in the regions illustrated above were subjected to

is economy and technology. As these developments

are not globally nor regionally controlled or even

controlled at all, this can be seen as an evolutionary

force that enables or even forces regions to

mutate. The key may therefore lay in these two

developments that somehow connect the global and

the regional evolutions by the exchange of energy.

The question remains however in what way. In both

the metropolitan region and the global region there

seems to be no master plan and therefore is very

similar to evolutionary developments to which they

–and therefore we- are subjected.