PIPP: Legal Families

The major legal families are civil law and common law. This is a short overview that ignores several details for a coherent view.

Civil Law

Civil Law is prevalent in Continental Europe. Central features are

  • codification,
  • parliaments make the law,
  • judges interpret the law
  • central figures (i.e scholars who argues doctrinally and creates abstract principles from which he derives the outcome of a  case),
  • subdivision of courts.

It has its historic roots in Roman Law. Within the civil law tradition there are some differences. The French legal system is a major influence in modern civil law, especially the Code Civil from 1804. The style of court decisions consists usually of one single sentence (several pages long), facts of the case are very short, very brief and terse (no obiter dicta, no citations, no doubts), and the personality of the individual judge plays no role. The Germanic legal family has influences beyond its geographic area (in Greece, Turkey, Japan and South Korea). It is marked by a scholarly discourse at German universities.

Judges usually rule within the strict definition of the law and defer to the parliament if they believe that a law should have been different.

Common Law

It is prevalent in the Anglo-Saxon World and the Commonwealth countries. It central features are

  • Judge-made law,
  • Case-based reasoning,
  • Central figures are judges who reasoning from case to case, fact-based, distinguishing cases and they developing the case law further,
  • Binding precedents “stare decisis” doctrine (only the “same” cases are bound, so distinguishing allows you to decide differently)
  • Uniform court system, jury system, compilations of court decisions

It is barely influenced by Roman law, but many parallel developments have taken place.

A consequence of the judge-centring is that judges also consider policy relevance of their judgements.


In Common Law countries the importance of judge-made laws decreases over time and becomes more similar to Civil Law countries (i.e. the US parliament creates more laws).  The stare decisis doctrine has become more flexible. On the other hand, in Civil Law countries some areas become more case-based. For instance, Tort law in Continental Europe is very case-based as the parliamentary law provided is to abstract to be directly applied.

Concepts of legal rules

Legal rules do not only prescribe behaviour, they also

  • enable behaviour,
  • create institutions,
  • create rights,
  • describe procedures.

Legal subject are either natural persons or legal persons (corporations, government institutions, universities). This has impacts on criminal liability, who benefits from fundamental rights or who can enter into a contract and who is liable in tort law. For instance, a legal person cannot be jailed, but it can be fined.

An important distinction is between privity of contract (inter partes) – i.e. contracts and torts – and right against all the world (erga omnes) – i.e. property and intellectual property law. The second kind of law allows to lay claims against other parties without having any contract with said party.

Some notes:

Stare decisis was invented by 13th century UK courts and after being uphold for centuries courts started to deviate and “overrule” some older rulings, especially if they believed themselves to be more “authoritative”.

Looking for the “right” decision in law is the wrong perspective. Law is more about resolving conflicts and enforcing them. Therefore, it is always a delicate balance between resolving conflicts and democratic values uphold by the sovereign.

Some definitions:

A EU directive is a rule that member states have to implement it as a regulation. It does not bind EU citizens, but there must be a national regulation that enforces the directive. The regulation then is binding. If a directive is not implemented, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) awards damages (usually on a daily basis, which quickly accumulates to a substantial sum) against the member state. A EU regulation is directly binding to citizens and it must not be implemented by member states. The EU directives are created in areas where the subsidiarity principle should hold. The EU regulations are created to harmonise between the member states. The ECJ is also in charge of interpretation of EU directives that then can be used in national courts to interpret national law.

Urban Design I: Berlin

Berlin needed complete reconstruction after the Second World War.

The television tower near Alexander Platz was a sign of progress that Eastern Germany held up against Western Germany. Urbanism is frozen politics.

Berlin was expected to grow to 4 million people (in the center) after the war, but remained at 2 million. Note that the metropolitan area grew to 4.5 million before the war and dropped to 3 million after the war and regained to 3.6 million today

After the Iron Curtain fell, Berlin got iconic attraction. It became a projection platform for architects. The whole government area – known as the Spreebogen- was redesigned.

Berlin is a layered city that has artefacts from several historic periods. Berlin has also a lot of brown sites, i.e. empty lots with run-down buildings.

Tool 1 : Megascale Planning

Berlin was planned early one. However, it was built on sand, so it needed additional technology to built larger buildings. From 1700 to 1800 it grew fourfold from 100’000 to 400’000. In 1862 the first Plan for Berlin was created.

Mietskasernen typical for Kreuzberg were constructed in the 19th century in lots of 300 to 100 meters, 5 floors high, with lots of courtyards. 90% had no toilets, 95% had no water and an apartment was around 20sqm. Berlin reached 1 million through that century mainly thanks to the high density that Mietskasernen provided.

The city grew from 66 to 891 sqkm.



QPAM: Investment Appraisal

To perform investment appraisal we need to analyse cost and revenues. First we need to find profitability indicators, then we need to assess the life cycle cost. Then we can perform a cost effectiveness analysis and last we need to also consider dynamics and sensitivities.

Profitability Indicators

On the cost side we have investment costs, O&M costs, taxes and running cost. On the revenue side the quantity of the output and the price of the output. The cash-flow is the sum of expenses and revenues over a period of time. It is, however, not representative of the investment as it does not include discount rates (not to be confused with social discount rate discussed later). The payback period is the time needed to recover the investment costs based on cash-flow.

Based on discount [latex] real cashflow = \frac{nominal cashflow}{1+discount rate}[/latex] the real value of nominal cash decreases over time. It therefore represent the opportunity cost of capital. It brings one to the question whether a “similar” investment could bring in more or less return.

Investment is based on equity and debt. The Weighted Average Capital Cost (WACC) combine the capital structure and the cost of debt and the cost of equity. [latex] r = WACC_{pretax} = \frac{E}{V}\cdot k_E + \frac{D}{V} \cdot k_D [/latex] where V is the investment volume. The Net Present Value (NVP) [latex] NPV = -investment_0 + \sum_{t=1}^T \frac{cashflow_t}{(1+r)^t}[/latex]. The NVP is termed in a currency and alternatives are usually chosen based on the heighest NVP for the least investment.

The Internal Rate of Return (IRR) is the highest discount rate that can be used such that the NVP turns to 0. It allows to compare investments without having to take NVP. The IRR has disadvantages in complex scenarios where its meaning becomes unclear.

The Profitability Index (PI) is the NPV relative to invested capital.

Life Cycle Cost

The Life Cycle Costs (LCC) consider all cost and savings over the entire lifetime. Cost need to be discounted. [latex] LCC = C_0 + \sum_{t=0}^T\frac{c_t}{(1+r)^t}[/latex].

Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE) is the constant electricity price over the entire life of an asset to cover all operating expenses, debts and interests and returns to investors [latex]LCOE = \frac{\sum_{t=0}^T (CAPEX + OPEX / (1 + r)^t)}{\sum_{t=0}^T (kWh_{initial,net} \cdot (1-Degrade)^t / (1+r)^t)}[/latex] where CAPEX is the investment cost and OPEX the operation costs. It was first discussed for electricity, however, it is also applicable to any other good that needs to be bought over the lifetime of an asset. It is commonly used by policy makers, planners, researchers and investors. It can compare technologies (with different life times) as long as they produce the same outcome. A famous application are the Feed-in Tariffs (FIT) in Denmark and Germany.

Cost Effectiveness Analysis

Cost Effectiveness Analysis (CEA) has two starting point. One is to reach a certain target at minimal costs and the other is to achieve a maximal impact for a given cost.

First the LCC is performed. Based on the LCC the baseline cost and cost of different policy options can be assessed. The incremental cost of options is the difference to the baseline. Summed over different LCCs the abatement/relative costs  can be computed and options can finally be compared.

Computing the baseline is difficult and is often an issue of political contention.

Dynamics and Sensitivities

Dynamic developments in technology so far have shown that technology gets cheaper over time. Can the development be forecast to get a grasp on the discount rate?

Sensitivity analysis judges the different factors of a analysis and tries to order them according to the impact.


BSTP: Sailships to steamships and Limited Liability.

The move from sail ships to steamships was driven beyond the technological developments by mail delivery (communication) and transportation of people. Sail ships remained a useful resource in heavy cargo with no time limits on delivery and only phased out with increased efficiency of steamships. The opening of global trade looked the world into steamships. The British empire used the technology to dominate global trade and maintain its leading position.

Adam Smith is a good read on the topic and somewhat founded the field of political economy. His main books where fighting protectionist tendencies in the British government.

The arise of new technology usually drives incumbent technologies to improve. Sail ships technology improved vastly and sail ships became very fast. Hybrids where developed to counteract the rise, but eventually steamships took over completely.

Steamships were not driven by military interested, but by commercial (cargo and people) and government interests (mail). Only when steamships were well established a military race ensued between German and British Empire. The commercial competition between those powers culminated in the Blue Riband Competition to have the fastest steamship to the US.

Another important transition was the disengagement between ship ownership and cargo transportation, allowing the creation of line services that operate independent of the cargo. Also, insurance for transport changed a lot in the consequence. Companies had to weigh the risk between sail ships and steamships. New institutions associated with increasing trade were also created.

Limited Liability

The general idea is that a person creating a company does not need to supply the capital to create the company. An external supplier can provide the capital and must take on the liability but only up to the investment. Therefore those companies had limited liability. Before any investor/owner was liable no matter how small his investment and the personal belongings could be taken as collateral. As a consequence risk-taking was encouraged. Limited liability emerged in the US as the US had less capital and needed to encourage capital from Britain to invest in the US.

BSTP: Industrial Revolution

The topic of today is industrial revolution. Summed up in a phrase the transformation from ” muscle to machine”. Any transformation requires work/energy. Before the industrial revolution people relied on biological matter for work. The rate of energy conversion many orders of magnitude lower than in machines. This limitation extended to human growth potential.

Engines increased the conversation rate by 3 orders of magnitude and more or single machines could perform the task of thousands of man. The first such engine was the steam engine. The British inventors of the 18th century converted the simple principle of energy conversion into an engine. Water is pressurized and heated. When the space is increased the steam performs work which can be used. It was mainly used to pump out water out of coal mines. The Newcomen engine (1720) was such an engine that was commercially available. Northern Britain was the “Silicon Valley” of its time. The large coal reserves in conjunction with the expanding British empire produced the political support to gain an technological edge. The Watt engine (1770) was the next generation and it main improvement was to separate the condenser from the steam generation. This increased the consumption by 75% compared to the Newcomen. The other big innovation was that the Watt engine could be operated continuously.

Mass production

The power generated allowed for specialized factory and massive production. However, it came at the cost of large environmental pollution.

Printing, cotton manufacturing, iron manufacturing and chemical industry where the primary users of those mass production facilities.

These development caused multi-national corporations, the concentration of capital, urbanisation and labour specialization. Incidentally, it created the working class and took people from irregular farm work to weekly labour.


Volta invented the first wet-cell battery in 1800 which was used in research and industry until the 1860s. For instance telegraph (Wheatstone & Cooke, 1830) was enabled by this and the Morse code followed in 1837 and the first Transatlantic cable by 1857.

The first light bulb was patented in 1810, Edison did not invent it. However, Edison was the first to make it usable on a large scale. It took Edison nearly half a century to transform the simple toy light bulbs into a system that could be installed in buildings to provide light at night.

In 1867 Siemens invented the dynamo which allowed to generate electrical currents by rotation. Together with the Watt engine we could generate continuously electrical power.

In the 1880 public transport based on electric trams was first created.

In the 1890 electricity transformed the industry yet again. Electrically driven processes like welding and aluminium smelting emerged and allowed lighter machines. Electrically driven motors replaced steam engines in  factories and thereby to create far-away power plants.

Tesla and Westinghouse created an alternating current power system. In constant current switches would be damaged by turning them. This impeded power plants to be far away. Alternating current on the other hand passes through zero voltage and therefore can easily be turned off. It enabled to built power plants even further away.

Long-distance communication got another boost in 1876 with the telephone and the radio in 1899. It only took 9 years from the invention of a dynamo to the phone and only two more decades two wirelessly transmit information via radio. This accelerated distribution of knowledge and fast-forwarded globalisation.

Internal Combustion Engines

So far engines were limited to remain at a location. The first mobile vehicles where battery driven, but they only lasted a few minutes. Then steam-powered cars came along, but they burned coal, which sometimes exploded and they stank. In 1859 Lenoir  produced a gas-driven ICE, but it was not efficient enough.

In 1876 Otto developed the firs four stroke ICE, which in 1886 Benz used to start manufacturing a small batch of “horseless carriages”. In 1892 Diesel develops a self-igniting ICE that allowed for heavy-duty applications.

Those new engines allowed for individual transport of goods and people.

Materials and tool

Steel production is a major driver of industrialisation. It is present everywhere, so any country could create a steel industry. In 1870 there where 500’000 tons of steel use which rose to 60 million tons in 1915.  Steel ships could be built and railroads could be constructed and steel-frame buildings allowed for the first skyscrapers.

Machine tooling was another new field that exponentially increased the use of steel. High-precision production of metal parts mostly for warfare followed.

Industrial Food Production and Processing

The increase in agricultural output followed the use of fertilizer which constitute active management. Canning was development in the early 1800s, Pasteurization in 1864 (killing bacteria) and refrigeration (slowing of bacterial growth) enters households in 1910. The population increased dramatically as a consequence.

Military Technology

Military development was and is at the forefront of technological development. In the 1850 rifles replaced muskets. Aerodynamically shaped bullets and helical grooves in the barrel caused the bullet to spin which increased the precision of a shot. Automatic guns followed in 1870 in the form of the Gatling gun. Innovations from understanding went directly into the military.

In 1867 Nobel invents the dynamite. Explosives before that where very volatile and where of little military use. Dynamite was stable and therefore could be used tactically.

Military readily applies new technologies to overpower enemies. Industrialisation of warfare lead to massive death counts in the two world wars.


Agricultural technologies lead to population growth in the late 1700. Food preservation technologies improve nutrition, further accelerating the population growth. Steam engines enable mass production of goods and machinery.  Mass production and urbanisation give rise to the working class. Development in electricity accelerate long-range communication, enhance industrial productivity and provide people’s standard of living. Internal combustion engines enable individual transportation.

The invention of the engine is a turning point in human history, enabling and accelerating developments in all scientific fields.

Side note:

A healthy human at the prime of his age produces around 60 to 70 Watt (or 0.1 Horse Power). A modern gas engine half the size of a horse produces 20’000 Watt. A modern air plane runs engine in the range of 100’000 Watt.

ETH Zürich was founded in 1855 right at the height of industrialisation around the time when electricity came about.


CGSS: Introduction

Complexity and Global Systems Science (CGSS) will cover Game Theory and mechanism design, complex network, socio-physics, and critical thinking essays regarding the topic.

Complexity science is related to systems that are made up of thousands of units, whereas global systems describe large systems. Systemic instabilities are of a major interest and need to be understood.

Collateral costs are hard to track but can be associated with financial crises, conflicts, terrorism, crime and corruption, epidemics and cybercrime. Reducing collateral costs provides a new opportunity to tackle each problem. However, this required to understand complex systems.

In a complex system a large number of interacting system elements follow non-linear interdependencies. They are dynamic and probabilistic and therefore elude easy descriptions.

It is necessary to make a difference between a complicated and a complex systems. On the one hand, a car is a complicated system out of thousands of parts. However, each part constitutes a specific task and can be understood (mostly). On the other hand traffic of cars is complex and predicting traffic jams is fiendishly hard (e.g. the phenomena of phantom traffic jams).

Complex systems often exhibit self-organisation (e.g. pedestrian forming lanes to walk into different directions), however, self-organisation is not a guarantee to an efficient solution (e.g. the Love Parade disaster).

Predictability of complex systems is limited. Dynamics of such system usually are highly sensitive and therefore small differences in initial setup can cause largely different results (e.g. butterfly effect in weather forecasting).

Control over complex system is an illusion due to a irreducible randomness and delays in consequences together with regime shifts (i.e. only if a threshold is met a change becomes (catastrophically) visible). Goodhart’s law/Principle of Le Chatelier states that a system tends to counteract external control attempts.

The unstable supply chains and phantom traffic jams are caused by delays in the system that are then amplified and maintained throughout without possibility of stopping them. However, it can be modelled. Those models often show oscillations that propagate and make it difficult to obtain a specific state. Tragedies of the Commons are another classical case where oscillations eventually cause a break-down.

Strongly coupled system behave different: they have faster dynamics, extreme events, self-organisation, emergent system behaviour and low predictability.

Cascade effects in networks together with probabilistic events and delays make causal analysis difficult. A blackout is such an event where failure in a single node in the system can stop the whole system. Whereas more connectivity allows for quicker results in positive ways, it also allows for quicker spreading of negative results. In addition to an catastrophic event, secondary and tertiary disasters may follow up. A causality network can be modelled to identify n-ary disasters based on a specific disaster. If an effective decoupling strategy could be setup, the catastrophic spread could be interrupted.

Decentralisation seems to be a useful tool in reducing inherent risk.

Big Data is a double-sided sword. The more data you have, the more patterns you find. However, those patterns are mere correlation and do not represent causation. Therefore simply sifting through data does not allow to find causation. The idea was to create AI, that are able to detect patterns and find causation. However, AIs are themselves driven by data and can therefore be manipulated by data (chat bots learn racism from users in the internet, police machine learning discriminates against Black or Hispanic people in the US).

PIPP: Hierarchies in the Law

In a national legal system there is usually public law (interaction between governments and citizens, e.g. a university awarding a degree to a student) and private law (interaction between citizens, companies in any combination, e.g. a university buying a computer). Private Law is divided into major families are Substantive Law and Commercial Law, whereas Public Law is divided into Substantive Law and Procedural law (administrative processes).

Substantive Law are descriptive of what is allowed (both in Private and Public Law).

Procedural Law is about how enforcement can be performed.

Another view on law is a hierarchy layered as

  1. Constitution
  2. Statutes (created by parliament)
  3. Regulation (created by administration)
  4. Customary law
  5. Case law (created by courts)

Usually lower layers of laws need to be compliant all layers above. Switzerland has a special case where the federal court cannot constitutionally review federal legislation (i.e. statutes cannot be checked whether they go against the constitution). The statutes of cantons can still be checked for constitutionality. Another caveat that the federal court found is that higher statutes than the federal statutes can be used to review a federal statue against. This is the case for the European Convention on Human Rights which Switzerland has accepted to be statutes above federal statutes. In the case of the “Ausschaffungsinitiative” the federal court could not review the federal statue. But as the constitution is nearly equal to the higher statutes they ruled on it as a ruling in relation to the higher statute of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Conflicts between Laws

Conflicts between laws are resolved with different methods and the three most common are: Lex superior means that a body of higher authority can make a decision contradicting lower bodies. Lex specialis means that for a case the most detailed rules describing the case applies. Lex posterior means that the newest laws applies to a case.

International Law

A legal action within a sovereign has an negative impact on another sovereign, the question arises how to handle the situation. Most courts are restricted to their sovereign and therefore cannot rule. In the first such case between Canada and the US about a smelter in Canada polluting the US they created an ad hoc court whose ruling would be legally binding. However, the court was only allowed to judge this single case.

Generally, international laws are based on agreements between sovereign countries. Enforcement therefore relies on being part of agreement. Consequently, there is no separation of powers, no central institution to create/enforce laws, no court has a mandatory jurisdiction and most decisions must be unanimous. The EU is a special case where the executive creates laws (in contrast to the division of power) as it is a product of international law.

In Europe four bodies govern most of internation law: The European Union (EU), the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the European Economic Area (EEA) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Switzerland is member of EFTA and ECHR. Switzerland is also the only member of EFTA that is not in the EEA.

The EU can be seen as a federation of 28 European countries. The EFTA is a free trade agreements with no customs union. The EEA is an extension of the EU internal market. The ECHR is a treaty on human rights.

Smaller nations often use larger nations law as reference for their laws. On the one hand for compliance reasons, but also as larger nations have more legal experience (i.e. more cases to decide) and can therefore have a precedence.

PIPP: Characteristics of Law

Public Institutions and Policy-making Processes (PIPP) covers three modules: Law, general (Public) Institutions, and European and International Institutions in particular. The first part of the course will be about law. The focus is not on becoming a lawyer, but rather to be able to understand the thought processes behind legal decisions and their implications.

Creation of Laws

One reason for laws is to regulate behaviour. For instance, it is prohibited in Zürich to own dangerous dogs (prohibition). Additionally, any dog owner must have an insurance to cover for any remaining danger from dogs (order). Another case would be the federal decision to drive on the right side in Switzerland (coordination).

Another reason for laws it to create predictability. Zoning laws are a classical example where rules are placed on how buildings must be developed to guarantee safety, aesthetics, social demands and more.

Another field for laws is to protect freedom. Usually fundamental rights are defined in a constitution and must be uphold by the government. For instance, “every person is equal before the law”. Specifically, the laws where created to protect the people from the government. However, in some areas it has been expanded to the private sector. In the case of Switzerland the equal pay is written into law, but all other laws applicability is usually decided in court.

An issue that comes up at the point of creation of a law is that it also represents societal interests which  may contradict previous law. In Switzerland the constitution guarantees no discrimination. To increase women participation in the work force laws to prefer women in hiring over man could be enacted which in turn could be seen as discrimination against male workers.

Interpretation of Laws

Disputes about the law are more often about whether a law applies or not (burden of proof). Usually laws are applicable even if a person may not know about it (ignorance does not protect from punishment). However, the knowledge must be attainable. For instance, retro-active punishment for new laws is usually not allowed. Some laws (usually parliamentary or judicial) are published to a collection, it is assumed that people then know the law or could have known the law.

If laws are enacted by an entity other than the parliament, they may be published in a written form or not. The rule of publication then could be attached to an act (e.g. drawing a no-parking line makes it a publication of the law to not park there).

Publication rules can be challenged in court if there is reasonable doubt that is was possible to acquire the knowledge from the publication. However, public interest can even supersede this. For instance, if a car is parked legally, but the parking regulation changes and the car is not moved within a reasonable time, it can be removed, even though at the time of parking it was legal. If the owner was on holidays for month he could probably not challenge his car being towed. Nonetheless, such cases are not part of the law and are often decided by court. This in turn means that cases that are similar, but not the same, it is often necessary to bring forward similar cases.

Courts are ordered hierarchically and decisions can be fought on each instance. In the first instance a ruling is usually not nationally bind, however, higher instances may become binding. In the Anglo-Saxon world (common law) a court ruling is binding without time limit. In civil law the highest court can review its position on previous ruling in a new case.

Back to the example of the parking. If a car is towed away by a private company. To reduce insolvency risks for the city, often the billing for towing is directly send from the company to the parking regulation violator. This is in contrast to usual contract law where both sides mutually agree on the contract. However, the car could be damaged in the process and the question becomes whether the city requesting the towing or the company performing the towing has to pay for the damages. The complication of a transaction is a major topic for the study of law.

Interpretation is difficult and courts often have to weigh between being activist and setting/changing the societal environment (e.g. the US Supreme Court case to allow gay marriage) and leaving the question open for parliament to decide.

Enforcement of Laws

Laws are generally binding and thereby enable the government to enforce the laws. These are usually covered by laws that specify the punishment. Specific sanctions include incarceration, fines and compensation.

Laws are created on different levels of governance with different scopes. Statutes are created by parliament and apply to the whole population. Court rulings are only applicable in a specific case trailed. Regulations are created by administrative bodies (in compliance with statutes) and apply to all citizens within the administrative body (e.g. students at university have to follow study regulations to obtain a degree).

“Soft law” are memorandums of understanding, codes of conduct or similar informal setups that have no formal enforcement mechanisms. Especially, between countries such arrangements are common. Enforcement is limited to reputation loss and reduced interaction.

Social Norms, Morality and Law

Morality and Laws are not the same. Laws are binary decisions where an action is either permitted or not. Morality sets standards to evaluate behaviours as “good”, “not so good”, or “bad”.

Trade-offs in legal decisions

Legal decisions often compare incommensurable values. One instance is the danger of monopolies in news sector for political discourse. Anti-trust authorities judge mergers on whether they cause monopolies and may stop them or require companies to sell of assets before they merge. Google acquired Doubleclick in 2007 (Story & Helft, 2007) and anti-trust authorities had to decide whether this causes negative effects for society.

Another instance may question whether efficiency or fairness  matter more. “Does a rancher have to pay damages if his cattle damage the corn of a farmer in the neighbourhood?” If fairness is considered the answer should be yes. If efficiency is considered, then it could be argued that the injured farmer should pay because he is the cheapest cost avoider – e.g. he should build a fence to stop the cattle from entering his ground.

In both cases the value/cost cannot be determined and therefore a policy decision must be made on what kind of law is preferred.


Story, L., & Helft, M. (2007, April 14). Google Buys DoubleClick for $3.1 Billion. The New York Times, p. 0. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/14/technology/14DoubleClick.html?_r=0

Urban Design I: Introduction

The lecture will cover urban development in the following cities Berlin, Sarajevo, Caracas, Athens, Cape Town, New York, Sao Paulo and Detriot. The format to analysis these cities will be Urban Stories, using different tools to understand the process and development in each.

Issues and Challenges

Housing is a major issue in most urban areas. Most buildings and most territory in cities consist of housing – “the heart and bones”. High-cost housing is a political decision. An alternative to it is cooperative housing (“Genossenschaftswohnen”) which allows to reduce prices. For instance, in Zürich 70% of housing is organised that way.

Another pressure on urban areas are refugees. Western countries underestimated the difficulties and where looking down on large cities in Africa and Latin America and South-East-Asia that dealt with a huge influx. However, the recent events have caused a similar pressure on Europe. Consequently, refugees transforms how urban areas are constructed and understood.

Buckminster Fuller called the Earth “Spaceship Earth” after seeing the first image of the “blue marble” brought back from the Apollo 17 mission.

Often, what is described as an individual city is actually situated with more than half of its size on its urban footprint outside the administratively denoted city.

The Chinese made the boldest urban decision in the Pearl Delta to create an urban area consisting of 250 million people. It means a lot of new construction, but also stress on the “blue marble”. On most billboards you see images of waterfront areas that are beautifully designed. However, most people in such an urban congregation will live in a more slum-like environment.

The former South African government created the Apartheid Urban Design Handbook that describes how to efficiently segregate different populations through urban design. Overcoming such an design is a difficult task.

Skyscrapers today are often only a façade. Architects are merely required to design a surface, the skeleton of the building as well as the location of the building are decided by developers. This means that the urban space often is cut apart by developers and used without looking for an overarching system.

Urbanisation was enabled by an overproduction of food, which allowed to use the aggregated goods to buy other goods.

The largest cities in the world have shifted from the heart of European Colonial Empires in the early 20th century to what was then villages in the hinterlands of Colonial properties. Chinese cities have shown tremendous growth such as Shenzhen which moved from a slow backwater to the 4th largest city in China.

“If humanity is to have a recognizable future, t can not be prolonging the past or the present social distribution and not growth would dominate the politics of the new millennium.” –  (Hobsbawm, 1995)

Facts about urbanisation have been presented before. However, the degree of urbanisation is not necessarily measured by development. Oil-rich countries have moved vast populations into urban environments. Poverty has moved from being a problem of the countryside to a problem of the urbanity.

A provocative claim is that China will urbanise Africa, Latin America and South-East-Asia. It could be considered a new form of colonialism (compared to European Colonialism) that is based on urban paradigms. Those new urban areas will be very asymmetric and socially unequal. This is not necessarily by design, but by the sheer scale of urbanisation. It can be traced to the fact that not everybody will get the same gain from economic development. For instance, in sweatshops local population will be paid as little as possible to extract the biggest possible margin before selling the final product. Aggregated these effects will drive inequality in new urbanisations.

The dimension and speed of urbanisation is beyond the control of human actors and will probably cause many problems down the road. Some have been sketched.


Hobsbawm, E. J. (1995). The age of extremes: A history of the world, 1914-1991. Pantheon Books.

QPAM: Problem Definition

Before a policy analysis can be performed, the underlying problem needs to be defined. Any problem definition is a function of what the author of the definition cares about and what they assume in terms of necessary relationships. Bardach suggested to be clear about what you care about and what you assume about the fact (Bardach, 2012). He claims that problems are caused by market failures, inequalities and non-efficient government solutions.

Value conflict resolution

An alternative approach to think about is a two-dimensional problem space that is defined by the involvement of money and social consensus (legislation could be passed and the law will remain long-term). The solution to a problem defined in this space would fall into the following categories

  • Private (companies): if no social consensus is there, but money can be made
  • Non-Profit (organisations): if no social consesus is there, but no money can be made
  • Public (government): if a social consensus is there, but no money can be made
  • Ambivalent (companies/government/organisations): if a social consensus is there and money can be made


Bardach, E. (2012). A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.