Background and History, a General System Theory Approach

I have tried to derive this view empirically over the years. In the Spring of 1977, I offered and voluntarily led a course General Systems Theory in which I secretly hoped to: After 14 weeks or so we concluded that cities are inter-dependent. Papers were written individually and in teams. We developed interesting systems for transportation and distribution. We collected them and printed them all together so we all had copies. I may put a few sections of the GST book on-line: I wrote the distribution section, and worked closely with the students who wrote the other two sections. There were other excellent papers written. (If any of the GST students out there reading this, I'd love to hear from you!) I was pleased with how well they rose to the challenge.

It was during the class that we developed the Hierarchical model.

A Breakthrough after the GST class

I felt like something was missing. Driving from my hometown (Spokane) back to Portland the following summer, I realized that we had left out "Area" -- I had grown up in the enigmatic "Inland Empire". (A similar personal revelation is described by Donald W. Meinig in The Great Columbia Plain; a historical geography, 1805-1910.)

I then saw there were many other "areas" around the world! And they seemed far more important in the scheme of things than states or counties. This was a real breakthrough for me.

Sometime after the GST class, I made a popular calling card with a person-to-planet hierarchy to give to people whenever I would comment on a presentation (Neal Pierce for example). I hoped to at least encourage people to apply such a framework whenever something was being reviewed or re-structured, creating incremental rather than revolutionary change. Or, simply to raise consciousness here and there. (The first version of the calling card had both CITY and AREA. Later I realized that a CITY is an URBAN AREA, so you have either a RURAL or URBAN AREA at that particular level.)

Super-dude architect Peter Oglethorpe threw one of these cards in a trashcan right in front of me after I gave it to him. I had commented to him that things in his talk reminded me of fractals. He had NO CLUE.

Other Authors

I've suffered through many keynote addresses where the speaker spends 45 minutes telling jokes about how bad things are and how stupid we are for doing all these stupid things. The audience laughs it up glad to have an opportunity to expose the stupidity. Then the speaker wraps it up in 5 minutes by saying that we're not going to do stupid things any more. During the Q&A, the speaker presents vague notions and generalities, or suggests changes in existing programs, or commends the locality on taking certain baby steps in the right direction -- but without offering any comprehensive new theory. Their books will be the same way, maybe drawing out certain patterns about the present, perhaps offering some limited vision for the future. Examples of such would include, in my opinion, Geography of Nowhere, Edge Cities, Pedestrian Pockets, and whatever ever Calthorpe's latest book is.. PostModern America?

Christopher Alexander

Amazingly, A Pattern Language was also published in 1977, but it was years before I learned of it. More than six people worked on this book, for eight years. On page 4 and 5, they define groupings as: region, major city, communities and small towns, neighborhoods, house clusters and work communities! Many of the 253 patterns are similar to my current world model.

His latest multi-volume work, Nature of Order, has come out. See The Pattern Language Web Site for more on the books and pattern languages.

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