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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Simulating the nature of cities : ecology, planning, and systems science in the Inter-Institutional Policy Simulator (IIPS) project, 1970-1974 Chu, Chia Li


This thesis studies the intersection of ecology, urban planning and systems science in the Inter-Institutional Policy Simulator (IIPS) project between 1970 and 1974. I examine the project in the milieu of the popular environmental movements and its challenges to the established political and scientific authority in North America. While previous scholarship in the history of ecology has illustrated the Cold War’s influence on the “systems ecology” research programme and its focus on computer simulation and mathematical models, this thesis examines how ecologists extended their discipline from the management of natural ecosystems to planning for “urban systems.” By investigating the networking strategy of ecologists and urban planners, the first part of my thesis studies the rise and fall of IIPS as the interaction between “IIPS the Platform” and “IIPS the Product,” or between the network of experts and the simulator they aimed to create. Although IIPS failed to create a product capable of simulating the urban dynamics of Vancouver, it nevertheless exemplified the efforts of ecologists and urban modellers to address the social challenges in the early 1970s. The second part of my thesis concentrates on the public programs led by project members, in which the experts attempted to reformulate the relationship between technoscience and the public through a variety of educational and participatory events. I argue that the value of IIPS was its contribution to the reimagination of information technology and systems science in an era of environmental anxiety and social transformation, and suggest that the experience of the project can offer critical insights into contemporary questions concerning scientists’ roles in a challenging socio-political context.

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