Biotic analogies for self-organising cities

Claire L. Narraway, Oliver S.P. Davis, Sally Lowell, Katrina A. Lythgoe, J. Scott Turner, Stephen Marshall*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Nature has inspired generations of urban designers and planners in pursuit of harmonious and functional built environments. Research regarding self-organisation has encouraged urbanists to consider the role of bottom-up approaches in generating urban order. However, the extent to which self-organisation-inspired approaches draw directly from nature is not always clear. Here, we examined the biological basis of urban research, focusing on self-organisation. We conducted a systematic literature search of self-organisation in urban design and biology, mapped the relationship between key biological terms across the two fields and assessed the quality and validity of biological comparisons in the urban design literature. Finding deep inconsistencies in the mapping of central terms between the two fields, a preponderance for cross-level analogies and comparisons that spanned molecules to ecosystems, we developed a biotic framework to visualise the analogical space and elucidate areas where new inspiration may be sought.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268-286
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science
Issue number2
Early online date5 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

The acceptance date for this record is provisional and based upon the month of publication for the article.


  • analogy
  • biological comparison
  • niche construction
  • Self-organisation
  • urban design


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