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12 July 2012
Definition: A model is a representation of some place, process, or set of interactions. A model may be physical, quantitative, or conceptual. Models specify the boundaries of a system of interest in time and space, indicate what the components of the system are, and define how the components can interact with one another. Finally, a model specifies the nature of the changes or any limits to change that the system can undergo. Models are based on assumptions that reflect the choices of what is included and left out of the model, and how the relationships are structured.
Examples: A map is a model of the spatial relationships deemed important in a spatial system. Roadmaps, maps of historically important sites, or a depiction of subway stops are examples of maps as models. Models may also exist in the form of equations such as those that describe the dynamics and limitations of biological populations or of interacting populations or predators and prey. Models may be physical, as in the case of an architectural balsa wood and cardboard model of a building or neighborhood, or an experimental setup to examine how the conditions in a stream channel influence biological foodwebs.
δ φ/δt = D(δ2 φ/δx2)
Figure 2. Fick’s second law of diffusion. This model, in the form of an equation, describes the change in concentration (φ) of a substance over time (t). D = the diffusion coefficient and x is the position along the diffusion path.
Why important: All disciplines and practices use models. However, how those models are used and constructed differs between disciplines. In urban systems models range from the informal pictures of a neighborhood by its residents, to the policies employed by different levels of government or different jurisdictions. Models of urban systems can emphasize the social, the economic, or environmental aspects of the metropolis, and may have different spatial limits. Models can assume that the structures and processes within their boundaries are aggregated and uniform, or the models may account for the differences among institutional agents or spatial patches. Many models of urban systems are beginning to treat them as complex systems capable of self organizations, in contrast to classical models of top down control by a narrow function, such as economy or law.
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