This article applies complexity theory to urban governance. It is argued that expert-based, hierarchical-instrumental policy making encounters insurmountable obstacles in modern liberal democracies. One of the root causes of this erosion of output legitimacy is the complexity of social systems. Complexity is defined as the density and dynamism of the interactions between the elements of a system. Complexity makes system outcomes unpredictable and hard to control and, for this reason, defies such well-known policy strategies as coordination from the center, model building, and reduction of the problem to a limited number of controllable variables. It is argued that participatory and deliberative models of governance are more effective in harnessing complexity because they increase interaction within systems and thereby system diversity and creativity. Using empirical data from research on citizen participation in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the Netherlands, the author shows (a) that neighborhoods can fruitfully be seen as complex social systems and (b) the different ways in which citizen participation is effective in harnessing this complexity.
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