Tell me all about the Metropolitan Genoma, please....

Tell me all about the Metropolitan Genoma, please. By: Pedro B. Ortiz

Metropolises are complex systems, probably the most complex system humans have created. Metropolises are “A set of urban nuclei that share a significant daily commuting.” They are without any doubt the recipients of the highest accumulation of investments, capital, and human effort. The rate of return of those investments is higher than any other.

The 500 metropolises beyond one million inhabitants produce 75% of the GDP of the world. The globalization phenomenon is not a national phenomenon; it is a metropolitan one. It is not the nations that are being globalized; it is the metropolises as representatives and gateways to all these nations.

This is just to say that the future of the world is at stake on the functioning of metropolises, and up to now, nations, governments, administrations do not know how to deal with metropolises; they do not have the instruments and the understanding of metropolises and the practical teaching (Practical Theory- La Raison Practique) on how to manage them is the gap The Metropolitan Genoma is to breach. 

The need is felt on how many professionals, institutions, and multilateral are trying to frame the metropolitan phenomena in different types of diagrams and sets of indicators. Indicators have an empirical approach just accumulating factors that are relevant to the metropolis (housing, density, transport, green, etc.) in an aggregative way. Ina disjointed incrementalist way.

The effort is worth praise. Though often mislead by the poor theoretical background of those who undertake it. They mostly think that the more indicators we have, the better the understanding of the metropolitan processes. Wrong. The more indicators you address (often more than 150), the less you understand the metropolis. The more indicators you have, especially when they are not primary indicators but combined ones, the less you will have a clear picture of what is happening in the metropolis.

The second approach understands the mechanisms of the metropolis. In this task, they often design complex diagrams (often hexagonal, octagonal, dodecagonal… or polygonal) with what they think are the basic sectors or components of the metropolis. The professionals behind these diagrams are often ignorant of the components they are dealing with. They speak about finance without realizing that element is part of a larger economic component. They speak about sustainability without realizing that this element is part of a larger environmental component where both the urban and natural environment is part of it. They speak about institutions without realizing that they are just part of a larger Governance component where the public and private sector, as well as their dialogue, is the broader framework.

Fig 1: Multilateral description of Metropolitan components, elements and processes.


Fig 1: Multilateral description of Metropolitan components, elements, and processes.

The result is a cacophony of concepts that are far from being knowledgeable or accurate. However, they might be better in the short run as they provide a first approach for the metropolitan decision-makers. They are, however, harmful in the long run as they take them on a path of ignorance that will probably be more difficult later to undo. 

We must understand and forgive both attempts, indicators, and diagrams. We must take note that those efforts are but the response for a need felt and unresolved. We must understand and forgive the knowledge limitations of the professionals involved in the metropolitan issues as they are professionals coming from specific branches of knowledge (engineers, architects, geographers, economists, sociologists, political scientists, legal, administrators, etc.) with little knowledge of disciplines beyond their limited scope of knowledge.

Or the metropolis, as the most complex system created by humans, requires the integration of all these branches, disciplines of knowledge to understand and explain it. This is what the Metropolitan Genoma does.


A) The Metropolitan Genoma.

The metropolis involves 4 components, all of them interacting with the others. Economic, Social, Governance, and Physical. Some trendy academics like to say this is too basic and classical, that research and modern thinking is well beyond this and these categories.

It is fine. Einstein’s Relativity Theory came to improve and solve the flaws where Newton’s Theory of Gravitation was strained and could not answer limited issues of speed and time. I am looking forward to Einstein’s Theory for metropolises. But while we wait for it, we better have a theory that would be comprehensive and would explain common phenomena. Rather than having no theory at all and go on making a mess out of the way we manage metropolises. And let’s not forget that Newton’s Theory is still useful and used in everyday life not only for construction but for all our basic industrial processes and our dealings with the physical world.

So, let’s use the Genoma Theory, in the waiting of a genius that will take it a step forward and be useful for metropolises that will double their size in 14 months instead of 14 years (5% annual growth of many metropolises is equivalent to doubling in size in 14 years. Many are experiencing such growth and urgently need an underrating framework that will help them to reach terms with the chaos we are producing due to the lack of that conceptual framework.

The Metropolitan Genoma has 4 basic components of classical theory: Economics, Social, Physical, and Governance. Nothing brilliant, apart from the fact that this was already said 20 years ago, at least, and has not yet been understood or learned about by many professionals. Others have. The European Union was already working on something similar to this approach 20 years ago. The World bank 100 years ago did produce some documents based on these components. Many professionals use this composite in their descriptions and policy approach. Good for them.

The components have objectives of their own: The Economic component aims for Efficiency. The Social one aims to Equity. The Physical one aims for sustainability, and the Governance one to Equilibrium. These Components are in permanent interaction and often in conflict. The budget spent on promoting economic efficiency requires concentration to play in favor of the ‘economies of scale effect, but the Social equity objective will require dispersion among the less favored, confronting thus the efficiency objective. Maximization of production output will jeopardize or even destroy the environment, and it has to be limited to the objectives of sustainability. These permanent conflicts have to be balanced by the Governance component that plays the role of long-term equilibrium to avoid social disruption and unrest.

Fig 2: The basic metropolitan Carbon Atom tetrahedron

Fig 2: The basic metropolitan Carbon Atom tetrahedron

All these components have elements within. And professionals get lost when they come down to these elements. Let’s see the basics of it:

1.- Economic Component: Classical economics says that the factors of production are 3: Capital, Labor, and Land. The land is now out, identified as capital, and the new third factor is Entrepreneurship. Let’s go a step further: Let’s establish the items in the factors (elements) of the component:

1.1.- Capital is subject to 3 objectives:

a) Maximum Return,

b) Maximum Liquidity,

c) Minimum Risk

If you want to attract investment to your metropolis, you have to target these 3 objectives. If you don’t, you won’t.

1.2.- Labor is promoted with two approaches:

a) Quantity, increasing the absolute numbers. That is increasing the active population if you don’t want to promote an even larger increase of population that you are already experiencing.

b) Quality, increasing the strategic education, the one linked to the production sectors the metropolis is likely to thrive internationally in a ‘Base’ economy (W. Isard). For this, you must have first a strategic vision and promote education within the targets of that strategy.

1.3.- Entrepreneurship is based on two items:

a) Management, that is the professional knowledge on how to run a business. This can be learned and is just a matter of education for the entrepreneurial class. 

b) Innovation cannot be yet taught. It is a matter of thinking about how to use actual technologies in a new combination that would be useful to the new needs of the evolving demand and market. (Not to be mistaken with Research. Research is the creation of new technologies based on new theories and theorems. Research is welcome as well) The importance of innovation is that it gives you a temporal monopole over the market as long as your innovation is not overrun by a newer one. Monopolies, as we know, are the source of huge benefits as the market is controlled by supply rather than demand.

Fig 3: The Economic Component: Efficiency objective

Fig 3: The Economic Component: Efficiency objective

2.- Social Component: A thriving area of research. Much is still to be done to understand its mechanisms. The Social capital of a metropolis is based on two elements:

2.1.- Human Resources. Human resources are the human capital of a metropolis. It is the accumulation of the knowledge of all its members. It is composed of its population (raw material: number and personal intelligence) and education (capital investment: time and money). The way to have a sound human resources’ capital is providing the population of:

a) Needs (basic consumption: Housing, health, culture, leisure, etc.) either through the market for those that can afford or public provision (services or subsidies) for those who can’t. If your population (Human Resources) are not provided, they will not be able to integrate the social processes, among which: production.

b) Education. It is the component that multiplies the efficiency of the basic labor force. As a capital component, time, and money invested in education, is the one that provides you the edge over other metropolises with less Human Resources. It is in large part that makes the difference between New York, Paris, or London with Port-au-Prince, Monrovia, or Palau.

2.2.- Social Resources. Human resources are the social value we, individually, have. Human resources capital is thus the adding up of all the individual knowledge and skilled capacities we have. Social resources are different. It is how we interact together to put that individual knowledge to work best socially. It is not knowledge. It is a System of Values. It is how we deal with each other and together to maximize the collective interaction and output. It is how we treat each other, how we listen to each other, how we can make decisions that will be the best. It is as well called Collective Intelligence, and it is defined as ‘The capacity of a group to make the right decision in a reasonable span of time”.

There are two theories on how you can build collective intelligence. We still are waiting for the theory of light, the one that will be able to synthesize the wave and the photon theories in one. In collective intelligence, we have:

a) The empirical theory, mainly promoted from the mosaic perception of the Chicago School, is now under research by New York New School. This Theory promotes 3 levels of intelligence:

i) Cognition,

ii) Coordination

iii) Cooperation.

In Metropolitan management, we often develop this approach by the creation of metropolitan Confederations of Municipal authorities. 

b) The Socio-Psychoanalytical theory, derived from the gestalt theory from the Vienna Scholl of social psychoanalysis. It infers that Social groups contain as well three instances of the social psyche: The Id, The Superego, and the Ego.

i) The Id is made of the needs and desires of society, mainly consumptive desires.

ii) The Superego is made of the ultimate ambitions of that society in terms of perfection improvement and development.

These two instances are confronted as the administration of the budget assignation has to feed either the one or the other.

iii) It is up to the Ego of Society, the institutions of Governance, the one that has to find the difficult equilibrium between the consumption urges and the investment objectives.    

Metropolitan Strategic plans have the problem they reflect mostly the Superego. They reflect the ambitions of the elite of the Metropolis. That is why they are not implemented afterward, as the ones in charge of implementation have to account for dialogue and compromise with the Id of the metropolis. Professionals accused the incompetence of politicians and administrators of not implementing the Plan. The question is if the incompetence is not from the Plan and their promoters, as it is only the expression of the Superego, and enforcing it on the Id will only derive in a Social Neurosis. That would take the social body to the asylum catharsis of a revolution.

We are still waiting for the unifying theory. We invite the reader to do some research on that.

Fig 4: The Social Component (Equity Objective) with the divergent theories of Collective Intelligence

Fig 4: The Social Component (Equity Objective) with the divergent theories of Collective Intelligence

3.- Physical Component: The Anglo-Saxon literature will rather call this component ‘Environment.’ The Latin literature uses the term ‘Territory instead.’ We settled for Physical as a middle ground. We must understand that either Environment or territory we are dealing both with the ‘Natural’ Environment and the ‘Artificial’ one. That is the urban environment.

The Physical Component has 5 sectors: Environment, Transports, Housing, Productive Activities, and Social Facilities. Two of those are continuous sectors; three are discontinuous.

3.1.- Continuous:

a) Green Infrastructure: Environment. Green and Blue. For biodiversity's sake, for the free flow of species plants and animals, the different scales of green infrastructures, from national parks to urban private gardens, should be continuous. This way, biodiversity is achievable at the smallest level of the green provision.

b) Grey Infrastructure: Transport. Public and Private. For the efficiency of the system, the intermodality should be promoted, and the continuity among modes essential. You can not have a discontinuous track for trains, and once at the station, the passenger should be able to change modes to a lower scale urban transport, buses, taxis, or bicycles.

3.2.- Discontinuous:

These are systems. They are interrelated, integrated, but they do not need to be physically contiguous. Hospitals: the hospital system is integrated, but all the hospitals should not be side by side altogether. You have more flexibility for the location. They can be shifted within an area if they comply with a specific set of requirements. These 3 systems belong to what is commonly described as ‘land uses.’

a) Housing. Typologies, densities, and the financial regime are factors that determine the housing system as a system, but their distribution in the metropolis is what determines the metropolitan structure, especially when related to the other complementary land-uses, especially transport. That is the factor that creates urban centralities (TOD’s) and a polycentric metropolis.

b) Productive Activities. The economic productive activities require a physical base on the infrastructures of transport, industrial, commercial, and office land as well as economic facilities as trade fairs, trade marts, logistics, etc.

c) Social Facilities: Social welfare, as seen in the social component, require a series of typological buildings where these services are to be provided. Hospitals, education centers, sectorial services, culture, leisure, etc. These Social Facilities systems require land and accessibility services (public transport) to be integrated into the residential fabricating 5: The Physical Component: Sustainability Objective

4.- Governance Component: The Governance component is made of two sectors: The Private Sector and the Public Sector.

4.1.- Public Sector

a) Branches: The Public sector, since Montesquieu, we know is composed of 3 branches:

i) Executive: Government action. Promoting Complementarity to the Private Sector: Subsidiary or Leadership roles. ‘The carrot’

ii) Legislative: Rule setting: The rules of the Game. Laws and Plans.

iii) Judiciary: Rule control: ‘The stick.’

The dialogue with the Private Sector is mostly done by the Executive (beware formal and informal lobbies) and the legislative. The Judiciary is only there to attend to the compliance of the game rules.


b) Constitutional systems: Constitutions are, however, of two types:

i) Unitary (France, China, Italy, Colombia, etc.)

ii) Federal. (USA, India, Germany, Brazil, etc.)

On rare occasions, because they are unstable, we have a

iii) Confederal system as, for instance, the European Union.


c) Administrative Tiers: However, the Public sector is often divided into 3 basic tiers:

i) National Tier (or called as well Federal Tier when a Federal Constitution)

ii) Stare Tier (when a federal system. Otherwise, in Unitary systems, they have multiple denominations: Provinces, Departments, Counties, etc.

iii) Municipal Tier. The natural subdivision of villages, towns, and cities with their agricultural and natural hinterland.

Sometimes there is a sub municipal Tier (districts or neighborhoods) and even a supra-national one, as the European Union. With a Metropolitan Tier, we can end up with seven Administrative Tiers.

iv) The Metropolitan Tier would fit in between the State and the Municipal Tiers. Often does not exist because it would become more powerful than the State and the Municipalities. Even more powerful than the Nation.

That is why none of these historical tiers want to see the emergence of the Metropolitan Tier. Unavoidable in competitive globalization, or else. The countries that will not have that tier will pay the price in terms of GDP and economic and political submission to more competitive countries and metropolises.


4.2.- Private Sector

The private sector, in institutional terms, has two elements: The Formal and the Informal. We are not talking about the formal and informal economy. We are talking about Formal and Informal Private Sector Institutions and Organizations.

a) Formal: The Private Sector has institutions and organizations that are the legitimate representatives of their interests.

i) It is not only economic institutions like firms and corporations, as well as their guild organizations like Chambers of Commerce, Business Confederations, Professional Institutes, etc.

ii) It is as well the citizens organized in community associations or Social ones like NGO’s, cultural, sports or any kind of stakeholder issue. 

It is perfectly legitimate for the Administration to keep a constant dialogue with these formal organizations as representatives of private interests that the Administration has to attend. What must be very clear to the Administration is that, however legitimate these private interests might be, they are not the ones that rule Public Interest decisions. They are a component, but not the rule. If such was the case, we will be in a situation of ‘prevarication’ (Roman Law)

b) Informal: The Private sector often interacts with the Public Sector through direct contacts and informal pipelines. This is the realm of private lobbying, of media ideological (or else) pressure, and even gray (favors exchange) or black (money transfer) briberies. 

Obviously, this is a dangerous field of action for the public sector representative. From a well-willing comment in a social gathering to a suggested proposal, it is very difficult to set the borderline. 

Open and transparent dialogue with formal private institutions should be promoted, the informal one avoided.Fig 6: The Governance Component: Equilibrium Objective

Fig 6: The Governance Component: Equilibrium Objective

B) The Genoma and the operative system.

These four components are all directly related and interactive. The system is thus not a flat hexagonal one as most represented by professional ignorance, but a spatial one. It is Tetrahedron. Similar to the Carbon atom. The basic natural geometric structure, because of its versatility, has produced the most complex chemistry, from which us humans and all life on earth is made of. 

Fig 7: The integrated Genoma

Fig 7: The integrated Genoma

This is not just a descriptive structure based on the knowledge accumulation from the different disciplines orthodoxies. It is as well an operative one. Like the balls in a snooker table, one must understand that quacking any of them will produce a chain reaction in many others, if not in all. One must, as in snooker, know which one to quick, in what direction, with what intensity and with what squeezed effect. That is the role of the Metropolitan Manager and Planner.

For instance: If you increase the education of your population in the right fields of knowledge required by your productive system that population, the labor force, will be more productive in their jobs. If they are more productive in their jobs the forms will have more benefits. If Firms increase their benefits they will pay more taxes. If they pay more taxes you will have a larger public budget that will allow you to build Universities to provide for a better education. The virtuous circle is closed.

Where to start? That is the role of the Manager, politician or administrator. If you just increase the investment in public education you will need to increase taxes. If you increase taxes you will be putting a burden in the firms that will have fewer benefits and they might move elsewhere more competitive. You will lose jobs, and even with an overeducated population in unnecessary discipline fields, the whole system will be unsustainable. The same circle becomes the vicious circle.

Fig 8: The circular Genoma interactions: virtuous or vicious depending on who manages.


Fig 8: The circular Genoma interactions: virtuous or vicious depending on who manages.

This is why many metropolitan managers say that there is no ‘magical’ solution. What they really mean is that they do not know where to start. They do not have the full picture of the Genoma and they do not know how to operate. The solution? Knowledge and intelligence. That is to understand the full interaction of your policies and to set up a policy that will address each and every one of the components, elements, and items where that interaction is going to be felt. That is the use and benefit of the Genoma.

These interactions might be beneficial (green) or harmful (red). Needless to say, that the Metropolitan Manager should promote the beneficial ones for a good domino effect, and should complement his policy with blocking or compensatory measures whenever the effect is going to be harmful. These interactions can be in the millions. If a Rubik Cube with 3 rows and columns has only 729 alternatives, one of 5 rows and columns has 300.000 trillion. The Metropolitan Genoma has more than 25 items, the interaction among them, if we account for secondary or tertiary effects, are very close to the concept of the infinite. Worthless to try to describe all these possible interactions and Policy Gaps.

You must know how they work, the Genoma tells you so, and act consequently within your knowledge. That is the role of the Metropolitan Manager. Only when you understand the Genoma you will be able to avoid a policy that will trigger the harmful effects and work within virtuous circles.

Fig 9: Some examples of the infinite metropolitan gaps

Fig 9: Some examples of the infinite metropolitan gaps

As pointed in the opening paragraphs the Genoma is just a primitive approach to understanding the Metropolitan phenomena. It makes use of primitive classical knowledge of each of the disciplines involved: economics, management, finance, innovation and research, public administration, political system, law, institutions, participation, sociology, psychology, education, social services, ecology, infrastructures, housing… to name only a few. Researchers in metropolitan knowledge are invited to improve it, to introduce a more modern approach to each of the disciplines. What has to be avoided is the ignorance uttered in the simplistic and mentally chaotic representations we often have to suffer from many professionals in multilateral institutions and academia. Please.