top of page

2.2.5 Scaled System Thinking Approach

Current local-scale changes in the landscape interweave with larger forces of globalization, time-space compression and media proliferation altering the face of landscape, both rural and urban, around the world. These larger forces span all sectors of human activity and inform a new cultural economy of space, creating new landscape spatialities that require a reformulation of landscape definitions, as well as new conceptual models and methodological approaches for landscape design.


Theano S.Terkenli, New landscape spatialities: the changing scales of function and symbolism

(Terkenli, 2005, p.165)




As briefly addressed in the discussion of the Feral Atlas above, the issues surrounding climate change (the Anthropocene) further complicate the interrelated reality of urban and natural systems. This challenges practitioners in the LUDP field to better understand complexities across spatial and temporal boundaries (Chen and Lee, 2015). For instance, a deeper understanding of the site and its context is needed before developing any landscape-seascape design proposals. In turn, this involves paying attention to diverse forms of expertise, multiple scales, spatial heterogeneity, non-linear time frames and feedback loops (Chen and Lee, 2015; Jensen, 2021). As such, understanding the complex interactions between the landscape-seascape continuum with the broader context, such as the inherent relationships between ecological habitats and human-dominated land-water uses, is a prerequisite for LUDP practitioners and municipalities to generate good design solutions that can also address sustainability and liveability (Steinitz, 2012; Chen and Lee, 2015). Chen and Lee (2015) propose a “Scaled System Thinking Approach” (SSTA) that aims to integrate different relationships and pressures across several spatial scales from global, national, and municipal levels down to local and site-specific levels into the process of design(Chen and Lee, 2015). They argue that it is critical to understand and think in “systems”, “a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole” (Chen and Lee, 2015, p.346).

     Nevertheless, Chen and Lee (2015) state that the SSTA is used in conventional practice and teaching in the LUDP discipline, which tends to engage with system thinking at a particular spatial scale that seeks to understand the interrelating socioeconomic, geophysical, and ecological forces that shape landscapes. However, they argue that current practice and teaching “generally fail to recognise how these very forces are simultaneously functioning at other scales, let alone relate these cross-scale functions to gain a holistic understanding of broader interrelated landscape processes and their potential influences on the design solution” (Chen and Lee, 2015, p.347). While focusing on isolated problems may be desirable and easier, it may be limited and ineffective in attaining impactful, sustainable design and planning decisions (ibid).

Moreover, the book “Site Matters” by Andrea Kahn also addresses the need for multiscalar thinking and practice in urban contexts challenging the conventional notion of a site. She writes,


the issue of scale is key to the definition of urban sites, influencing how designers understand the context of their work and how they define the geographic extent of their areas of concern. Because urban sites participate in many differently scaled networks at once, talking about an urban scale, as a singular measure or the attribute of some entity, obscures the multiscalar condition of urban sites. Urban locales register on multiple scalar networks, in some cases at different times, in other cases simultaneously. Site reach measures the extent, range, and level of interactions between a localized place and its urban surroundings. It gauges vicinities of exchange and intersection between places, reciprocal and nonreciprocal relations, inscribed within and contributing to co-present urban spatial networks (Kahn and Burns, 2021, p.197).


      Therefore, for this research, SSTA is deployed as a theoretical foundation for the multiscalar mapping developed as part of this project  (refer to section 2.3 for more detail). Finally, SSTA preludes to an operational multi-scalar approach to investigation, namely in mapping, as addressed in the following section. 

bottom of page