Causality in complexity


Dr. Dorien  J. DeTombe


Chair International & Euro Operational Research Working Group

Complex Societal Problems & Issues

P.O. Box. 3286, 1001 AB Amsterdam , The Netherlands , Europe

Tel: +31 20 6927526



published in:

DeTombe, Dorien (2004) Proceedings of the RC33 Sixth International Conference
on  Social Science Methodology, cd,, Siswo: Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Europe




For handling complex societal problems and issues insight in causality is needed. Politicians often skip or even ignore the causes of real life problems and tend to jump to conclusions. Unless a thorough research is done of the causes, fruitful solutions are not expected to be found. Handling effects can not have the impact that one expects them to have. Obvious as this sound, politicians are not very willing to take much time to consider the causes in handling their daily complex societal problems.

The ‘large city problems’ in the Netherlands are taken as an example of the way the local government handles a complex problem. The local government handles the ‘large city problem’ by formulating and performing many small intervention projects. At the moment of evaluating the effect of the projects they run into the limits of their approach. How the evaluate the results when they have no real insight in the causes and effects of the ‘large city problem’.

For finding ways for evaluating interventions, the problem should be defined first and the desired goals should be formulated. A thorough analysis of the problem in terms of causes and effects is needed, including past developments, and presumed effects. A way to do this is using the guidelines of the method Compram. The Compram method is developed to analyze, define, guide and evaluate complex societal problems. The Compram method starts with defining the problem based on a cause-effect model (system dynamic model) made by experts of different fields related with the problem (knowledge) and then by the actors involved in the problem (power). Based on the comparisons of these models the actors and experts discuss possibilities for interventions. By using the guidelines of the Compram method one can find causes of the complex problem and give directions for changing.


Keywords: complexity, causality, immigrants, large city problem, evaluation



1 Introduction 


In the period of 1995-2003 the Dutch large cities, Amsterdam , Utrecht , Rotterdam and The Hague , received from the government a special budget for handling their specific problems. The specific problems are called ‘large city problems’. Although the large cities in the Netherlands do not exceed a population of one million, villages compared to Istanbul (15 million), Shanghai, Calcutta and Mexico, they have the same kind of problems like other large cities; problems in the field of urban planning, education, house shortage, transportation, economics, healthcare, ecology, immigration, law and order, and crime. All these issues are closely related to each other. They can be seen as integrated interdisciplinary complex societal problems.

What is recently called in the Netherlands as ‘large city problems’ indicates to special problems due to the changes in the last two decades. In 1995 the Dutch government subsidized special programs (of two times four years) for the problems in the (four) large cities in the Netherlands : Amsterdam , The Hague Rotterdam and Utrecht . These four major cities in the Netherlands are all located near each other. The specific problems for which the government wanted to give special support, extra to the usual support, are improving housing, quality of living, safety, diminish the unemployment, improving business position of the city including accessibility, improving the connection education and labor market, increasing the social infrastructure of the people living in the city (Crok, Slot & van Antwerpen, 2002, p.14). Many of these problems are related to changes in the city due to recent immigration. For a long time this issue of immigration was political too vulnerable to discuss due to the fear of being politically incorrect (right wing). However, how evident the fear was, the reluctance of facing the facts in an early stage made the problem larger than necessary[1].

The four large Dutch cities formulated a policy to handle these problems which they called ‘the large city policy’ (‘het grote stedenbeleid’). Special teams were created, desired goals were formulated and special projects were performed based on certain themes that needed more attention. The way the problems of large cities are approached in the Netherlands is by performing small projects of change in each city based on the themes and concentrate their projects to certain areas, in Amsterdam for instance in city area North, New West and South-East; areas where most of the new immigrants live[2]. The initial problem was defined as a safety, housing, work and educational problem. The safety problem was formulated as a crime problem performed by youngsters. The crime the large city policy was aiming at were small crime activities like robbing laptops, steeling wallets and motorbikes. Although these are only small crimes, it does bother the people directly. The housing problem was defined as a quality of life problem, and the employment problem was defined as getting more jobs especially for the youngsters; the school problem was defined as a drop-out problem. The formulation of the desired goals was done relatively: 5 % less crime than before or less crime than the other large cities. In order to reach these goals each large city formulated many small intervention projects.


In 2001 after six years the money spent for improving the large city problems the local government had to be accounted for their results. How were the issues of the large city problems handled? Did the quality of life improve and was this due to their projects? What were the results? Was the money well spent? Was there less small crime activities done by youngsters? Were there less drop-outs in school? Was the housing situation improved and where there more jobs? Do the changes made in by these projects have the expected effect? The cities found it difficult to evaluate the outcome of their projects. (Verweij, Latuheru, Rodenburg & Weijers, 1999; Van Dijk, Janssens, Kombrink, Korthuis, Kuijper, Meijer, Opstelten, &.Van der Tak, 2001; Projectgroep Zelfanalyse en Visitatie, 2001; Visitatiecommissie Grote stedenbeleid G4, 2002; Crok, Slot & van Antwerpen, 2002; Zelfanalyse & visitatie GSB Rotterdam, 2002). They did not know how to evaluate their projects, because of the way the problem and the goals were formulated. In order to evaluate change, one has to know what to look for. A standard was missing against one could evaluate the results of the project.


In spring 2002 we interviewed three of the four directors of the large city policy program; the directors from Amsterdam , Utrecht and Rotterdam . Their main problem, on that moment, was not how to handle the problems in the large city, but how to evaluate their projects in order to proof that the money was well spend. Reflecting the process of the problem handling process the three directors indicated that there was too little coherence and too less cooperation between the projects in their city; that each project team within the city was too much working in isolation. Between the cities there was too less cooperation too[3]. Actually one could notice a certain competitive instead of cooperative attitude. Reason for competition in stead of the more fruitful cooperation could be caused by the way the goals of the projects were defined. The goals of the projects were defined relatively: less crime than before or less crime than the other large cities. Lack of coherence, cooperation and communication is one of the major problems in handling complex societal problems. This can be noticed in many cases. Because of lack of communication and cooperation one cannot learn from each others experience. Lack of coherence between the projects is a matter of formulation the problem more clearly, making a cause-effect model of the problem and based on that, formulate the interventions. This can be done based on the Compram approach.


Reflecting the large city problems we see that by starting the project and by formulating and performing the policy the local government missed a chance for taking the time to see what is really happing, to analyze the situation and based on that analysis formulate and later evaluate interventions. Like in many policy projects this project focused mainly on handling the effects in stead of handling the causes of the problem. A basic research to what the problem is, what the causes of the problem are and how they are related was not performed. The projects the local government performed, were partly dictated by their own ideas, partly by the aspects discussed in the media. However the front page issues of news papers or discussions on the television reflect mostly the symptoms of the complex problems, seldom the causes of the problem.



2 The Compram approach: causality


The large city problem is a complex societal problem. In order to handle a complex societal problem a thorough research into all elements of the city has to be performed. What are the issues at this moment, in the past and in the near future in the city? Which elements cause decrease, or increase of the quality of life. How are these elements related? What are the causes and what are the effects? What is the desired goal? Which elements must be improved and how can they be improved.

In order to formulate sustainable changes and to implement them, we have to know what the problem is, to see how the elements that create the problem are related to each other, to find the real causes, to see how they can be influenced. In order to be able to do this we need to make a thorough analysis of the situation, to find what elements can be distinguished in a city and how they are related.

A way to define, analyze and to change a complex societal problem is described in the Compram method (DeTombe, 1994-2003). The Compram method gives directions how to handle complex societal problems in large cities. The method gives directions for a thoroughly sustainable and transparent way of handling complexity. Thoroughly handling takes time. It takes time to find out what the problem is, what the different components of the problem are, how the elements of the problem are related to each other, and how these elements can be influenced. Implementing the changes and observing the effects of the changes takes even more time. Basic elements in all complex societal problems are knowledge, power and emotion.


The method Compram prescribes in a framework model of six steps how to handle these kinds of problems. This is the Basic Approach of the method Compram (see for a more detailed description of the Compram approach DeTombe, 1994; DeTombe, 2003).


Step 1 knowledge. The method starts by making an integrated simulation model of the problem by content experts which have knowledge of the different aspects of the problem. This is the knowledge step. Questions that should be answered are: What do we know? What do we not know? What are the elements and how are they related? The experts make a simulation model of the elements of the problem supported by a seven-layer model of DeTombe. This way they define the problem.


Step 2 power. In step two a power analysis is made. The different power groups, the actors, discuss the problem in their own group and give their own perception of the problem, indicate what their desired goals are, on which points they want to cooperate and on which points not. In this step each actor defines the problem their way. Each actor fills a seven-layer model supported by the facilitator en in this way define the problem.


Step 3 The actors and experts discuss some possibilities for changing based on the comparison of the different seven-layer models. Based on the scenarios mutual accepted interventions are discussed.


Step 4 The selected interventions are discussed with the public before implementation in order to see what the societal reaction is.


Step 5 The interventions are implemented guided by the problem handling team.


Step 6 The results and  process of the handling process are evaluated.


Step 0 of the Compram method.

Analyzing and guiding a problem this way takes much time and energy. Sometimes direct handling is necessary. This can be done in the Quick Start Workshop where the problem owner, the main actors and the main content experts, guided by a facilitator, discuss the problem in a face to face meeting in an electronic meeting room (GDSS). This is step zero of the Compram method.  Here a quick and shallow inventory of the problem is made on urgent issues. The five most urgent issues are selected and a start can be made for direct interventions. A municipality can start working right away on these five selected issues. The Quick Start Workshop is followed by the Basic Approach of the Compram method.


An analysis performed based on the guidelines of the Compram approach might give a quite different picture of the problem and might end in performing quite different interventions. Each step is performed by a team of 12-15 persons, guided by a facilitator. Each step, takes at least three months to perform, however step six can only be performed after a period of three months after implementation of the interventions and should be repeated after one year. It is quite obvious that this way of working takes more effort and more time then just formulation projects that are only loosely related to each other. These effort and time consuming issues are the main objections for the policy makers to handle the problem this way. Analyzing and performing the problem this way takes too much time and is difficult. Their main objection is always ‘We can not start by the beginning because we are already half way down’. It is quite clear that there never is a beginning. These kinds of complex problems are always going on and on. However one should start handling the problem by reflecting the entire problem as if there was a beginning, although one is in reality already in the middle of it. Only then one can find the real causes. Find one’s way back were the problem started  and work from there on. Simplifying the complexity and ignoring the causal connections will not handle the problem. One might end up with handling the wrong problem, only the effects or even being counter productive.


 Step 1 In order to give an idea what the outcome of the first step of the Compram method could be, we give an example of what the analyses of the experts could be. This includes the history and contemporary situations and some scenarios about future development of the large city and some possible interventions. Because this analysis can only be done in real life by a group of experts, as is described in the Compram method, we can only give some indications as an example of what could be the outcome of (a part of) the first step of the problem handling process.


Step 2 The next step in the problem handling process will be inviting the actors, the stakeholders. Which experts and which actors we invite is dependent of the way the problem is defined. This is an iterative process. If we define (a part of) the problem as a housing, education, job problem of newcomers, some of the actors could be: the central and local government, the different groups of youngsters, the different immigrants groups, housing corporation, the industry, the schools, the teachers, the social workers, and the emigrant countries. We ask each group of actors individually what their points of view is on the problem.


Step 3 In the third step of the Compram approach, the experts and actors come together to discuss the desired situation and what can be done to change in order to reach the desired situation. Only then some interventions can be formulated.


Step 4 Before the interventions can be performed and implemented it must be carefully analyzed what the societal reactions to these interventions could be. Based on the evaluation of the reactions the interventions are discussed again and may be changed.


Step 5 In step five of the Compram method the interventions are implemented.


Step  6 The implementations can after some time being evaluated against the formulated definition and the goals of the problem. In this case the quality of life. This is step six and the last step of the Compram method.


  Step 0 When the situation is unacceptable, dangerous and urgent, direct interventions should be taken to prevent the situation for getting worse. In this case it would take too much time for the first interventions when only starting the elaborated way of problem handling of the Compram method step 1 to 6. In life or goods threatening situations step 0 can be done first however parallel to this step 1 to 6 should be started in order not to trap into the pitfall of handling the wrong problem.


3 What makes a city a city and why do people want to move to large cities


Focusing on some aspects that can be discussed in step one we can as

An example of what can be discussed in step one we work out a few aspects of the many that will be discussed on this step. The aspect of:

  1. what is a large city, what is a city at all;
  2. what is the concept of quality of life;
  3. why do people immigrate.


The ‘large city problem’ is very much narrowed down by the four Dutch local governments to problems related to newcomers, an immigration problem. Immigration is the last centuries closely related with urbanization. The safety problem is formulated as the problem small group young second generation immigrant boys between 14-24, create by frequently performing small crime activities. This is related to an education problem in terms of school drop-outs. The housing problem is formulated as the danger of ghetto forming in Amsterdam in the New West by Moroccan immigrants and in the East of Amsterdam by Turkish immigrants. This immigration of people made some of the original inhabitants of Amsterdam move out the city. This issue is related to the (former) poor quality of the rented houses in these area’s, which is related to the policy of the local governmental renting system.


When focusing on the immigration issue one can wonder, why people emigrate out of a city and immigrate into a city; why people want to migrate at all. What makes a city a city and who makes a city a city? Do people make a city and, if so, why do they want to go or stay in a city? History shows that certain living possibilities attract people to a location. Living possibilities are closely related to the ability to earn an income. Business attracts people. Most people live not more than two hours away from their work. The economic activities, like trade, industries and business concentrate in cities or at the boundaries of cities, this attracts people.

In Asia, the Middle East and Europe some cities exist for more than 2000 years, often located at the knot of trade lines, a cross point of a large river and the sea, like in Asia China Shanghai at the Yang She river, in the Middle East in Egypt Cairo and Alexandria at the river Nile, in Europe in Italy Rome at the river Tevere.

Changes in cities, large or small, are often due to changes in conditions for living and possibilities for housing. Cities that are dependent on a monotype industry are often more vulnerable to change than others. This can be seen in France where people leave the country side where there used to be much agricultural activities which are not economical attractive any more. This leaves the small France villages abandoned.

An example in the USA for dependency on a monotype industry is Detroit city. In the period of 1930-1990 Detroit city was a blooming city due to the successful merchandizing of cars by the Ford Company. The Ford car model was very popular as a regular car for common people. However, due to too much self-centeredness of the company, the firm failed to update their models in time when the taste of their clients changed. This forced the Ford Company to close their business and fire all their workers in the early 90ties. This left the city abandoned of the primary source of income. This caused a chain of closing of other firms at the secondary level, the supply delivery level and after that on the tertiary level. Primary business attracts secondary business like support supplies, firms to process raw materials, and tertiary business like law firms, education, hotels and cafés, food and free time business. People left the city in order to find a living elsewhere leaving the city abandoned. The many empty, half deteriorated buildings gave opportunities to all kind of other activities, including criminal activities attracting illegal immigrants and tramps[4].

An example in Canada is the city of Montreal . Until 1960 Montreal was a blooming city at the St Lawrence River in the province Quebec in Canada . Montreal is located at the Rapids at Lachine , a small shallow the rocky space in the St. Lawrence River . This shallow space forced the large ships to stop. This way Montreal became a transport hub for reloading large ocean ships to smaller river ships going up the St. Lawrence River to the Great Lakes and vise versa. When air transport came up, Montreal became the first stop after flying over the ocean.  Montreal became the center of all types of transport related industries. This ended in the early 60ties when a new canal allowed ships to by-pass the city and go upstream to the Great Lakes and downstream directly to the ocean, and when the upcoming air freight transportation between the continents could surpass Montreal directly to Toronto due to the longer distance airplanes. This left the city of Montreal deprived of their primary income. On top of this, the province Quebec wanted, as a French speaking part of the mainly English speaking continent, a right to speak their own language and to oblige the people to do all businesses and governmental affairs in the French language. This ‘separation’ of Quebec from Canada changed the province of Quebec into a French speaking country, which caused many English speaking businesses to settle in the English speaking town Toronto.  From the end of the 90ties people left the city together with the firms. This caused a huge decline of the prices of the houses and conditions for living. Being dependent on one kind of business, whether this is agricultural industry, fishing, internet business, trade or mechanical industry, makes a city very vulnerable to societal changes.



4 Quality of life in large cities


Large cities in the western part of the world, like Amsterdam , New York , Brussels and London are confronted with many problems that are or are going to be a thread to the quality of life of their inhabitants. These problems can make some people to leave the city and others to immigrate to the city. The local government of a city is responsible for the quality of life in the city. The projects of the ‘large city policy’ were supposed to increase the level of living. In order to know how to evaluate the projects of the large city policy whether these projects increased the quality of life, one has operationalize the concept quality of life in relation to a city. However, the definition of the quality of life is very vague. What are the elements of which the quality of life is composed, how are these elements related to each other. How can the quality of life be brought to an acceptable level, maintained or increased? Before being able to make fruitful changes we have to know what the problems in the large cities are what the positive and the negative issues are and how can these be influenced.

Labor is a very important element of quality of life in a city. Is the city based on mono-industry? Which kinds of labor is possible, what kind of laborers does it attract, is there enough employment? Mechanical based industry demands other laborers than high tech industry, like wise transportation industry and work in the harbor takes different employees then universities.

What kinds of environment need these workers? Is the city equipped with the elements the employers want and the employees need. Elements as housing, safety, and education for the workers, schools for their children, employment for their partner, recreation and healthcare services for the family, easy, safe, affordable and reliable transportation[5] for each member of the family, clean fresh air and free time activities. High cultural cities as New York , London [6] and Amsterdam , need other demands than mainly industrial cities like those in the industrial area of the river Ruhr ( Germany ) or an industrial city like Manchester (UK). High cultural cities should take care of their cultural qualities including museums, galleries, theatres and architectural values in order to be attractive to their highly educated citizens and to tourists. These cities should, next to high standard payable houses for the rich and wealthy, also take care for houses for the new generation.

In Amsterdam are now waiting lists of more than seven years for governmental subsidized rental houses. Here buying is too expensive for the young starting couples and there are little or no facilities for children to play and not enough good quality childcare. This forces young couples to live outside the large cities. For the last decade many people originated from Amsterdam had to leave town for these reasons. Special towns like Purmerend and Almere were created for that purpose. However, many of the former inhabitants in Amsterdam still work in Amsterdam . This creates congestion problems during rush hour.



5 How to formulate the quality of a city: the distinctions of Bourdieu


By evaluating the projects of change to improve the quality of life in a large city we should know what the concept ‘quality of life’ is. Which elements should it contain and how are they related. How to define the quality of life in a city? The method Compram gives a support of analyzing, changing and implementing changes in a city. The question remains in what direction should a city be changed? What is the desired goal?

Bourdieu, in his book La Distinction (1979), gives an instrument to analyze and describe a person’s class based on capitals the person owns. Bourdieu distinguishes four capitals and their mutual interrelation, which together form the value of a person. These capitals are: economic, social, cultural and symbolic capital.

To give an example, nouveau rich, as the Russian mafia in late 90ties, have much money, which gives a high economic capital; however, they possess a low cultural capital, whereas an unemployed master student or an artist may posses very little money (economic capital) but much cultural capital.

As we adopt the theory of distinction by Bourdieu and apply this to a city, we can describe the volume of capital of a city as economic, cultural, social and symbolic capital. This is an efficient way to describe a city. When putting these capitals in interrelation, we can describe the structure of the capital of a city. This enables us to evaluate whether capitals are meager, which are missing or should be changed.


Looking at the concepts of Bourdieu in relation to the analysis of large cities, we see that: Bourdieu describes economic capital as possessions like money, real estate and production means (Bourdieu, 1979). These distinctions can be used directly for describing the economic capital of the city. For describing a city we may add citizens level of (un)employment, differentiation of businesses, location in relation to tourists, art collections, natural and mineral resources.

With the concept of cultural capital Bourdieu relates to knowledge, skills and education (defined as diploma’s), books, art elements like visual arts, musical arts, and theatre. These distinctions can be used directly for describing the cultural capital of a city. We like to add recreation (sports, parks etc.) and religion to the cultural capital.

Social capital is described by Bourdieu as networks of actors knowing each other, this means external relations. As we translate this to cities we can regard their social networks as relations with sister cities, for instance, with cities in developing countries, the relations to provincial and central policy makers, how a city is imbedded geographically in the country (mountains, harbor), the political environment (fundamentalist, democratic), and in what way citizens may rely on governmental support. We like to add in what way citizens can rely on their personal support network (friends, family) for emotional and financial support and how this differs between social groups.

The term symbolic capital by Bourdieu can be translated for the analysis of a city as the position of the city in relation to other cities in the world. For example, an artist from New York is regarded more interesting than an artist of a place called Nowhere irrespective of her work.


Reflecting on these four distinctions of Bourdieu we can ask ourselves are these sufficient to describe all elements of a city. We suggest that it may come in handy to add some more capital elements.

We add ecological capital to the four capitals already mentioned above. Ecological capital relates closely to healthcare elements, for instance, in relation to too much stress due to political tension (totalitarian regime), or a too heavy work load, as we have seen in many western cities (burn out, RSI) or due to industrial pollution, as could be seen in Polish cities between 1950-1990 and in the Ruhr area in West Germany, it also includes tension from earthquakes or diseases like malaria, and personal transmitted diseases as HIV/AIDS.

Transportation capital is also an element that might be interesting to distinguish. It is possible to have good, efficient, clean and safe transportation as a pedestrian, a cyclist, a car driver, or using public transportation.

Safety capital is probably also a capital that is worthwhile to distinguish. Safety is a container concept. It reflects different elements within a city (see definition in paragraph 2) and is closely related to feelings of well being and quality of life.

Having distinguished these capitals as analyzing objects of a city we can start finding them, evaluate them, see how there are related and how to get to a desired change in the interrelated capitals by the directions of the Compram method.



6  Immigration in Dutch cities


In the early 60ties a large group of low educated laborers were needed to work in the Dutch industries. As most of the Dutch laborers were too highly educated the Dutch government invited laborers from Italy and Spain , where the economy was low at that moment, to work for the Dutch industry. In the early 80ties these guest laborers of Southern Europe returned to their own country due to better economic circumstances in their own country. This left the industry in need for new low educated laborers. The industry persuaded the government to make it possible to get workers from the Middle East; low educated people from rural areas in Moroccan and Turkey . These persons were mostly housed in the Netherlands in the large cities, near the industry areas.

The new laborers were allowed to bring their family over or/and to marry a person from their home land, often being a family member.

The Dutch government did not expect much trouble from this new immigration wave. The experience with the immigration wave of people from Southern Europe was good. These people worked well, did not cause much trouble, and left the country after twenty years. The government expected the new immigrants to be the same. A few things totally overseen, made these new group of immigrant different. These laborers were not temporary laborers, but new inhabitants.

Already in the mid 80ties unschooled labor was not wanted any more. Due to the low educational level and the difficulty to speak the language of the country, the new immigrants could hardly be employed elsewhere. The Dutch government had to give, like it gives all Dutch inhabitants, a financial support to the immigrants so that they could support themselves and their families. Unemployed or not, due to the family reunion program the population of the immigrants kept growing larger and faster than expected.

The major difference with the former group of laborers was cultural difference: religious, language and family relations. By marrying a person from the home land, and the (fundamental) religious centers supported from their home land made the integration much slower than expected. Introducing new inhabitants with conservative fundamental ideas, with different educational, cultural, and religious background, into a society, where a huge emancipation, secularization wave just was successfully realized was at least a challenging idea. In the immigration wave there were many unforeseen and unwanted effects of policy makers. It is clear to see that the small benefits of the industry, having cheap laborers, changed into huge costs for the society, in way of unemployment, extra healthcare and issues like school-drop-outs and social tension. Here the benefits are privatized and the costs are socialized.



7  Some large city  issues related to new comers


The issues large cities are confronted with are problems in the field of urban planning, education, house shortage, transportation, economics, healthcare, ecology, law and order, immigration and crime. All these issues are closely related to each other, and can been seen as an integrated interdisciplinary complex societal problem. Some large city issues related to new comers are not exclusively, but they are there more then other groups of the society: school-dropouts, unemployment and identification problem.

One of the large city issues in the Netherlands is the issue of school drop-outs and unemployment. Because of the language differences at home, and probably also the cultural differences there is a high amount of school drop-outs among children of immigrants. Without a reasonable and finished education it is very hard to get any job in the Netherlands . This leaves many secondary immigration youngsters, especially males, with a low or even negative identity. A way to be somebody, to have some money to buy nice things, could be acquired by engaging in criminal activities. An other way to create an identity is to become a member of a group and it this way the so-called illegal fundamentalist terrorist networks could provide an identity and could be challenging for vulnerable male youngsters.



Safety is another element that directly influences the quality of life in large cities. Safety is often only defined as prevention from organized crime groups, burglary (houses/firms), robbery[7]  and rape[8] (people). In the case of ‘the large city problems’ safety is actually only defined as ‘youth crime’. In the large city project safety is mainly described as prevention of small criminal activities by second generation youngsters (males). These criminal activities were small but frequent and cost much trouble to the citizens in Amsterdam , like burglary, robbing tourists, steeling Nikes (shoes), motorbikes, mobile phones and laptops[9]. Compared to all criminal activities these are small things but it can give the citizen an unsafe feeling[10] and influences negatively their quality of life.

However, the concept of safety should be enlarged including safe traffic possibilities[11] like sufficient foot and bike paths[12], without too dark and obscure areas, speed limitations for cars, safe industries without pollution[13], safe recreation facilities like dancing halls and café’s[14] etc.

Safety can be closely related to differences in wealth between citizens in a city. When the differences between the rich and the poor are too large it is likely that crime occurs. Each person needs a minimum of goods in life, like food, education, job, housing, health care, transportation facilities and safety. When there is a lack of (some of) these items or  there is too large a difference between citizens in the same town, this could be a reason that trouble starts, for instance, strikes, riots, robbery and rape as can be observed in Los Angeles in the 90ties, or on a larger scale throughout South-Africa[15]. Differences between rich and poor often follow skin color and/or class lines. In order to keep the money among ‘the happy few’, the better-off try to exclude everyone who wants to have an equal share of the wealth.



Like in many European countries the tension between the immigrants which have a Moslem religious background and the autochthones having an (Roman-) Christian background grew after the September 11th attack[16]. Suddenly people realized their cultural and religious differences[17]. Most immigrants were and still are religious in a moderate way. Fundamentalist religion only gains in power after the midst of the twenties century. In countries like Turkey , where a large part of the Dutch immigrants come from, the state is not ruled by the Islam but by political regime in which belief and politics are separated[18].  


Housing, accessibility and ghetto forming

The abandoned houses in Amsterdam , often of minor quality and low prizes, owned by large housing corporations were rented to new immigrants. In Amsterdam in West the Moroccans, in the East people form Turkey and in the South–East (Bijlmer) people from elsewhere. This situation is growing towards ghetto forming, in which autochthones move out the area and immigrants move in. Now 47% of the population of Amsterdam is from non-Dutch decent (Crok, Slot & van Antwerpen, 2002, p.15).



8 Handling space


Is the city the right level to handle the problem of the immigration? We distinguish four levels of handling space (DeTombe, 1994)


“The handling space is a metaphor, a mental construct, for the space where interventions of the problem will be searched for that might lead in the direction of the desired situation[19]. The handling space limits the space in which, and to what extent, the problem can be changed. “


“The handling space is narrowed by the constraints. In changing complex interdisciplinary societal problems one has to take many constraints into account.  To be able to indicate the different range of possibilities there are to change the problem, we distinguish different levels and different kinds of constraints.

We distinguish four levels of constraints. The first level is the most restrictive; the fourth level is the most permissive. The first level is the most easiest to handle a problem. One starts within and sticks to the here and now situation. The third level is the most difficult to operate; many things have to be changed here. The fourth level is the most easiest however this level is only imaginary.


At the first level of constraints the interventions of the problem will be searched for within the current situation. This is the most restricted level of constraints, in principle the whole situation remains as it is, only relatively small changes within the existing situation are allowed. This idea comes close to what is called 'muddling through'. At societal level this includes new laws, a better infrastructure and changes in pension for the elderly. Most problems are handled on this level.


The second level of constraints allows some more changes in the contemporary situation, however not too many, but the changes can be greater. There is more space to handle the problem and there are more possibilities to change.


The third level of constraints broadens the possibilities as wide as can be, but still within the 'normal' possibilities of mankind and nature. On societal level these involves fundamental changes in organizations, in politics and even in the way people think, hope and believe. This can be a totally new form of society[20].


The fourth level of constraints abandons the constraints of human possibilities and escapes into fantasy. This level can no longer be fruitfully implemented, at the most it can be used for 'unfreezing'[21] people in the problem handling process. 


The distinction between level one, two and three is gradual. From changes within the existing situation (level one) to major changes of the situation (level two) to a whole new approach of living (level three).  The distinction between the first three levels and the fourth level is qualitative. The fourth level is quite different. The levels of constraint go from realistic (level one to three) to unrealistic (level four).”


First level of handling space:

Many complex societal problems are only handled on the first level of handling space, however many complex societal problem need to be handled parallel on at least the first and the second level of handling space. Considering the first level of the handling space of the large city and the item of safety: youth crime in relation to immigration. The need of the industries in the large cities of low educated laborers is no longer there. The level of education of the (second generation) immigrants is due to many reasons is often not high enough to incorporate successfully at the level they them selves would like it to be. If the education of the second generation of the second generation immigrants on the level that was needed in this highly industrialized, bureaucratic, service country then there was less a problem of school drop-outs and probably less a problem of youth crime. Education, forms next to learning algebra, one’s ideas about men and women and behavior towards democracy and freedom, and a key to integrating in a new country. One of the hypotheses to discuss is whether the group of school drop-outs second generation Moroccan boys could have a too confused identification problem. They can identify with their parent’s old and new home land. They might be in need for successful integration examples in their parents’ new home land.


Second level of handling space:

However more education of the second generation is not the only answer that is needed. If the home land has not enough perspective the already immigrated people are not willing to go back even when there are not enough adequate jobs available. With immigration by marriage, this is getting the bride or groom directly from the rural areas of the families’ original homeland, it seems to be an ongoing problem. New still not enough integrated people arrive, which are chanceless on the job market. This issue might need another approach. By analyzing the problem thoroughly one might find some of the answers only on world wide level. What is the reason these people still want to leave their home country and continue the life’s here in West-Europe, often as people of the lower class[22]. The reasons are mostly probably economy reasons. Preventing immigration can be done by closing the borders. This is often not possible or has inhuman effects[23]. Another option is by increasing the level of living in the countries these immigrants come from and this way preventing in a human way the need for immigration. If this is the case, and this should be carefully analyzed first, then a ‘solution’ not for the contemporary immigrants, but for future immigrants could be found by increasing the standard of living in the country the immigrants come from. This will probably not change the situation much for the immigrants who are already settled, but this to avoid new streams of immigrants from these countries.


Third level of handling space:

This immigration problem into large cities is not only a cross-border problem. The same immigration problem can be seen in the home countries of these immigrants. In Turkey in Istanbul and Ankara , both modern cities in the sense of European like Arabic cities, are confronted with the same kind of immigrants. Low educated people moving from rural areas to large cities, looking for a way for living more comfortable. However there are there no jobs for these people either. Too often some of these people might end up in living from criminal and illegal activities by lack of other chances.

An improvement for the (future) immigrants could be increasing the level of living in their own home countries. Take for instance the area of North-Africa and Turkey . Area’s where many immigrants come from. Large parts of these countries are very bare. Improving the situation can start by fertilizing their bare lands, by planting woods and bushes that can hold the water. Irrigations will probably increase the fertilization of the grounds. When the sheep and goats are no longer aloud to wonder free but kept in a fenced area, these animals can no longer harm the roots of the new plants. Fertilizing should give more result to the harvest. In these areas often two or more harvests a year are possible. Next to fertilization of the ground one can implementing small sustainable industries for a way of living next to or in accordance to agriculture.  Increasing the level of education of men and women is necessary. Because of the long distances in these areas, ‘distance education’ guided by the universities and students who once a week visit these in dislocated areas, should be possible. A part of the education can be done via internet. Emancipation of women is also necessary. Women should be, like men, economic independent. So women are able to select their own way of living and are no longer financial dependent of men.

This is a four component approach for increasing the level of living in an area. Improvements on the area of agriculture, industry, education and emancipation.

         Agriculture: fertilizing the ground and improving the way of doing agriculture to improve the harvest. This will improve the food for the animals and the quality of the vegetables and grain. This will include a training program for farmers.

-          Industry: setting up small sustainable industry to increase the level of living in the area.

         Educational system in the area will be improved by creating secondary school and agricultural and industry preparation schools

         Emancipation of women by women support groups, increasing the education of women and getting (paid) jobs for women

This approach should be implemented parallel. This four component approach will increase the level of living[24]. Increasing the standard of living is a way to prevent fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism is often an inhuman way of living for women and sometimes a source for violence (terrorism). A project along the lines of some of these ideas, based on the ideas of the Compram method, is a pilot project near Ankara by a group of scientists of the Middle East Technical University , a large international oriented university in Ankara , in close cooperation with the local people in the area. The project is called: Balaban Valley Project: Improving the Quality of Life in Rural Area in Turkey (Gökmen, Ali, Sinan Kayalıgil, Gerhard-W. Weber, İnci Gökmen, Mehmet Ecevit, Aşkın Sürmeli , Taylan Bali, Yıldız Ecevit, Haluk Gökmen, Dorien J. DeTombe, 2004).



9 Is the city able and authorized to handle its own problems?


Going back to the discussion about the large city problems one can wonder is the city able and authorized to handle its own problems? Looking at the discussion about the handling space we realize that, although a city is capable and authorized for many things, the improvement to some of the large city problems have to be found on other levels of the handling space on which the city has no direct influence.

On the third level of the handling space the input of immigrants can be influenced. Immigrants, mostly reflected here as economic immigrants, should be adjusted enough to their new homeland to be able to make a decent living in their new land. In preventing the immigration of people who are not adjusted enough in an educational way, to deal with the complexity of the new land, we should support the level of living in the countries where the immigrants come from. This prevents immigration in general, and specific immigration of mall adjusted people; mall adjusted to the demanded complexity. This should be world wide stimulated. This can only be handled by an international forum in cooperation with the developing countries.

On the second level of the handling space the ghetto forming in the large cities can be prevented creating more work opportunities out side the four large cities for the immigrants order to prevent creating a concentration of poor immigrants. To increase the level of living of the new immigrants in their new home land, the law in this land, which is a legal democratic state, should be properly applied, also to immigrants who have a different religion. A democratic country is not ruled by religion but by a legal state, which goes far beyond the pr iva te believes. On the side of law a democratic country must handle the so-called avenge acts towards young women as crimes and punish them likewise, the same applies to the beating of women by their husbands. This should not be considered as a pr iva te matter but as a public matter. Also in marriage human rights are applicable.

What a city can do on the first level of handling space to prevent ghetto forming is upgrading the local government owned houses, so it will be more comfortable for all people to life here. This will attract more people. An other point a city can do to improve and to control the educational system and to improve baby and infant care, to give special additional educational programs for the women and youngsters, and encourage the emancipation of women, like biking, swimming, riding cars, participation in public live, using the internet, and computers in general and getting well paid jobs and become financial independent.

The conclusion of this discussion is that some of the problems which the large city is confronted with are not its own problems. The city can only handle the problems that can be handled on the first level. Other problem owners must be found in order to handle the problem properly on the other levels. On the second level of handling space the problem owner is the government and on the third level of the handling space the problem owner is a mutual group consisting of an international forum in cooperation with the governments of the countries involved. Only a mutual approach in different levels of the handling spaces by the different problemowners can give an opportunity of success.



10  Conclusions


Large cities are confronted with complex problems. There are not many easy short term answers to these problems. To really handle these problems one has to hold out long, engage in hard work and be gifted with good sense and creativity. The Dutch approach of allocating additional budgets to large cities to handle these special problems is in principle a good idea. However, dividing the money to finance small projects within a city’s different sub towns mostly ends in handling only rather trivial issues. In order to be able to handle the real causes one should know what the real causes are, where to find them, how they are interrelated and how to change them. This calls for a thorough analysis along the lines of the Compram method.

Above some possible outcomes of the discussions, done in the first step of the problem handling process based on the ideas of the Compram method performed by a group of experts coming from different fields, are described. Making cause-effect loops of the causes of the large city problem on different levels of the handling space and connecting these models which each other could be the content of the first step in the problem handling process. When this is completed the actors can be asked how they perceive the different issues. How they define the problem. What their desired goals are. Together the actors and experts can then start discussing some interventions for change based on an analysis of the ‘quality of life’ in the large city. The quality of life in a city can be defined along the distinction of Bourdieu in economic, social, cultural and symbolic capital and adding ecological, safety and transportation capital. Only then the discussion for finding interventions can start. This is a more complicated approach then the four large Dutch cities had, however the chances for more sustainable interventions are in this way higher.

The examples of interventions given above on different levels of the handling space could improve the situations for the problems the (future) immigrants of these two Arabic countries have in West-Europe. However right away it is clear that this only solves the large city problem, if it is solvable anyway, in relation with these immigrants groups. As long as there is a too large difference between rich and poor countries, the rich countries will attract people from the poor countries. As long as this is the case, the problems for the Dutch large cities, what they define as a ‘large city problem’ will probably continue from one immigrant group to another. Due to the more and more open borders, new streams of low educated immigrants and fortune hunters might enter the large cities. Due to, among others, the globalization of agricultural industry, it becomes more and more difficult for people to make a living on small scale in agriculture. Agriculture on small scale does not need a high level of education, however when these people immigrate to large cities the complicated life in the large cities as well as the jobs offered, often demand a higher level of education. To reach a higher level of education is a goal  which is not easily  reached in one or sometimes even in two generations of immigrants.





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[1] According to the method Compram (DeTombe, 1994) of handling complex societal issues,  the earlier one is aware of the problems and try to interfere, the more chances there are that the problems stay under control.

[2] Immigrants of the former Dutch colonies from Middle- and South-America, black, Hindu/Christian youngsters familiar with the Dutch culture; people from rural areas from the Arabic countries Turkey and Moroccan, mostly not acquainted to the western life style. For information on the statistical data of the large cities see Verweij, Latuheru, Rodenburg & Weijers, 1999.

[3] An exception is education. In education there is a long tradition of working cooperative.

[4] However, empty buildings may also attract artists who need large space for low costs for their artistic work. This can be the start of an artistic center which may attract new, interesting activities from elsewhere.

[5] In the last decade the public transportation for employees to locations outside their cities by train were rather miserable in England and the Netherlands due to the privatization of the public railway company.

[6] Long time the quality of life in London was low for the laborers because of its poor sanitary circumstances and quality of houses and the smog (see Charles Dickens, 1868).

[7] Robbery seldom includes crimes of high CEO’s robbing their own workers like for instance in the ENRON case in USA in 2001.

[8] Regarding rape it is mostly referred to as rape outside one’s own house. However, the major number of rapes committed inside the house by members (males) of the family towards other members (male and female) of the family exceeds largely those committed by persons outside the family. For centuries this crime, which directly affects the quality of life of the abused, was regarded upon as just a family affair, if regarded at all.

[9] Moroccan boys perform 90% of youth crimes in the four Dutch large cities.

[10] This feeling does not have to be based on facts.

[11] The number of deaths and serious injuries caused by traffic accidents exceeds the total number of deaths and injuries in crime. Many traffic accidents are based on culpable negligence due to inattention, drugs and/or alcohol use, and high speeding. However, this is seldom regarded as crime.

[12] The bike paths refer specially to cities in the Netherlands .

[13] Kalkar was the name of a small Germany town near the Dutch border, where in the late 80ties a nuclear power plant is build. Due to a huge protest by environmentalists this plant never went into action. Now the already finished plant is changed into a recreation area. A lost of millions of Euros.

[14] In the Netherlands in a small Roman Catholic village called Volendam, a severe accident occurred on new years evening in 2000 when a café burned down which caused 14 deaths and very painful life long injuries of 200 youngsters. The huge wild fire was possible because the terrible state the café was in. The local government ignored their task in safety control of the public locations. The punishment of the owner, who was responsible for the dangerous situation, was the maximum punishment of one year conditional, 240 working hours and two years not able to be active exploiter of a catering industry. A very low punishment for such a cruel crime.

[15] In South-Africa 20 % of the black male population is without a job, in some cities the infection rate of HIV/AIDS is over 40% and many of the higher educated white people are leaving the country (see DeTombe, 2003). The crime rate in South-Africa is increasing very fast.

[16] 11 September 2001 of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington USA is attacked by airplanes directed by Moslem terrorists.

[17] The tension between Moslem and Christian religion goes back to the 10th century. The time of the crusades was actually a power fight between two world religions both believing in the same god. Nowadays the tension between these two major monotheistic religions can be found in the fights between Israel and Palestine .

[18] Religion has many aspects: personal, cultural and societal aspects.

Some of the personal aspects of a religion are belonging to a group, having a guidance for living and the aspect that religion allays the fear of dying by promising a beautiful eternal life after death. Their aspects are often considered as positive. Looking at religion as a societal institution, religion is mainly a power element. Imposing religion on a person, imposes a certain way of living on the person. When people refuse to submit themselves to this kind of religion the punishments can be severe. The stronger the religion imposes on people, the more fundamentalist the religion is, the more strict the behavior restrictions are and the more severe the punishments are for disobedience. To give some examples in fundamentalist religion disobedience is punished by shutting people out of the group, this is called shunting by the Amish people  in USA; in middle ages by the Spanish Inquisition, a religious court of the Roman Catholic church, punishing Jewish people who refuse to convert; by Islam law, the Sharia, the so-called avenge that gives the family the ’legal space’ to kill a young female family member who have a kind of unwelcome contact with man.

All religions, but fundamentalist variation of a religion more severe, try to control women’s sexuality and the power and influence of women. An extreme example of this is clitoridectomy which is still performed in Egypt and Sudan , another example is forcing women to wear a burka. Knowing what the effect of religion is on the lives of women we can see that women have nothing to gain by turning to a more fundamentalist religion. Knowing this could be a start for intervention, because women have much to gain by emancipation, by taking up  the way other women live their new homeland.

[19]    The desired situation can, for instance, be reorganization of the institute or diminishing the discharge of chemical plants.

[20]    See for instance the situation in France at the time of the revolution of 1789, or in Russia in the revolution of 1917; the revolution of Lenin were a feudal state was turned within a few years into a communist state.

[21]    Unfreezing means inviting people to include, as an experience of thought, a higher level of constraints. This is mostly the third or the fourth level. This can be done in order to stimulate people to think about quite new situations to realize that the present situation is also constructed by people and as a consequence is not  restricted beforehand. This is done in the hope that people come up with quite new and creative ideas for changing the problem.

[22] Immigration to a new (often) unfamiliar country, including adjustment problems, language problems and a low(er) status is often done by lack of better perspectives in the home land.  Living a life of immigration is often difficult even if one is highly educated. Many books revile this evidence, like the books of Steinbeck (1939),  Roth (1993) and McCourt ( 1999).

[23] Closing borders strictly can have disastrous results for the individual (illegal) immigrants, such is to be seen at the borders between Mexico and USA , Europe and Africa in the area of Spain , in cases of  slave-running between China and other countries.

[24] In order to be effective this takes a long time. This can only be an improvement within five to ten or more years. There is already proof hat these kinds of concepts works. It is successfully shown in Isreal , with a lot of effort and knowledge from the people of this country itself and supported by economical help from outside. The state of Israel changed its bare country in 50 years into a modern up-to-date country in European style (see among others  Meir, 1975).



©Dorien J. DeTombe, All rights reserved  update June2006