Complexity and Dynamism from an Urban Health Perspective: a Rationale for a System Dynamics Approach

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In a variety of urban health frameworks, cities are conceptualized as complex and dynamic yet commonly used epidemiological methods have failed to address this complexity and dynamism head on due to their narrow problem definitions and linear analytical representations. Scholars from a variety of disciplines have also long conceptualized cities as systems, but few have modeled urban health issues as problems within a system. Systems thinking in general and system dynamics in particular are relatively new approaches in public health, but ones that hold immense promise as methodologies to model and analyze the complexity underlying urban processes to effectively inform policy actions in dynamic environments. This conceptual essay reviews the utility of applying the concepts, principles, and methods of systems thinking to the study of complex urban health phenomena as a complementary approach to standard epidemiological methods using specific examples and provides recommendations on how to better incorporate systems thinking methods in urban health research and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)490-501
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Urban Health
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 5 2015


  • Complexity
  • Dynamism
  • Modeling
  • System dynamics
  • Systems thinking
  • Urban health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Urban Studies
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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