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S4 (Spatial Simulation for the Social Sciences) is a European Research Group created in 2006.

It aims to develop spatial dynamic modelling as an integrative tool for understanding, discussing and helping to manage the evolution of our complex societies. We shall focus on comparing models’ performances and enhancing their complementarities for the simulation of spatial evolution at different scales and for a variety of applications. Multilevel simulation models yield very useful tools for relating interacting individual choices to their spatial consequences and for converting complex social dynamics into easy to communicate spatial representations. Our aim is a wide dissemination of this new expertise nto the social sciences, as well as EU regional and local institutions. In this new field of interdisciplinary research, Europe has been especially innovative during the last twenty years and could become an international scientific leader. However, closer connections have to be established between research groups in order to put complexity theories into practice by developing more widely applicable operational simulation tools.

As places are both revealing and integrating a wide range of sources of social change, from global trends to local daily interactions, space is a very important dimension for an information society. Knowledge about places may then help in adapting new information to a variety of local situations. Many challenges facing European society are intimately related to the issues of spatial structure and its transformation over time as a result of a whole range of interacting decisions, policies and technological innovation. Some act at the European scale, such as the multiple changes that result from enlargement policies. Others are perceptible at more local scales, for example, the problems of availability of affordable housing near to jobs, the development of areas of social exclusion and of dislocation, the mismatch between supply and demand of public services, or the differential accessibility of cultural, leisure and educational infrastructures for different groups. Without the underlying ability to take into account the spatial implications of multiple policies, decisions and technological changes, our societies will experience considerable unnecessary stresses, tensions and costs. The objective of the Network S4 would be to help provide a dynamic, multi-scalar, spatial modelling capacity that could be used to anticipate the changing patterns of opportunity, stress and need that would result from emerging private and public initiatives concerning economic, residential, and infrastructural developments.

Spatial simulation models are a way of linking together a variety of interacting social and physical processes and to discuss their possible reciprocal effects, under sets of different hypotheses explicitly enunciated with responsible actors. Very complex socio-spatial dynamics can be presented on simple maps through different scenarios. We want to help public institutions to gain a much better knowledge of the objectives, preferences, trade-offs of the citizens (the "users" of the territory), and their decision-making processes, which determine spatial self-organisation and the reactions of the spatial system to plans and intervention. This will enable them to reliably compare sound and transparent scenarios of evolution, and to debate and make choices on the basis of well founded and structured knowledge.




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