Juan Freire posts two interesting videos on the subject of self-organising systems. In particular, these videos deal with traffic self-regulation based on crowd behaviour in two very different contexts, India and Russia. He had previously presented similar scenarios in Vietnam.
As Juan points out, what makes self-organising systems so interesting is precisely their unpredictability:
We could attempt to build a new theoretical model based on the “Russian anomaly” (different cultural standards, or the fact that a ruleless crossing in a country where such a thing is quite common is not quite the same thing as a ruleless crossing where such a thing is an exception). Or we could resort to more banal explanations: the vodka effect.
The post recalls a Wired article published a few years ago about Hans Monderman, the traffic engineer whose counter-intuitive logic on traffic regulation is conquering Europe: Build roads that seem dangerous, and they’ll be safer.
I have certainly noticed this to be the case in London, where 4,171 people were killed or seriously injured in road accidents in 2004, compared to 346 people in Rome. Everyone knows Rome has a terrible traffic, but – unlike London’s – it tends to self-regulate itself. If you jaywalk in Rome, chances are people will insult you, your mother and your whole ancestry, but you’ll survive. In London, bus drivers wouldn’t even bother touching the brakes, simply because they are ‘in the right’ and you are not on a pedestrian crossing.
Perhaps the explanation lies not, as Juan suggests, in the vodka effect, but in the stark legacy of societies accustomed to self-organise themselves, versus societies that have been living for centuries in highly-centralised socio-political and cultural systems.