The Complexity Sciences usually define self-organization as the ‘endogenous’ and ‘spontaneous’ emergence of order within a complex adaptive system, and the result of uncoordinated local interactions. However, the world is not developing fully autonomously and neither is it developing linearly through targeted interventions by planners. As such, it is very difficult – and in some cases even impossible – to determine what indeed comes ‘from within/endogenously’ and what happens ‘spontaneously’, as unplanned developments. Many events are experienced as spontaneous because the intentionality is unknown to the observer. The distinction between intentional and unintentional activities really depends on how we frame systems and the environment of the systems, and how we understand our own level of influence over what can possibly happen within the system we are part of. This chapter illustrates the difficulty of this distinction between intentional and unintentional action with empirical examples from the 2015–2016 European Refugee Crisis. The sudden, and mostly unforeseen, influx of refugees in Europe during the summer and autumn of 2015 created some unexpected and rapidly changing spatial challenges. Several spatial emergences are analyzed: the emergence of flight routes and temporary encampments along these routes; the evolution of more permanent refugee encampments; the challenge of finding adequate housing and shelter for refugees in the receiving countries; the emergence of protest against these housing plans; and the emergence of societal initiatives to welcome, aid, house and integrate refugees in their receiving countries. In each case, the question is asked: which systems are self-organizing according to which system-understanding, and which actors intervene to what purpose? The examples also show how self-organization and spatial planning are not at all agonistic, but rather reciprocal, and are even inherent and immanent to each other: we plan because we aim to influence self-organization to some extent, and self-organization happens because a multitude of actors is continuously planning!

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Boonstra, B. (2020). Self-organization and spatial planning in the face of the European Refugee Crisis – pitfalls and potentialities. In Handbook on Planning and Complexity (pp. 220–236). doi:10.4337/9781786439185.00016