The Schelling segregation model is a well-established representation of social issues in a neighbourhood. On the basis of the systems approach, a model of system of systems (SoS) that is validated through comparison with the Schelling model and applies to more neighbourhoods is proposed. The systems model of an SoS empirically demonstrates the potential for conflict to arise as the autonomy of systems within a geographically distributed SoS increases. The results may contribute to future international policy as well as ecological management. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.