martes, 25 de junio de 2013

Book: The Spontaneous City

The Spontaneous City is an amazing book edited by Urhahn Urban Design that shares new approaches on urban development and city thinking. It builds on the idea of flexible adaptation and openness as an alternative to large-scale and formal planning that proves to be too hierarchical to attend emerging needs -particularly considering the current crisis in real estate and local finances- and new social and cultural practices in a networked society. As such, the book comprises projects, interviews and text and image essays explaining spontaneous and adaptive practices under four principles:
  • Zoom in, as an invitation to reduce scale and take care of local conditions and acknowledge local initiators.
  • Supervise open developments, as an invitation to understand changing factors as the most permanent feature of urban projects and the need for adaptative approaches in the process. 
  • Create collective values, as an invitation to introduce social needs and community benefits in the core of urban development strategies. 
  • Be user-oriented, as an invitation to broaden the scope of participatory tools and creative co-operation. 

These principles act as a manifesto for an urban design framework to link the urban realm to its citizens to build the city they live with their own hands with simpler and more flexible rules. Here, uncertainty appears as the new normal for urban developments has always been set aside in the formalistic vision of urban planning as a way to achieve permanent, long-run and definite solutions for the future, when reality and social, economic and cultural conditions are already changing even when the urban plan is approved. This idea, underlying in every project outlined in the book, is strongly connected to adaptive urbanism strategies this blog is exploring, introducing temporary interventions as a strategy to cope with this paralyzing effect of too much planning. Most of the projects are based on the Netherlands and include not only abandoned factories or open public spaces subject to interim or temporary uses (sometimes turned permanent). It also focuses on public housing projects, office buildings and new master plans using organic development and strong open schemes (the case of Almere Hout Noord, for example) as new ideals to deal with uncertainty and civic engagement.

The book also stands up for urban planning as a process and not as an outcome/project; spontaneity is what emerges when planning fails to accomplish its determinations (and there is enough spaces for citizens and initiators to shape the city to their needs), making real an idea of cities as an always unfinished work in an era in which citizens reclaim their role as users and city-makers and urban planning professionals redefine their field of action.

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