Experimental Cities is a platform for experimental urban development. We think that the liveable and sustainable cities of the future will emerge from urban experiments rather than being the result of traditional planning. This page is meant to inspire new ways of working with urban development, based on 1:1 experiments in urban space and is intended as a resource for citizens, developers, planners, politicians and others who is interested in working with experimental urban development.
As the global population becomes increasingly urbanized, cities have emerged as the dominant arenas to address the grand challenges facing humanity. Problems associated with climate change, economic underdevelopment and social inequality are essentially urban in character. And so are their solutions.
Cities, urban growth and urban life are becoming increasingly important themes in contemporary policy and research. While the urban setting is still seen as an aggregator of social, economic and environmental problems, cities are increasingly framed as a central part of the solution of global problems. Modern cities are not only seen as drivers of economy, increasingly they are also presented as spaces for sustainable development and democratization, promising innovative solutions, green growth and liveability.
Experimental urban development is therefore becoming an important focus point in many cities. Urban experimentation points to the vitality of uncovering new ways of developing, managing and living in cities for an increasingly urbanized global population, faced with critical sustainability and liveability challenges. In the book “The experimental city” from 2016 the authors state:
The burgeoning realization that “business as usual” will no longer do has prompted a search for alternative ways to organize, plan, manage, and live in cities. Experimentation promises a way to do this, gaining traction in cities all over the world as a mode of governance to stimulate alternative and steer change.”
The rational ideal of the controlled, managed and planned city makes it hard to create the necessary alternatives to the problems we are facing in cities – the rational planning practices are actually a big part of what has created the problems. It will be very difficult indeed to create a more sustainable future with the same building blocks that created the cities of today.
Experimental urban development offers an opportunity to challenge our contemporary practices though enactment and experience of many different possible futures. Experiments have the potential to expand what we think of as normal urban life through interventions in our cities – presenting new imaginaries and enacting new socio-technical realities. Experiments are not made to be perfect, but rather to allow us to learn about the possibilities of our cities. In the words of Henri Lefebvre:
“In order to extend the possible, it is necessary to proclaim and desire the impossible. Action and strategy consists in making possible tomorrow what is impossible today.”
In practice there are multiple ways of creating and enacting experiments in cities, depending on your position and your goal. Experiments do however have in common that they are temporary in nature and are based on making the unknown known. Strategic design experiments, investigating the unknowns of potential new policies or strategies. Counter-planning projects, challenging the reason of the official urban development though concrete intervention. Living labs and integrated urban renewal projects, allowing for bottom up transformation of neighborhoods. Immersive performance strategies, temporarily opening up everyday life for alternatives.
Experimental urban development can provide hope for the future as this approach opens the potential to try out and showcase new urban realities, thus reclaiming a future that all too often seems to have been a priori defined. This webpage is meant to support and stimulate experimental urban development strategies by providing information, inspiration and concrete case-studies from around the world.
Move into action
We are all trapped by the limitations of what we consider “real” and “possible”. We know all too well why another reality is not possible and tend to navigate within the safe spaces of the known. An experimental approach to urban development allows us to have concrete, embodied experiences with alternatives and opens exploration of the unknown in a more or less safe manner.
“It is easier to act your way into new ways of thinking, than think yourself into new ways of acting”
Whether you work as a decision maker, an urban planner, a private developer, a researcher or live in a city, an experimental approach to urban development can both challenge and change the way you think about the future – and better yet, create developments and trajectories that you are unable to see from your current position. The sustainable future of the city does not lie in the already known, and thus it is necessary to explore unknown territory. Where could you and the city need more knowledge?
We have tried to give some perspective on the opportunities that different positions give in the following sections: