For urban planners, experimental urban development is a way to open the city up for discussion and (re)imagination of desirable futures and in this way support democratic development of cities. By experimenting through co-designed interventions in the city, planners gain the ability to navigate between the existing socio-material practices and potential futures.
The ability to navigate between many different actors and imaginaries of the future is central for planners these days, where many civil servants experience a cross pressure between former planning practices, new pressures for innovation and the demands for liveable and sustainable cities. Urban development has traditionally been a relatively orderly and well-structured practice done by professionals, but urban planners and managers are in a complex situation, where technical expertise is not sufficient to develop the city.
“Planners are currently positioned between different temporal situations: they are embedded within current institutions and structures that have coevolved with earlier, typically modern practices, and are yet surrounded by the pressures of new, complex, contemporary problems that require novel practices.”
– Lissandrello, Grin 2011
Where planning is based on the knowns of the world (planning something impossible seems nonsensical), the experiment offers an opportunity for exploration of unknowns. Although it can often be difficult for planners, who are generally supposed to be professional and have the answers, to reveal uncertainty, this is exactly where the experiment can be of use. The experimental approach allows for “uncertainty in action” and opens the planning process for innovation.
- NON-PERMANENT PLANING
There has been a lot of talk about “the temporary” in urban planning over the last couple of decades and most often it ends up meaning that someone can use as space for a while, until the “real” planning process sets in and the space is transformed permanently. Another, and maybe more interesting way of applying “the temporary” in cities would be to create unplanned or ephemeral urban spaces that are not meant to reach a point of permanency, but are rather treated as spaces of development and experimentation. This can also be a substantially cheaper way of developing public space in cities.
To infrastructure something means working with the context of the planning situation, not just the situation itself. It also means allowing imperfection to be part of the planning, with an expectation that the product will change as it is adopted by different groups of users.
“Infrastructuring, then, is the work of creating socio-technical resources that intentionally enable adoption and appropriation beyond the initial scope of the design, a process that might include participants not present during the initial design.”
Infrastructuring means working with open-ended design that is intended to develop and change, as it is implemented in the world. A very concrete way of working with infrastructuring would be to set part of a planning budget aside for reconfiguration of the project, after it is “finished”, allowing the future users to co-create the project.
- STRATEGIC DESIGN EXPERIMENTS
Experimentation allow us to learn about the interactions in the city and can thus lead to both knowledge generation and mobilization of new actors. The strategic design experiment offers a chance to investigate and open the development of a specific issue in a city, most often connected to some specific planning process such as a park, a recycling station, a school or similar. The initial purpose of a strategic design experiment will often be to test a concrete idea or try out a new way of doing something, but it is important that this form of experimentation is not seen as instrumental – often the most important results are those, no one could imagine when the experiment was initiated.
“A call for making things public opens a new role for design, which is not about projecting utopian visions of frictionless futures. On the contrary, it is about staging sociomaterial conditions for controversial issues in ways that facilitate contradictions, oppositions, and disagreement through direct engagement.” (Binder, Brandt et al. 2015)
- The purpose of the experiment is to shed light on the unknown aspects of the plan, to enable the planning to be done at a more enlightened level. The point of a strategic design experiment is to create more interpretative flexibility in urban development, allowing more alternatives to be presented before or during the planning of a project.