Cities, urban growth and urban life are becoming increasingly important themes in contemporary policy and research. More people than ever before are living in cities and 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. Cities are often framed as growth engines, able to attract modern creative businesses, making them important actors in the knowledge economy. But 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. In the European Commission report “cities of tomorrow” this double urban challenge is emphasized:
“There is no denial of the importance of cities for our present and our future Europe. A large majority of the European population is urban. Cities play a crucial role as motors of the economy, as places of connectivity, creativity and innovation, and as service centers for their surrounding areas. Cities are also places where problems such as unemployment, segregation and poverty are concentrated. The development of our cities will determine the future economic, social and territorial development of the European Union.”
Experimental urban development is these days 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.
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.
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.” (Evans, Karvonen and Raven, 2016)
Contemporary cities are dominated by “rational” urban development and institutions that articulate limited ideas of an official future, leaving very little space for alternatives. The ideal of the controlled, managed and planned city makes it close to impossible to create the necessary alternatives to the problems we are facing in cities – because they have to be articulated at perfect plans before they are allowed to be put into practice. In other words you need to know what you are doing before you do it. The principle seems sound, and it is, if want to reproduce something already existing, but when the situation is, that the existing tools and practices has created the unsustainable situation we are in, we need to venture into unknown territory.
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.
If you are a teacher, you will find an abundance of material and inspiration for courses on co-design of cities and experimental urban development. If you are a politician or planner, the page offers insight into and concrete examples of how to work with experiments in the public sector. If you are a private developer, you will find inspiration in both the articles and cases. And last, but not least, for citizens this page is intended to help you regain authorship of your life and challenge the current planning paradigm.
(links til de relevante sektion i “paths to experiments”)