inspiring-cities 2201.New Development Paradigm

More important than the current crisis, we dare to say, is the deeper urban shift from "Making a City" to "Being a City". In most Western countries, "Making the city" has come and gone. Now, the two motors of post-war expansion and urban development – population and wealth – are slowing down.

It's time to start "Being a city". After our cities exploded with people and wealth, and their entire financing models and regulations based on growth, we now face a reset that runs deeper than the crisis – but we can use the crisis as a guide? This shift causes (at least) five new levels of complexity for cities and urban development.


They show the contours of a new development paradigm.

Urban development in "Being a City" is a matter of causing movement and dynamics in complex networks and streams. The amount of networks has exploded. Availability, access, and quality of technology all play a role in the future of our connected cities. Global networks are more interwoven than ever, and we will not seen the end of it. This is only the beginning.


All kinds of new combinations are required, such as the idea of the civic economy, which does not act along borders of professions. Urban development in "Being a City" is a mix of impulses in software (urban use, economy), hardware (the urban environment, infrastructure and nodes) and orgware (coalitions, new institutions, networks)


Before, urban development was a matter of analysing the challenge ahead, making a plan, delivering the plan and taking care of area management. Now, the management is already in place, and it is not possible to make plans for 30 years. Long-term strategies are still needed; however they are toothless if not combined with immediate action. Urban development has become a game of 1 day and 100 years at the same time.


Urban development has become a matter of acting on the local, urban, and global scale all at once. On a neighbourhood and personal level, our local economies are dependent on worldwide networks and our social networks digitally extend to international means.


Citizens have become generally wealthier, higher educated, and better equipped with digital networks and don't necessarily accept a strong government presence anymore. Also, strong post-war needs are not felt by everyone at the same time anymore, for many groups have reached a wealth they would like to protect (while others of course have not).

2. New Opportunities in a Complex Situation
Looking at the paradigm of 'Making a City', we could easily draw the conclusion that the city is now finished; there will be no more, or at least far less, extensive greenfield development. From the paradigm of 'Being a City', however, cities are never finished. The economic, cultural and social needs continue to change, which means a constant need to adapt the existing (economic, social, cultural and physical) urban structures. There is a continuous need to strive for sustainable urban systems, quality of the public realm, the character and soul of urban areas and the quality of economic and social networks. This will however no longer be done from a single government perspective, not within the single context of merely the local scale, and not any more with linear models.
All of these complexities lead to a far more challenging situation, which cannot be steered by a master plan anymore-that's like telling swarming birds to fly in a straight line by hanging a sign up in the air and then believing it will actually happen! The challenges ahead are 'untameable': they are not linear, uncontrollable, cannot be known, not mechanically organised, and are in systems without a goal. All of these consequences lead to necessary change in the planned city.
However, it has to reinvent a system deep in its tradition, culture, finance models, fantasy, rules, and regulations; it's a paradigm so to say; it is like trying to turn a huge oil tanker.
New ideas can be found in the world of sciences dealing with complex systems. The conclusion does not have to be "we will facilitate", often meaning "we are doing nothing", the kind of digital thought where, for instance, a local authority believes it is either responsible or not. Could it be responsible in a different way? Or does civic action need to compensate for the suboptimal results of a flawed system?

Without being extensive, we see interesting new principles for this more fluid, interdisciplinary, and collaborative urban development, explore them in practice and learn from new thinking in several scientific domains.

A first new principle is variation and selection. As an institution in the planned world, know what you want – but only take action once you see something happening in the lived world that is similar, something to connect with. Or stimulate initiative by organising creative competition. Or inflict pain where creativity can be expected most – like the Empty Property Rates in the UK.

A second new principle is to organize synchronicity: development by co-evolution, by creating unique and
separate subsystems that interact and influence each other. To know, feel, and see where action in the lived and/or the planned world can be synchronised, so that they function as mutual catalysts. It is a type of development based on extensive networks and (predictive?) coincidence.

A third principle is self-organisation. A seed that may have been underground for years but comes to growth by a shower. Almost always very surprising and rarely planned ahead from behind a desk. If there is no selforganisation to strengthen, there will be no ownership, and investment is pointless. Don't over plan: Social Learning Communities are the new important thing: there's something to learn, always, and by everyone.

A fourth principle is identity. It is a resource that connects, that roots back in tradition, that may cause representatives from the lived city to 'permit' the planned city to intervene. The identity of communities is defined more by interest than by geography.

A fifth principle is to start doing. If you want a company on board don't ask them, start doing, show what you are achieving without money and they'll like to be part of it.

Design a project as a learning community for everyone involved and the knowledge will be theirs for the future.

By Jeroen Laven, Stipo
Co-animator CCMetropolisation


Back to previous page