Masterplanning for Change : Designing the Resilient City

Romice, Ombretta and Porta, Sergio and Feliciotti, Alessandra (2020) Masterplanning for Change : Designing the Resilient City. RIBA Publishing, London. ISBN 9781859469262

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We asked ourselves why cities are so different in their forms and so similar nevertheless? And why do some work better than others? To answer these questions we focused on masterplans, these being one of the most important tools of urban designers, and noticed that despite all the criticism against their rigidity, most of the best places in the world had been, at least in part, at one point or another, masterplanned.iii Our question then became: how did such masterplans deliver places that managed, over time, to flourish in endless and yet harmonious diversity, and remain vital and viable along the way, while others succumbed to the next hardship, never to recover? We were guided by two important principles, expressed in the book Urban Sustainability Through Environmental Design, published in 2007:iv time and change. We felt that both, in some way, are key to the success of places. Our idea was genuinely simple: if something has ever worked – and indeed a lot clearly did and still does – it would be a waste not to learn from it. We soon realised an important fact: those parts of our cities that worked well over time and still do, did not do so because they went according to plan but precisely because they did not. They were planned, to some degree, and indeed we could see clear signs of that, but they then also accommodated an enormous amount of completely unplanned modifications over time. This emergent quality – this powerful manifestation of life and beauty that works for business, people and the environment was of the greatest interest to us. It was change and persistence, evolution over design. That realisation marked our commitment to the study of cities in evolutionary terms, and the role of design in encouraging and somehow even driving it over time. We built evidence and theory, which we termed, as others also did, ‘plot-based urbanism’.vii Around that we shaped a design method, bringing in essential lessons from urban morphology and addressing all scales, from the strategic (i.e. city scale) down to the plot and building. All of this we tested along the way in our Urban Design post-graduate programme at Strathclyde. The focus on change allowed us to teach students the responsibilities of urban designers towards the future; we tested research ideas and methods through live commissions by the city of Glasgow. We saw design no longer as an act of final form-creation but one setting the spatial framework for independent activities to emerge after designers have left: masterplanning with and for change, rather than against it.