Experimental Cities

[Below is a post that I just wrote for sustainablecitiescanada.ca. I've been thinking about this idea that cities can function as laboratories for developing policies for a while now. It's an interesting alternative or complement to more traditional top-down approaches to planning. But beyond novelty, I think if used well it has the possibility to  push urban sustainability policies past their often modest beginnings.]

There is still a lot we don't know about building cities that are truly sustainable. Sure we've got a basic outline: effective public transit, dense mixed-use neighbourhoods, local renewable energy, green buildings...

Those are essential general principles.

But figuring out how to apply them at scale within our existing cityscapes is an enormous challenge. And even then they will only get us part of the way. We also need to ask how we can go beyond current best practices to spark even more transformative change?

Those are the twin challenges of implementation and innovation. Sooner or later any attempt to create a sustainable city will hit them. In response, some cities are approaching sustainability planning from a new angle. Alongside more prescriptive policies, a focus is emerging on coordinating processes of innovation and collaborative problem solving.

Seen in this way, the city itself becomes a sort of living laboratory. Policy making becomes a process of carefully guided experimentation.

But experimentation means being open about uncertainty and ready to take a few risks in the search for answers. Over the past few years cities like Vancouver, Portland, and New York have developed ways of mitigating those risks, mobilizing community resources, and creating the space and flexibility needed for experiments to thrive. Here are a few of their techniques that have caught my attention. [keep reading at @sustainablecitiescanada]

Photo of Times Square "Pop-Up" by John Niedermeyer


1 Response to "Experimental Cities"

Blogger said... 24 January 2017 at 10:31

You might be eligible for a new solar energy rebate program.
Click here to find out if you qualify now!


This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.