Adaptive Urbanism is a nascent term referring to the growing practice of residents, artists, community groups, and more getting actively involved in conceiving, designing, implementing, activating and maintaining flexible city spaces. This empowered mode differs from conventional public and private city-building where most residents are solely consumers of ‘permanent’ developments created for them - rather than active producers of, and participants in, evolving public space. Yet increasingly, developers, governments and others in power are also finding merit with this new mode, at the same time that they work to tweak, mould and amend it to suit their particular purposes.
Adaptive Urbanism has radical revolutionary potential, but can equally bolster existing power structures. Some use it as a tool for subversion, others to complement more traditional modes of city-building. Adaptive Urbanism seems to be the next frontier where the big questions of human rights, (in)equality and democracy are playing out. It is the time to examine this complex phenomenon, and Congress was the place to do it.
Christchurch, New Zealand is undoubtedly the per-capita world leader in Adaptive Urbanism since the devastating 2010/2011 earthquakes, with the still-ravaged city attracting accolades from Lonely Planet (2013) and the New York Times (2014) as an essential place to visit to witness, and participate in, its incredible grassroots creative response of temporary public interventions.
There has been a proliferation of post-disaster organisations operating here in this realm, with the close involvement and support of local government. Christchurch has developed a breadth, depth and nuance of experience of the range of different intentions, processes and outcomes within the broad scope of Adaptive Urbanism. We are finding that there may be more differences than similarities between related projects and organisations.
This movement of Adaptive Urbanism - if it can be called such - has been widely embraced and massively prevalent in Christchurch. But now, as the large-scale commercial government- and developer-led rebuild starts heating up, these grassroots initiatives are having to rethink their strategies, justify their existence and better articulate their reasons for being.
Congress was the time to bring the world to Christchurch to exhibit, discuss, debate, strategise and co-create a report on the philosophies, politics, economics and futures of adaptive urbanism. Participants worked to generate a pioneering taxonomy of Adaptive Urbanism to encapsulate the nuances and different methods that come under this umbrella term, and a practical user’s guide for governments, developers and activists to employ these techniques thoughtfully in cities around the world.